Friday, February 22, 2013

"Should You Work For Free"

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."
-Samuel Johnson

From Seth Godin:

Should you work for free?
That depends on what you mean by "work" and by "free."

Work is what you do as a professional, when you make a promise that involves rigor and labor (physical and emotional) and risk. Work is showing up at the appointed time, whether or not you feel like it. Work is creating value on demand, and work (for the artist) means putting all of it (or most of it) on the line.
So it's not work when you indulge your hobby and paint an oil landscape, but it's work when you agree to paint someone's house by next week. And it's not work when you cook dinner for friends, but it's work when you're a sous chef on the line on Saturday night.
And free?

Well, you're certainly not working for free if you get some cash at the end of the night. But what about a nine-minute segment on 60 Minutes about your new project, or a long interview with Krista Tippet on her radio show? Should you get paid for that?

Clearly not. Not if you think you'll be able to turn that platform into positive change, into increased trust, into something that moves you forward.
[As more of us work with abundant ideas, not scarce resources, the question comes up more often. I'm not delving at all into the idea of donating your work to a cause you believe in. That's not a selfish calculation, it's a generous one, and I'm all for it, but do it for that reason. Because paying your work forward is the right thing to do.]
Harlan Ellison is gifted, inspired and entertaining, particularly in this video. But his profane refusal to work for free confuses work-for-money with work-for-actually-valuable-attention. (In his case, he's right, the attention on the DVD had no real value to him. Yes, they could pay for that--but see the point about positive externalities, below.)

Of course, many people who would have you work for free value attention far differently than you or I might. No, writing a guest blog post for a little blog is probably not valuable enough to you. No, designing a logo for the zoo for free is probably not valuable either. And the argument that it is valuable (it's good for your portfolio!) is inevitably selfish and irrational. The lions get their food, the vets get paid and even the guy selling peanuts doesn't do it for free...

On the other hand, for a long time it made perfect sense for opinion leaders without big blog followings to write (for 'free') for the Huffington Post. And there's still a line of people eager to write for the New York Times op ed page, not for the money. And if Oprah calls, sure, answer her, even though her show isn't what it used to be.

The more generous you are with your ideas, and the more they spread, the more likely it is your perceived value goes up....MORE
Work for Free Decision Tree