Working for free is often part of the deal when you’re new to any industry. Internships and apprenticeships are pretty standard when you’re just starting out. Or what about mentorships? A mentor might have you do certain tasks, for which you don’t get paid money – you get paid in knowledge. Maybe you get paid in contacts or something you can put on your resume. That’s certainly valuable at one time in your career. So if working for free is an inevitable part of starting out, it can be difficult to know when you get to stop working for free. It can be even harder to communicate that to others.
Do try to remember, when you’re considering taking a gig that pays nothing, that you wouldn’t ask others to do the same. You don’t question it when your therapist hands you a bill. You don’t raise an eyebrow when you get an invoice from a graphic designer. It’s not odd when your personal trainer sends you a Venmo request. Services were rendered. Products were sold. And now it’s time to pay up. So why are we so hesitant to state our rates? Or to say that, yes, in fact, we do charge a rate? Is it something specific to women?
Actually, the myth that women ask for raises less than men do has been debunked. So that’s not it. Maybe it’s the fact that, while men get ahead in their careers by being disagreeable, women don’t seem to enjoy the same treatment. But if being agreeable means not getting paid…is it worth it? Nope. So, here are polite ways to say, “Sorry. I don’t work for free.”
Inform them of a new accreditation
If this contact met you at a time when you were brand new in your field, they may still see you as a rookie. But informing them of a new accreditation – like having received your doctorate, having become certified in a specialty skill, or even having been profiled in a professional publication – is an indirect but efficient way of saying, “I’m one of the big dogs now, and the big dogs don’t work for free.” It doesn’t have to sound cocky. It can be as simple as, “Thanks so much for reaching out! SO much has changed since we last spoke. I’m actually now a licensed insert profession here and am offering my services at insert rate here.” While someone may ask someone who is good at math do their finances for free, they wouldn’t ask a licensed CPA to work for nothing.