If you’re a writer or any sort of creator, then you’ve likely been offered pay in the form of exposure instead of money.
Does it piss you off? I’m guessing it does. Most creatives loathe doing work on spec (free) or for less money than they think it’s worth. It pissed one writer off enough to write an op-ed in The NY Times about it.
I’ve heard many writers and other artists complain about not getting paid for their work or being paid way too little for it.
Here’s the cold, hard reality:
The market doesn’t care.
The market is the market is the market and whining won’t get you paid. The creatives who win are not necessarily the ones who are the most talented or the most “creative.” It’s the ones who can face reality and know how to treat their art like a business. In the digital age, developing a personal brand is a great way to do just that. While being great at your craft is important, it is only one part of the equation. The rest is business savvy — knowing how to market and promote yourself, how to negotiate in your favor, and how to protect yourself and your work legally. Unless you can figure out how to use your art or skills to fulfill a certain need in the marketplace, it will have to remain a hobby.
And, here’s the thing with working on spec or for a lower pay. There are many times when it literally doesn’t pay, no pun intended, but sometimes it can pay very handsomely. Just because you are not getting paid much or at all in money, doesn’t mean you can’t still get a great deal of value out of the experience. Everything must be measured by the cost versus the value or benefit provided. There are times when doing some work for free or for less money can be your ticket to a great deal of long-term monetary value.
Take, for example, being a Huffington Post contributor. I’m not paid for my column, but it helps me in the following ways and more:
- Increased awareness of me and my work, which has directly translated into more leads and clients.
- Lends trust, credibility, and authority which can be leveraged to charge more for my content marketing services.
- Access to movers and shakers with whom I can network that I would not have had access to if it wasn’t for my Huffington Post blog.
Sometimes doing unpaid or low-paid work for a major influencer can advance your own position and be the gateway to future opportunities. David Rock was an amateur filmmaker who approached Vayner Media CEO, Gary Vaynerchuk and offered to film him for an entire day so he could turn it into a documentary for free. Gary loved David’s work and hired him to be his personal videographer and creative director. Now Mr. Rock enjoys a well-paying job filming and editing Gary’s videos. Thanks to his new gig, which he earned through unpaid work, he travels to numerous locations around the world, enjoys newfound fame and notoriety on social media, and has almost unlimited access to a business leader and mentor many people would pay thousands of dollars to speak to for only a few minutes.
While it can sometimes be in your long-term financial interest to do work for free or very little, don’t feel compelled to work with people who can’t promise you enough value — whether that’s exposure or money.
At the end of the day, the solution to not getting paid what you’re worth is not complaining about the market, but figuring out how you can use your craft to solve a problem or fulfill a need and making strategic partnerships with people who can help you. Networking and developing a personal brand are things every creative should master and social media makes this easier to do than ever before.