The Sarky Type – content with more bite

I very rarely get people asking me to work for nothing. When I do, all I hear is someone telling me fibs.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Personally, I think hindsight is useless. Having to wait until after a thing has happened to then realise it was a bad idea, is no way to live your life.

“In hindsight, having that 15th JD and coke probably lead to me falling down the stairs and severing my spinal cord.”

In hindsight, I wish I’d never worked those few times for free.

We all make mistakes, right, but I don’t want you to waste your literal time doing the same.

So read on for 3 lies about working for free.

1. You will gain experience.

When you start your freelance career, you’re excited but you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

Keen to learn your craft by accepting offers of free work, seems, on the face of it, like a great idea. I’m going to now, make an assumption about you. And that is you lack the confidence that comes with experience. So, when someone wants what you offer, you’re stoked – you cannot believe they like your stuff. So you do it for free because it would be great practice, right?


The person asking you to give your services away for nothing might sense that you’re inexperienced and they’re using that knowledge to their own advantage. Maybe you’re doing certain things that reveal you’re a novice, and here are some of those things:

  • You’re open about your lack of experience
  • You exude zero confidence
  • You have no clear business process
  • You don’t set boundaries

It’s more than likely you’re lying to yourself, convinced no one will pay you a decent rate until you’ve been slogging in your industry for 20 some years. That’s another lie. Don’t listen to yourself or anyone else who tells you that bullshit.

Some folks just have the raw attributes that make them good at what they do and guess what, you’ll get even better.

2. An enjoyable job equals unpaid.

Maybe you get to use crayons or flash a camera about.

Perhaps now you’re self-employed, you no longer have to deal with a handsy boss. You can take fridge breaks whenever you damn well please and never have to hide the fact you spend most of your day surfing the internet. 

So why should you expect to get paid too?

Creatives are especially prone to cheeky bastards asking them to work for free because it’s seemingly a joy to paint / take photographs / design websites / write stuff.

That’s a myth.

This is not a hobby, this is your occupation. Doing a favour for family and friends is one thing, it’s quite another when a stranger expects you to do it because you’re ‘living the dream’.

3. It will be great exposure.

Do you remember that time you called a plumber and said:

“Hello, I wonder if you can fix a leak in my bathroom? I won’t be able to pay you but I will tell all my friends about your services.”

No, you don’t remember because you wouldn’t dare ask your local tradesperson for free graft. It’s rude and insulting.

If you keep saying yes to working for free you probably need to seek the advice of a professional to figure out why you think it’s ok for people to treat you like shit. You might be under the misguided impression that it will attract paying customers. The bottom line is this: it isn’t just the person who’s asking the favour that doesn’t value your work – you don’t either.

Creative found DEAD trying to live off ‘exposure‘.

You can’t use it to heat your home. It doesn’t put food on your table. And if I had a pair of Christian Louboutins for every time I heard that line “you’ll get lots of exposure”, I’d be Imelda Marcos.

Hold the press: exposure isn’t currency or luxury goods

At no point did my performing an acoustic set to an audience of old farts, did I ever secure a paid gig. Nor did it lead to a recording contract because A&R people didn’t hang out in the venues I played. 

If the audience is not your audience people won’t buy from you.

The same applies when I write a free article for a market that will likely, never buy from me. Generic business types usually don’t want what I’m offering.

And another thing: if the brand in question has no influence or reputation, it will do nothing to boost your position within your industry. All you’ve done is invest time and talent into gaining absolutely nothing for your business.


Freelancers: 3 lies about working for free

Stop buying these lies about working for free.

People who ask for freebies know how good you are, otherwise, they wouldn’t entertain getting in touch. They just don’t value it enough to pay cash.

They’ve probably been consuming all your content. They’ll say nice things and tell you what a great [INSERT CREATIVE JOB TITLE HERE] they think you are. That’s sweet but take it as a compliment and move on with your life.

Sure, people might ask for your services based on some charitable purpose, and it’s your choice if you wish to give up your time for some good cause. You’re still not obliged to do so.

But Sarah, you don’t get anything if you don’t ask.

That’s very true, and if people are brave enough to ask me for free work, they probably deserve something for nothing but some copy isn’t what I had in mind.

What you have will benefit them, way more than it does you.

And they know that. So don’t be blinded by flattery, and don’t think you’re damaging a future relationship that might/maybe/possibly lead to paid work. 

Focus on the people that not only love what you do but who are more than willing to pay the asking price. Because getting paid for your actual job should be the bare minimum requirement for any occupation.

Think about this when you next get a begging email/DM:

  • Is it furthering my career?
  • Is it boosting my profile?
  • Is it opening up influential doors?

If it isn’t doing any of that, just say no.

If you keep attracting terrible people who think you should provide them work for nothing (or very little in return) it’s all your fault.

If your online spaces aren’t geared to proper paying clients, what do you expect? If your target customer is a little hazy, your pricing structure – a disaster, and your buying process – non-existent, that’s all on you.

If your business copy isn’t actively discouraging the time-wasters, this shit will continue.

If you don’t start believing you’re worth cold hard cash, it might be time to throw in the self-employment towel.

If you’re a freelancer who’d love some help with marketing, book a one-to-one with me.

If you’re running a drug cartel, honesty in business may not be your biggest priority.

Your entire operation is built on deception.

Telling a few lies might actually keep you from being executed – buying you some much needed time until you can find your way out of a sticky situation.

And being forced to dig your own grave in the heart of the Bolivian jungle is probably the stickiest of situations.

I’ll further caveat this post with more truth about telling porkies: it’s impossible not to tell them.

If someone says they don’t lie, they’re lying.

We use falsehoods to save our own skin and the skin of others. We tell people they look nice when they don’t, and we make promises we know we can’t keep:

“I promise I will never leave you.” (Except when I die, or start seeing Paula from work.)

There are occasions when telling a fib is the right thing to do.

So let’s please try to avoid absolutes and accept that lying is a part of the human condition.

Compulsive liars.

Ok, these are a different breed altogether. Have you ever met one? I have known a few in my time.

Before we go any further, compulsive liars can’t help doing it. And although it isn’t included in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders, it is often a trait found in several mental health conditions. No, Karen, I’m not a medical professional.

Just like writers, these people are great at telling stories.

Compulsive liars are often the hero of the tales they tell.

It’s interesting how they always seem to be in the right place at the right time and coincidentally, they have a story to match any lived experience you’ve had. Like any work of fiction, their tale is dramatic, full of twists and turns, and utter bullshit.

Take the work colleague who claimed to be a millionaire. He owned a chain of hotels in America, despite working at Sainsbury’s and driving about in a 2008 Citroen Saxo.

Then there’s the guy that always hides £3000 under his mattress “just in case of emergencies” but next month he’s pleading poverty when the gas bill comes in.

There are many of these people walking amongst us so we can presume lots of them are running businesses. Hell, some of these people are running countries (sorry, ruining countries).

What’s the point of deception in business?

Often, it’s to impress.

When a business pretends it’s more successful than it really is, it’s to give the impression they’re a big deal and (hopefully) you’ll wanna work with them.

Avoiding honesty in business.

Honesty in business

When you make a conscious decision to deceive, you’re running the risk of being found out.

You’ll be counting down the days when those unsubstantiated claims get flagged because, hello, the internet. Aside from the ambiguity of this post you really should be honest in business.

There, I said it, be honest.

Trying to impress your prospects with half-truths and embellished ‘facts’ will only hurt your credibility in the long run.

And it will balls up your SEO.

Building authority in your industry is a big thing when you’re trying to drive organic traffic to your place.

Google hates a bullshitter. I’ve talked before about the YMOYL (Your Money Or Your Life) concept. Google assesses how your words and content impact your audience. If you’re selling products and the claims about their benefits aren’t credible, that’s a sure-fire way to fuck up your ranking.

Unethical or unlawful?

You’ve seen those adverts on Facebook: become a millionaire in 3 weeks using this failsafe course.

Often these ‘businesses’ will litter their webcopy with a haul of disclaimers. They do just enough to allow them to work within the parameters of the law.

Scarcity selling tactics aren’t illegal either but we know deep down that for a lot of companies, there is no ‘last chance to buy’ nonsense. Then there’s the hiking up of a product price for a week, only for it to drop to the actual price the following, so it can be seemingly sold as 50% off. Sofa retailers have been doing that shit for years.

Two certainties in life: death, and the DFS sale. Long after humans have perished and the cockroaches take over, there will still be time to grab a Milano 2-seater for £399.

Transparent client process.

If you’re not clear on the way you do things, that doesn’t mean you’re automatically lying about something (you might be terrible at running a business).

But if you have an honest business culture (where possible, remember what I said at the start of this post) then you’ll be open about your process to your potential customers.

Let me tell you a little story (don’t worry, I’m not a compulsive liar – or Max Bygraves)

I get the occasional DM from agencies asking if I’d be interested in doing some work for them.

They often go something like this:

“Sarah, we love your style. Can you send us some info about your rates and the services you offer?”

Sounds plausible, even sounds like my kind of gig. I respond with a link to said services and pricing.

So far, so transparent.

In one particular case, I got this reply:

“Great, I’ll forward this over to our members and we’ll be in touch.”

Are you bored yet, cos I feel like you might be, I know I’m starting to lose the will to live

After a few emails, they realise they can’t afford me.

Actually, they’re not prepared to pay my prices. Fair do’s but it’s annoying because they knew my prices before the emails (assuming they looked at the link in the DM).

During our little game of email tennis, they never mentioned how they hire talent – not a whiff of a price point.

Why not have a template message with that shit in? That’s like 101 of business admin.

The only way I found out was by asking.

How did it end?

Badly, especially when they told me they charged per word.

I know, what’s with creative agencies using that piss-poor model?

I mentioned something about valuing a writer on the quality of their work and not the quantity of it. I’m such a self-righteous arsewipe.

It didn’t curry any favour with the agency. I found this in my mailbox:

“Thanks for the tip! You asked for more info and I’m giving it to you, but now you come at me like this, why you doing me this way? That’s some wild shit!”

Those were not the exact words used but you get the idea 

I’m sure you’re a thoroughly decent human. 

You’re probably honest (where applicable) and your process, transparent. I can quite believe you’re running a business with integrity, a business that values deadlines, communication, and paying people on time. 

And if that is you, and you’d like to work with me, click here to find out how.

Awful potential customers will reveal their bad client traits before you decide to work with them.

They won’t hide their behaviour because they’re often oblivious to it. They also don’t see how their actions can be perceived as bad. Like psychopaths, they don’t know that they are one (nor do they care).

Just when you thought being unprofessional meant tattoos and swearing, some prick comes along with zero integrity.

We’re living through the golden age of digital marketing (I’m not sure we are but what a time to be alive) and like true business gentlemen, we let our clients come first.

Social Selling is about relationship building, so we build those relationships high. Sounds good, I’m down with that, with one caveat – our potentials do their darndest to be the best goddam client we’ve ever had.

Getting a lead is so nice, isn’t it?

Sure, it’s almost like getting those tingles on a good first date but you know almost instantly the ones that will dick you around.

Just like those terrible Tinder meet-ups, we’ve all kissed a few asshats before we found ‘the one’ (or the one of many) but unlike those hookups, we don’t let bastard clients get beyond the DM stage. In reality, some slip through, one might become an actual client. Let’s put an end to that bullshit.

Sit back, grab a beer (depending on when you read this – if you’re an alcoholic, ignore that) and listen to some superb advice on spotting the douche bag clients and how you kick them to the curb.

1. They don’t know you from Adam.

Some will have found you from a Google search so they probably won’t know anything about you.

That’s why it’s your websites’ job to tell them all they need to know.

When they make contact, you want them to say, “You’re totally what I’m looking for”. What you don’t want is some guy called Gary saying, “Our mate saw one of your posts on LinkedIn.”

We all know Gary hasn’t bothered to look at your content, least of all your website.

His team have no idea if you’re a good fit for them and they know fuck all about you and your business. And why should they care? They just need a generic circus act/accountant/photographer/magician’s assistant.

You don’t want clients that don’t want what you specifically offer (this is why long-tail keywords are crucial at targeting the right crowd – more on that here).

So when you get that vague, generic-sounding email, direct them to your website. And if you’re website isn’t distinctive enough and clear about who it’s attracting, you really only have yourself to blame.

2. They’re unreliable.

I hate free phone calls. If you get one from me you’ve either paid or I think you’re hot.

If a client misses a scheduled call, it could be for a few reasons. The proper thing to do is cancel ahead of time. But even decent humans forget. When that happens they will apologise profusely because they value your time as much as they do theirs.

Crappy clients don’t care.

They miss calls and deadlines, and often, never apologise for it. Unreliability is a serious red flag. Remember what Jesus said, “don’t treat people like shit if you don’t like being treated like shit”.

3. They’re bad at planning.

Love those clients that need the work this Friday.

Yeah, you don’t want those bastards either. These people have no project management skills. They knew they needed your services but they didn’t factor in a consultation stage. And now you “must” do the work yesterday. What about the business that didn’t research budgets and now can’t afford to hire a hot-shot like you (despite your prices being displayed on your website)?

Time wasters and poor time managers, honestly I wouldn’t trust these people to run a bath.

These problems are not your problems. And even if you can accommodate the work, think long and hard before you do. They will likely be disorganised in all other aspects of their business.

Reiterate your booking process and tell them when you’re next available. I think I’d sever all ties right there. This is the universe telling you these people are to be avoided.

4. They don’t value what you do.

You’ve just spent hours writing a proposal along with a detailed quote only to get this email:

“It’s much higher than we anticipated”

Oh, I’m sorry Karen, that is unfortunate.

What they’re really saying is, we don’t think what you do is worth that much. That could be because they have no clue how what you do generates income for them.

NEVER justify your price.

Bartering with them won’t raise the bar in terms of how you view yourself, or indeed, how clients view you.

If you want to reduce the service to offer a lower cost – go ahead but it will leave a bad taste in your mouth. Don’t work with people that don’t want to throw good money at you.

Publishing your rates will stop half the time wasters. If the work you offer is bespoke, ask what budget they have BEFORE you commit to doing anything.

Tired of being ghosted after a proposal?

Don’t ever sit and wonder what you did wrong – this isn’t prom night, there is no Chad Lexington IV dumping you because he didn’t get to go to second base. Chad is a douche and so is this potential client.

Charge a flat fee for custom quotes.

And if you want, deduct that fee off the project balance when they book. Send quotes and move on with your life. Always state how long the proposal is valid, if they contact you after that period, you reserve the right to refuse the work or evaluate the price.

5. They give shitty briefs. 

Here’s a client who couldn’t organise a murder in a place called Murder Town, located in the murder capital of Deathland.

Having a sparse or vague brief is not a good omen. To be fair, there is only one good omen and that is, Omen. You shouldn’t do anything for these dickwads until they put in the work.

How are you supposed to do your job well without all the info?

Rest assured, these sort of clients will moan like buggery when delivery day comes and you’ve given them something they “weren’t expecting” because you’re not a mind reader.

Communicate well with your potential clients.

Guide and lead your prospects into behaving how you want them to. Create a checklist of items you need before you can begin. It’s also a test. If they can’t be arsed to give you this stuff, you do not want them in your life.

Figure out how you want to herd your prospects – make them follow your process.

Ultimately it’s your fault if you put up with this shit, trust me, you will rue the goddam day you take on a shoddy client.

Are you my perfect client, can you follow simple instructions, do you LOVE my content? If so, hit the button.