“Little old me?! I can’t charge for that!”
People always ask me “how much should I charge for this?”, “am I allowed to charge for this?” or “how do I ask them to pay me for this?”. I must say: I am no expert on this subject matter, I’m just someone who believes that we shouldn’t be expected to carry out free labour. People should always give you the option to decide whether you want to charge for your service or not. Based on the organisations’ capacity, they can decide whether they want to proceed with you or not.
Alvin told us – and I’m paraphrasing – that we should say no to exploitative organisations that ask you to perform free labour for their benefit (in the context of BHM). This is where the idea to write this came from. I’d like to focus on this particular point for the rest of this piece: all the panels/talks/opportunities that you participate in, you’re giving away something – that can be social capital, expertise and/or time.
I hate the phrase “I can’t believe little old me got to …” (booooo!). I’ve seen people that are cultivating large engaged online communities, smashing it academically, running businesses, make time to give back and they are still talking about “I can’t believe it”. Why not? You’re literally killing it.
I think it is partially because our social media exposure gives us a warped perception of what normal is and we fail to recognise that many of us aren’t doing traditionally ‘normal’ things. Gratitude is important, and we should never forget to thank God but by being surprised or starstruck I can only assume that you don't think you're good enough for the opportunity.
With that being said, I also don’t want to hear about your age or the fact you may still be a student. The choice is to charge is always, and should always, be yours. All that should matter is your value add – your experience, your expertise and/or insights, your credibility etc.
You always have to be very clear about what you’re getting in return for your time, expertise, social capital etc. For some people, they want the experience so they’re happy to do it for free because they know that getting this experience will make them more valuable or it aligns with a future goal. That’s very fair and very valid.
For others, they’re happy to give for free because they know that from this opportunity it will open up lots of other opportunities to be paid OR they are working with an organisation/person that they would like to maintain a relationship with (although, it doesn’t mean they can’t pay).
Some people don’t need the money and they’re happy to give their time for free regardless of whether there is a budget or not. Others are happy to do a favour because of a pre-existing relationship or because they really really like what the people asking are about.
There are also groups of people that aren’t too sure and go with the flow. That is …madness. Stop that.
Personally, I’ve gone through different stages:
Do everything for free because I didn't believe that I could charge for the things I was doing.
Accept all the opportunities, charge for everything and if they can’t pay then this isn’t the opportunity for me. Not completely wrong, but it lacked tact.
Accept all the opportunities and charge all the people that have a budget, and do others for free as long as I can get a picture or a video to show that I’m booked and busy (outrageous init!).
I’m at a stage now where I consider all opportunities big or small. I make sure they align with what I want to do, and I make sure I am fully in control of what I am exchanging my time, expertise and social capital for.
The concluding point is that if you’re going to be shaking your booty for these organisations then it's important to know why you’re doing so. When you’re charging a fee for things; ask for a budget, speak to peers and understand the market you are in. There isn’t a magical formula and you will make mistakes, but life is all about learning.
T&Cs: please understand that there are nuances that I haven't detailed in this because it literally just came from my head. Please use sense and don't run before you can walk. Hope you enjoyed my thoughts - like, share and subscribe x
What Alvin actuallllly said:
“under no circumstances should you (a black person) work for free this month. Budgets exist for everything apart from black history month right? Wrong. If the organisation, brand or school truly care about black lives, they’ll invest the time, energy and resource into making sure that black lives and stories are centred and amplified this and every other month of the year. That is all.”