Working for Free.
This whole working for free thing.. There is a huge element of it that makes me cringe. There are times where it makes sense. It’s been a thing lately. Some are spewing nonsense, some are speaking truth. Necessary part of the process or overhyped thought? Let’s think is out.
I stumbled across a few articles, almost a year old at the time of this writing. Something to the effect of ‘Huffington Post Now Pays Writers’.. One by the Columbia Journalism Review and another by the New York Times.
For people outside the publishing world, yes this is part of the game writers and journalists play. It always has been I suppose, yet the internet and the dependence on social media has taken this practice to a whole new place. We are in uncharted territory here.
Note the Huffington Post isn’t alone in this practice. There are unlimited blogs and websites who accept guest posts or contributors. That is not the bad part. Putting some work out there without any compensation is part of growth. The promises and the expectations is what people need to consider.
Hustle yourself broke
Before we get into true purpose of this post, I want to address the mentality of working for free.. The “look at me, I’m hustling my ass off, getting shit done” lifestyle.
Take Gary Vaynerchuk for example. Over the years Gary has done a great job of encouraging people to quit complaining, get off their ass, and get to work. This video, is something else though. When the hustle mentality goes too far. Predicting people will eventually pay him to work for him.
I generally like Gary Vee but it’s tough to make sense of stuff like this. Was unable to find out what lead to this conversation. Some context might provide for a deeper understanding of why he’s saying this. Either way, I’m going to say this flat out..
It’s bullshit. Total bullshit. Do not fall for it. Period.
Yes, yes I know.
I have no doubt, working with Gary Vaynerchuk would be a great experience. Gary seems like a really good person with a lot of knowledge. And yes, focus on the overall point he’s trying to make.. but paying him 200K per year to work with him? The key words in his video there. “If you’re a winner”. There is the variable. The outroute. If you don’t succeed it’s your fault. This is where it gets toxic.
There are so many other aspects and variables in life that concoct success. Paying to be “in the vortex” is a horrible idea for the overwhelming majority of people. Even with all the perks and potential to learn lessons, make connections, develop skills, etc.
The practice of being in a struggle and scraping by as long as you’re busy hustling, is what makes rich people richer. It’s also what keeps the struggling people struggling.
I’m sure we can find people, who worked right alongside Gary that have gone on to do great things. I have seen other examples where people left him and Vaynermedia to do their own thing. Youtube channels, publications, personal brands.
It seems that despite their commitment and hustle, the leverage is not as great as you might think. Again, there are many parts to the equation of success. Knowledge from an expert or mentor, is only one part of that equation.
Since when did working for nothing become cool?
It has almost become an honor to brag about how much you’re breaking your ass. Still broke as a joke but at least you can use that hustle hashtag in your Instagram pic. Not everyone is working for free but they are hustling themselves broke.
Take for example, the gig economy. Fiverr, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Food Delivery services, etc. The basic thoughts behind these “gigs” is to make a few extra bucks. Problem is that they have become full time jobs for some people. Some have even strung together multiple gigs to get by. Oh and who can forget the Doer ads by Fiverr.
It’s crazy to think that this has become a lifestyle that people are embracing. Think about the Los Angeles teachers strike.
Imagine giving these teachers the “work for free to better your future” pitch. What would that sound like? “Hey, you’ll get great exposure by teaching here. You’ll be teaching alongside other great teachers. The learning experience alone is worth it.
Someone will see how great you are, and pay you what you’re worth. Not us, but someone will. It will be a huge plus down the road. Sooo if we can all get back to work..”
Sounds silly enough but that is basically the “work for the experience” pitch.
Think turn of the century. Unions formed. Pushback against the few who stand to get rich on the extreme labor of the many. People fighting to get a piece of the pie. This hustle mentality becomes laughable.
Don’t get it twisted
The take home message here is to understand your own worth, time, and quality of life. If nothing else, don’t get played for a sucker.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write an article for a blog, create a design, or do something to get some valuable experience. Working for free may lead to something great. It does happen.
If the alternative is excessive Netflix and sleeping all day, then of course promotional work makes sense. There’s more to think about when the issue is keeping a roof over your head.
The point is to do this work for the right reasons. Be realistic about expectations. Limit or stop giving when it’s time. Simply be conscious of all this. Make the decision and be at peace with it.
A healthy approach
Working yourself ragged is not healthy. Yes, applying some pressure and challenging yourself is one way to grow and develop as a person. That doesn’t mean you should be working nonstop, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no end in sight.
Admire the hustle, but don’t let it control you. There is no badge of honor in working yourself miserable, sick, broke, and into an early grave.
Understand the business behind publications. Make the decision to proceed.
Time for a gut check. Let’s create a scenario. A positive, realistic scenario.
You love writing and decide to do a little freelancing.
Plenty of publications are accepting guest contributions. They claim it’s a great way to put your best work out there and gain exposure. You agree.
Yes, you’ll be working for free, but as a hungry and motivated writer you’re going to make the most of the opportunity. You put in a great effort and do all the right things.
Submit posts to a mix of major, midsized, and even smaller publications.
A high number of submission get published.
You are applauded for all the work. Hey some posts even go viral!
Your personal blog showed a spike in traffic. Gained new Twitter and Instagram followers. Some people even gave you their email address. Yes! First party data!
Soon there’s nothing left of your previous success.
The post that went viral, was hot for about 48 hours, then traffic came to a screeching halt.
Your personal blog stopped getting hits as well. Back to single digit per day hits. Hey at least the bots still care right?
Publications that your post blew up on a week ago, have since posted hundreds if not thousands of new posts. Yes many of them we’re guest contributions as well.
You’re already yesterday’s news. Long forgotten.
People who admired your work can’t even begin to remember your name, let alone go look for more of your work.
All the while the platforms that accepted your work made ad revenue, obtained clicks, gained algorithm strength, etc. They benefited from all the other freelancers as well.
Oh and some of the publications now own that piece of work you submitted. You did check each platform’s policy on that before you submitted it, didn’t you?
No job offers or paid gigs came in.
Do you feel bitter. Feel taken advantage of? All the greats go through this right? Or don’t they?
Now you’re back where you started. At least you have a bit more Twitter cred right?
You can keep submitting work to try and replicate previous success. This time you’ll try and figure out how to keep people’s attention longer. Keep them coming back to your site.
You approach it as a marketing thing.. Keep getting in front of people, your name will eventually stick.
You can try and work the social media and email contacts yourself. Organically or through paid ads.
You can continue to rely on previous success and apply to publications that do pay.
Recognize the vulnerability. Thrive off it or let it consume you.
If you decide to keep submitting free work that is your decision. You will have to live with the results of that decision.
Understand that this cycle can go on endlessly. You can keep submitting work and never make a dime. You may never go viral again. It may seem no one cares.
Are you at peace with that? Do you have the stomach for it? It might pay off. It might not.
Some will thrive off of this, some won’t. Some want to write because it’s their passion, others realize they got into this for the wrong reasons. Not a damn thing wrong with moving onto something else that will make you happy. Again, it’s your decision and you will live with that decision.
Think about this real hard. Be truthful with yourself. Again, this is a gut check. Take your time answering. Working for free may be just the thing you need.
Ready to move forward?
Good, now stop reading this and begin writing!
Thank you for reading!!
Interested in Beer and Chocolate? Great! Click here to check out our Godiva Chocolate and Craft Beer Pairings.