“I’d love to be paid in gum,” exclaimed the perky babysitter in a recent Trident commercial.
The message, of course, is that the chewy treat recommended by most dentists is more of a prize than a fair wage, especially when that glum construction guy wishes he’d get gum too, rather than money.
Longtime freelance writers and other creatives will likely be offered similar low payments for our time, talents, and services.
My wife, an occasional freelance designer, was once offered “lots of sandwiches” to help a new restaurant create a logo. While a younger and hungrier me may have at least been open to learning more — How many? What kind? Any sides? For how long? — it was easy to hold out for actual money. After all, as a newspaper business manager I once worked for was fond of quipping, “Money is the only thing that you can put in the bank – not community goodwill, in-kind services or column inches.”
I’m not talking about freebies, which are in a different category, and usually given in addition to actual payment, in expectation or in return of a favor, or to help develop a relationship. These are mostly good, unless you’re part of an organization that bans them altogether. Circumstances vary depending on scale – accepting a cup of coffee from a new client seems less harmful than the proverbial briefcase of cash from the lobbyist. But this topic goes past the scope of the Rants.
What’s more concerning is why some clients feel fine to low-ball us, often without any overt malice, miserliness or deception. They just don’t know any better. Excuses I’ve heard are:
- This will be a great experience. (A soccer team that needed help turning box scores into narratives)
- We make it a practice not to pay any of our writers. (A travel magazine)
- This will be perfect for your portfolio. (A newspaper’s offer for outside columnists)
- We already spent the budget on the last writer. (A local theater)
- Let’s call it an unofficial internship. (An agency seeking writers for summer promotions)
Sometimes it’s OK to take little or no money as a payment, or I suppose, even gum if they have a surplus of it but little else. Some freelance writing coaches even recommend that newcomers offer a few gratis writing pieces for local non-profits as a way to build their writing skills, gain some references and help their community. The organization also appreciates the volunteer talent that they may not have been able to afford at current market rates.
But in the case of non-profits, they often disclose right away that they don’t have anything to pay you, but that you’re helping a worthy cause.
What happens next time you receive a laughably low proposal? It depends on the circumstances, your usual rate structure, and how hungry you are. Since you can’t put gum in the bank. Or you shouldn’t.
I’d be interesting in hearing other people’s offers.
Writer Rant: Joe B prefers to be offered money for goods and services. But he’s open to discussing other creative compensation.