You can keep your ‘exposure’. Show us the money!

in Career Advice • 5 mins read

Catherine Deveny

By Catherine Deveny
Contributor at Money Circle



Career advice. Two things.  Never work for free.  Never ask anyone to work for free. Got it? Good.

I like many freelancers, constantly get requests from businesses to work for free. It’s offensive, rude and unprofessional. And very, very common. And not just grass roots groups, multi-national corporations.

Let me share with you yesterday’s request which was typical. Sad truth is the companies and businesses calling themselves feminist are the worst. I receive weekly “can you come and talk about women being shafted and by the way we’ll shaft you” emails.

Almost every time I have been approached to work for free, and the group tells me they have ‘no money’, after a few emails – they find some money. I can’t tell you the number of times high profile women I know have agreed to work for free and found out they were the only ones not being paid. Or worse still, the men are being paid and the women are not.

This happens for two simple reasons. Firstly, because the organisers wouldn’t dream of approaching the men to work for free. And secondly, because the men wouldn’t dream of working for free.


A group set up to ‘empower entrepreneurial women’ contacted me this week telling me they’d love to have me ‘onboard’ their ‘cause’. I enquired as to what ‘onboard’ meant and what their ‘cause’ was. After a long rambling email telling me they were keeping things low cost to ‘outreach as many women as possible’ (sounds so selfless) to ‘create a brand’ (sounds not so selfless) as an offshoot of their existing business by holding a conference at a hotel (for which I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t dream of expecting to get for free).

She went on to tell me she was talking to TEDx, the international ideas conference, to discuss event options and assured me the event would be held at the ‘most professional level one could ask for. Photographers and videographers for marketing etc etc’. I smelt a work for free ‘opportunity’ coming on.

The email explained the conference was to ‘create a forum so women can come and learn, as well as tap into a unique movement of uplifting and courageous moments.’

After telling me the speakers were athletes, authors, celebrity figures (whoever the f@#! they are) and everyday business women (again whoever the f@#! they are) who were all contributing their time to the ‘cause’ the email explained there would be tables at the back ‘for books and events or any value -add marketing material benefits’.

Value add. WTF? Benefits?

She then asked me if I was ‘willing’ to ‘volunteer’ and ‘contribute’ a 30-40 minute story of my life and how I created my ‘brand’ for the ‘cause’ so they could create their ‘brand’ in order to ‘empower’ women.

Here’s my reply.

Hi Kay,

Unfortunately, like you I can’t afford to work for free.

How incredibly unprofessional to develop a budget which does not pay people for their work.

Do you ask your cleaner, plumber, the guy who puts petrol in your car to do it for free?

Do you sit down with an architect, design a house, employ a builder and expect him and his contractors to work for free?

I think it’s extremely damaging to your brand particularly the ‘empowered entrepreneurial’ bit, not to mention rude, to ask people to work for free. Particularly women. Women are 50% of the population, do two thirds of all the work, earn 10% of the money and own 1% of all property.

You are not a cause. You are a business. Building a brand to make money. Paying photographers and videographers to use as promotional material. Good on you, but don’t ask or expect people to work for free.

I am a single mum and a freelancer. I pay everyone who works for me. Very well.

I do heaps of stuff for free. For charities, state schools, community groups and independent artists. Not businesses. And particularly not for businesses trying to pass themselves off as a ’cause’. I also donate to heaps of cool causes. With the money I am paid to work.

Is everyone else working for free? If not why are some being asked to and other’s not? Oh and just to amuse me, look at the genders of the people you are asking to work for free and those you wouldn’t dream of insulting like that.

When you ask people to work for you for free you are asking them to pay to work for you. They pay for their travel, clothes, make up, preparation, printing, childcare. For your event.

‘All the speakers are doing so for free to build their brand and share their message to empower other women, build their self worth and self esteem.’

How are these women being empowered by agreeing to work for free? Explain to me how it ‘builds their self worth and self esteem?’ Let me guess? A hand written card and a bottle of wine?

As for your claim after I inquired to a fee ‘I wasn’t planning to monetize this process.’ Firstly employing the photographers and videographers suggests you are and secondly, I’m having a haircut tomorrow. I am not planning to monetize my haircut but I would not dream of not paying my hairdresser or asking her to work for free or donate her time for exposure.

So you’re not for profit? Guess what? I’m not for profit too. Not for profit does not mean unpaid.

Exposure does not pay the rent.

Good luck with your ’cause’.


Does this ring a bell? Tell us about your experiences.

“Do you ask your cleaner, plumber, the guy who puts petrol in your car to do it for free? ”

3 comments on “You can keep your ‘exposure’. Show us the money!

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  1. Pamela

    Happens all the time to writers, too, Catherine, especially children’s writers like me. New freelancers, writers and other creative people often don’t know how much to charge, so they get sucked into doing it for free. This is where the Australian Society of Authors’ standard fees are very useful – you can use them as a benchmark when negotiating with people who want to ‘build your brand’ by exploiting you (

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  2. Erik

    I have to disagree with you on one point: Men do get asked to work for free or cheap all the time, even without the courtesy of offering to cover travel expenses. Even for professional organizations that want their members to learn something that will give them a commercial advantage in their markets. At least, that’s been my experience. I just say no and say that they’ll need to pay.

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  3. Shane

    Photographers aren’t being paid either no matter the gender. In fact Tennis Australia had the hide to advertise for photographers to work for free (selling it as experience) but was slammed quickly by the photographic community. Small win in an industry where real pros are being starved out by bored soccer mums looking for a few ‘easy’ bucks.

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