How to Respond When You’re Asked to Work for Free

Unpaid opportunities are incredible. They can pad your resume, build your portfolio, get your foot in the door, generate network connections and provide new skills. I personally have benefited from unpaid internships and even got my start as a writer via unpaid guest posts.

Then that first paid work comes through. You feel like a true professional, and you get a sense of your work’s worth as it translates into dollars. You make the choice that from this point forward, you will no longer work for free.

But people will still try.

Here are some examples of situations and what to say in response:

Q: “Can you do a write up for me?”

A: “I’d love to. What is your budget and deadline?”

Q: “Can you take a look and edit this for me? It shouldn’t take long.” (Famous last words.)

A: “Happily. I charge $__ per hour.”

Q: “Can you do me a favor? It’s _____.”

A: “I’m sure we can make an arrangement. For this sort of work, I typically charge $__, but can also discuss barter options so that it’s mutually beneficial.”

Q: “Would you write for our site? Sorry, we can’t pay.”

A: “Do you offer paid writing opportunities after a certain period of time/number of articles?” (Depending on the answer and trusting your gut on whether or not it is valuable to work with this client:) “Thank you for your offer/consideration, but I am unable to accept unpaid/volunteer work at this time.”

You Don’t Always Have to Say “No”

Before setting a hard and fast rule, especially if you are just getting started, go with your intuition. If there is a major opportunity that will bring value other than simply increasing your bank account, don’t always make it a hard “no.”

Keep in mind, that no matter what you choose, always handle conversations with professionalism, courtesy and class. You never know who may come back to you for paid work or who they may refer you to.

The more notoriety you gain, the more opportunity you will eventually have for always getting paid for your work. Always.

About Jackie Toops:

A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children.