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Want Silence? Talk Money.

Only the entrepreneurs might feel me on this one.

Melissa checked her watch nervously for the fourth time. Brian and Joseph said that they would meet her at Panera at 3pm, after the lunch crowd died down. They were supposed to be discussing a photo shoot for an ad campaign the two had devised. After days of talking and planning, Melissa had come up with additional ideas for the concept and had spent the majority of her time scouting locations for the campaign. She drummed the table nervously and looked furtively at the door. What if they decided not to show?

The coffee cup on the table was plastered with her lip color. She reapplied her gloss and rearranged her weave. She was most comfortable in khaki shorts and her hair pulled back in a bun, but she wanted to look as professional as possible for the meeting. Brian and Joseph had lofty plans, and this was her first time working with the duo.

Finally, twenty-three minutes after the scheduled meeting time, Brian and Joseph burst into the door.

“Melissa! Darling! So good of you to come!” drawls Brian. He tosses his neck scarf around his shoulders and rubs his arms. “Chilly in here,” he comments disapprovingly.

Melissa looks around, embarrassed by the decibel level that Brian is employing. It’s not necessary to speak so loudly in such a small space. Joseph stands up and announces that he’s going to pick up two waters. When he returns, he places a cup in front of Brian.

“I see you’ve already had a drink,” he chirred. “Brian and I only imbibe aqua.”

Melissa raises her eyebrows and considers the two carefully. They seem to be the real deal. They are articulate, well versed and artistic. All of her previous hesitations melt away. Her gut tells her that this is going to be a profitable partnership.

“These are the concepts I’ve been working on,” she says, turning her laptop around to show them. “I think any of these three locations would be great for your campaign. They’re local, so that will cut down on the travel and transportation portion of your budget.”

“Ahhh,” purrs Brian. “Chateau Elan! I love it.”

“And where is this one?” inquires Joseph. “I love that wrought iron water fountain.”

“That is actually not too far from here, at the Forum,” Melissa informs them.

“Well we love it!” exclaims Brian, who is still rubbing his arms in an effort to warm himself. “Oh I DO wish they’d turn down the air-conditioning in here!”

Melissa ignores his complaint and carries on with the rest of her presentation. Brian and Joseph both agree she is the woman for the job.

“We urgently need to get this started,” says Joseph seriously. “We have to start building our brand and image is key. Can you begin immediately?”

Melissa is overjoyed. This was only her second proposal since finishing her photography course and she had nailed it!

“I can begin immediately” she gushed. She then turned to the portion of her proposal that covers her rates.

Suddenly, Brian and Joseph’s enthusiasm wanes.

“Gosh, it suddenly got very warm in here!” whines Brian. “I DO wish they’d turn the air-conditioning up in here!”

Melissa is confused. Joseph, seeing her puzzled look swoops in to explain.

“We thought you might consider down this for free – or at least at a considerably lower rate.”

“Yes,” nods Brian. “The exposure after working with BJ could be enormous for you. There’s SO much potential for even bigger contracts after this.”

“I suppose that might be so,” concedes Melissa, “but my time is valuable, and there is going to be a personal cost for me to drive to these locations, set up the shoots, etc.”

Brian was suddenly very pensive. When he spoke next, it was as though he’d had an eureka moment.

“Perhaps we could cover the cost of your gas and call it a wash!”

Too stunned to speak, Melissa stares at the two-headed duo. They were just starting out in the business themselves, but surely they had budgeted to pay their models, photographer and staff? Suddenly she realized what was happening here. This was a small time syndicate trying to make a buck by paying in kind. Ugh.

Joseph stood up and prepared to leave. He seemed disappointed that Melissa was disappointed in their offer, which was generous by their estimation.

“We’ll be in touch,” he said, picking up his cup of (free) water. “Give our offer some thought. Brian?”

Brian squealed and sashayed out of Panera, leaving Melissa with her portfolio and proposal staring after them. She glared at the door as they left. God she hated cheap people! O_o


How many people have dealt with a similar scenario? Go ahead! Raise your hand! This type of behavior is common amongst Nigerians, Texans, Irish and possibly Eskimos. Oh! And church folk. Church folk are the worst offenders. They love to quote the scripture “Give and it shall be given unto you” conveniently leaving out the part where the Bible says “and MEN shall give unto your bosom.”

I have a bevy of talented friends, and being talented they are often called upon to lend their expertise to some area. No one ever seems to want to pay them though. From computer geeks, photographers, event planners, writers…no one is spared the balking at the thought of paying them for their time and services rendered!

Personally, I look forward to that look of discomfort the person in need exhibits when the subject of money is thrown into the discussion. It’s amazing how quiet the room gets and the sense of urgency is magically deflated. I learned early on that before I pour my time and attention into anyone else’s “project”, it is imperative to attach a dollar figure to it early on. There’s nothing like the shock of being offered payment in the form of “driving traffic to my blog.” Last I checked, McDonald’s does not consider “blog traffic” as an acceptable form of payment at the drive through.

Is this a bad way to be? Should people be more willing to do work for free? What do you think? Can ANYBODY relate?

This article has 8 comments

  1. Andrew

    I totally relate!!! Totally. I am a lawyer, and no…let’s not get to the jokes…haha. But the minute I qualified in Kenya I had many people seeking my help to incorporate companies, write wills, draw up ‘short’ contracts and/or give some advise…for free! At best, for a pittance. Yes, no kidding. After all, I was an upstart, I needed the experience, the money would come later…so the argument went. At first I did it, then became wiser…figured if I don’t they’ll find someone else. And yes, the church, my o my, “Could you please proofread this contract for us? It shouldn’t take too long?” After all, it is at church that you ‘exchange gifts’, scratch me I scratch you type of thing. Well, let’s just say that that is only for the weekend. If I have to do it between 8am and 5pm on Mon through Fri, am charging. People should not work for free.

    • Malaka

      Oh Andrew! I had so many jokes about the law and your soul, but seeing as you’ve preemptively asked us not to joke on you’ll I’ll refrain. But lets be honest – your profession BEGS for free service. Everyone needs legal advice! You’ve given me such a chuckle with your comment. I’ll be sure to call you on Saturdays only if I need you. See to it that you pick up the phone. 😉

  2. Davisthedoc

    What has worth is worth paying for and being paid for. Hellooo!

  3. David S.

    Reminds me of the conversations I have everytime I tell small business owners or entrepreneurs what I do for a living. I’ll immediately hear about the problems they are having with their business, or about some great business idea they have, and how the right technology could launch their business and make it a overnight success and make them, and anyone involved with their business rich overnight. Then they will talk about how they need someone to develop this right technology for their business. Then comes the pitch. “I can’t pay you a whole lot right now, but I do believe in giving back, and when we make it to the top, you will have a piece of the pie.” No mention of the fact that if they don’t become the next Jeff Bezos overnight, they don’t plan to give me squat. Tofi Akwa!! Working for free is not my portion.

  4. NM

    This reminds me of a CFO of a company I worked for who called a meeting to reassure his employees after a mass layoff over the previous weekend(they’d called each individual at home and told them not to report for work on Monday). In that same meeting he asked if anyone wanted to ‘volunteer all or a portion of their salaries’ until the company was out of the red adding that the big guns had agreed to it(uh huh) They’d already frozen bonuses from the previous quarter, pay increases and stopped contributing to 401k plans. I didn’t like my tenure there as it were I couldn’t fathom going to work for free. Um no!

  5. Nana Ama

    They dress it up as ‘internship’ and some people give their right arms, and their integrity, (Monica Lewinsky?) for the ‘privilege’!

    I have learned the hard way, to talk money before we proceed.

  6. Joy G.

    Oh my! Have you been following me around or what? This scenario describes my life!

    Then there’s the ever annoying excuse from clients: ‘Just do this first job pro bono and it will open up many other opportunities for you to work with us in future’

    What hogwash! aaaaaaaarg!

  7. beninbrown

    No. Absolutely not. The only thing I’m giving away for free at this point in the game is free literature or a free webinar-which is designed to draw money out of pockets.

    Outside of that my babies gotta eat, they need shoes, books …u name it. Things like this make me so appreciative of my 4 yr stint as a bill collector. Back then when somebody didnt have money I didn’t miss a beat…Was like who’s paying ur bills that u got right now.

    Cause obviously u’ve got telephone and electricity…And whoever that person is we need to get them on the phone right now.

    It may sound harsh, I know…And for the longest I was actually embarrassed about it because I’m a marketer and u know how us marketers can be about appearing polished and what not 🙂

    But these days I thank the heavens that the good Lawd decided to interrupt my marketing career for those few yrs until I became good at demanding what I wanted.

    Funny thing is right after I got good at it is when i got back into marketing. So nowadays if it’s a client situation in the back of my mind there’s always this lil’ voice saying I wish so and so would try to pull that “I can’t pay trick on me, cause they’re in for a rude awakening”

    Ha ha…Anyhow, it’s been fun. I could really get used to hanging out here on ur site. Take care!

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