We are not exploitable.

A lot of people's ears will perk up about this, but that's exactly what should happen. I want you to read this article and spread it like it's a manifesto or something. A manifesto of the creative worker, who says yes too often. Have you ever been asked to do something for free?

In my experience, you either say yes because it's a friend asking or you feel some sort of social pressure to do it. Or worse, you are "too nice to say no". So you get all kinds of requests on a daily basis.

Can you do me a favor and re-tweet this?

Can you do me a favor and tell me how this works?

Can you do me a favor and give me some feedback?

Can you do my friend a favor and...

Pretty soon these innocent requests turn into something else.

Can you do me a favor and sketch me a doodle for that post?

Can you do me a favor and outline a sample campaign for this client of mine?

Can you do me a favor and write my thesis proposal...

And it doesn't stop at small favors, which only eat your time a little. It goes much deeper, to the point where it starts eating your pride.

Where does it end?

A friend was once complaining that her employers made her work 5 times more than her co-workers, and that her salary was still on par with theirs. She left, of course, and good riddance.

Another friend said she frequently got requests to do free art for people who could afford to pay her, but would not. Wait... what?!

Let's get something straight: Art is work. Writing is work. 

Are you seriously asking someone to do free work for you? Whatever your reasons, here's my answer: I'll do {this} for {this much money}. I could even throw you a discount if I like you. Take it or leave it.

And the thing is, I - like my friends - get flooded by requests daily. Questions, skype calls, chat requests, favors for friends. It all takes about one or two hours of my day, and time, as they say, is money.

Look, I would give a lot for my friends - my time, my energy, my life's blood, but this is because we have a mutual contract - one we have forged in tears and blood and laughter - and it means that we have one another's back. Friendship is a garden of flowers. It needs water.

And then there are the people who ask you for favors out of the blue. Or the people you don't really know that well. Those people might somehow be expecting you to say yes, but why would they? If it's because you've said a thousand yes's before, it's time you drew the line.

It's up to you where you draw it, but it needs to be there.

Smart people know.

Have you ever gone up to a stranger asking for something? It might have been at the station because you're run out of money, and you're embarrassed to ask for assistance. It might be on social media - maybe you're tweeting someone, asking them to take a look at your product.

Whatever you've asked, you probably know you'll never talk to that person again. I mean, friendships and relationships are forged in all sorts of mysterious ways, but going up to someone asking for favors before even meeting them properly usually means one thing - you have zero interest to forge anything with them. You're only looking to exploit them.

Smart people know that in order to have a mutually beneficial relationship, you need to be the one to give first. They also know that if you gave them something first, they should offer something in return. Not because they have to, but because that's the decent thing to do.

Giving means you're willing to invest in a relationship. Taking means you're not.

(tweet it)

So if you're getting requests from people who have no intention to give you anything - I mean, at least they should be paying you - then just tell them to sod off because your time and skill set are precious.

You deserve to be appreciated. Period.

Whose fault is it?

Every coin has two sides. If someone is asking you to do free work and you're letting them, you're as much to blame - if not more.

You need to stop saying yes because of pressure or whatever, and start giving people your price tag. For example, I have been asked to guest blog for a lot of places, and if I decided that "exposure" was not enough or I didn't have the time, I would just assume they were offering to pay me. So the person comes to me, asking, "Hey, we'd love to have you write a piece for our blog!", to which I would respond, "Great! How much do you pay per blog post?"

When you turn it around like that, people usually see it's a bit silly to be asking you to write for them for free, so they go like... "Oh, sorry, we don't actually pay for that," then disappear quickly.

Thing is, when you do work for free, people start thinking it's normal and more and more people do it, which prompts businesses to catch on and demand it more often. It's a vicious cycle.

Now, let's see what you need in order to say no:

  1. Determine how much you're worth. Rule of thumb: If you think a particular price is fair, go higher, not lower.
  2. Tell people how much you're worth. Put it on your blog, tweet it out, insert it in conversations, and don't negotiate.
  3. Stand your ground. People will ask for discounts and hint that maybe you should ask for lower rates. Don't believe these people - they're the people who can't afford to pay for your services.

Practice every one of these steps and saying no will soon be a breeze. I used to marvel at friends who had it down to a science, but now I know it's all about self-esteem. Only you know how much you are worth and nobody can say any different. And only you can preserve your time and energy, and protect it from people who want to rob you of it and give nothing in return.

We are not exploitable.

You may be an artist or writer or marketer or designer or whatever you do, just say this with me:

We are not exploitable.

Say it until you believe it. At first I wanted to repeat "I am not exploitable", but this goes beyond any one individual. This is a problem on a bigger level. There are groups of people with particular skills and personality traits who get exploited more often than others.

Artists - because "art isn't work" and "it doesn't take much".

Women - because we're more likely to empathize and want to help.

Young people - because they're too idealistic and not materialistic enough.

I want to tell those people that I get it, and that I've worked for free for years because I used to have low self-esteem.

I convinced myself that I had no experience, no great skill, so I was grateful for every scrap of attention or feedback I could get my hands on. While other birds were off flying free in the country, I was fighting for scraps with the other city pigeons. And what's worse: I thought it was normal.

I thought everyone did it and that's how you're supposed to start. I didn't stop there, I created the habit of doing things for free even when I had the experience. Even though I knew my worth, I still allowed others to exploit me. Because it is exploitation.

I know you're thinking you do certain things out of the goodness of your heart, but you need to stop and recognize that there is no good reason for asking someone to do work for free. And you need to realize that you're probably embarrassing and cheating yourself if you're the one who's saying yes to this deal. I mean, are you really doing this for exposure? For the connections it brings? For someone saying "good job"?

I've seen exploitation on various levels - individual, community, and even societal, and every time it is masked by some kind of fake smile and a promise of things getting better for the community or society or you... but things only get better for the people you do free work for.

Put yourself first and stop saying yes to vampires. We all deserve better.


P.S. If you don't believe me, try working it out in this "Should I Work for Free" chart. Thanks to Jean Lucas for pointing it out.

Also, check out this awesome talk by Mike Monteiro, called "F*ck You, Pay Me", recommended by my friend Bernie Mitchell

Violeta Nedkova

Violeta Nedkova is a multipassionate marketer who loves helping people. She talks and writes about marketing with purpose and personality because it's so much better than traditional marketing.