When is free disrespectful?


Free white papers, free webinars, free registration, free food. Mmmmm. What’s so bad about free?

Well, students, interns, and unemployed people can’t live on free. Just as you live in a heated/air conditioned 3000 square foot home, eat freshly cooked food, and choose a beautiful outfit from your full closet everyday, students and interns also have to pay rent, fill stomachs, and clothe bodies. And their bank accounts aren’t happy like yours. Their bank accounts begin with a delightful character those of us in the numbers business like to call the negative sign. Promises of great work experience and a chance of future employment don’t feed and clothe and house them. Pay your interns a living wage. Every intern. Every time.

If the work you need performed is so important that it MUST be done and you MUST find someone to do it, and that person can’t be your adorable six year old nephew, then the work has value. Value is not expressed through free tweets of thanks, $10 Best Buy gift cards, $4 coffees, or $8 lunches. If you need work done, it has value which needs to be exchanged for actual, real money.

It doesn’t matter whether the value exchange is money for product or money for service. Knowledge does not appear out of nowhere. As the saying goes, a piece of art may have taken 1 hour to create, but it grew out of 30 years of dedicated life experiences, training, education, successes, and failures. That piece of artwork took 30 years to create. The expertise of professionals is no different. The unique skills and knowledge they developed took years of dedicated effort, not simply the 30 minutes while you chatted over a $4 coffee. If this seems a little odd, then have a look at the video below. I chuckle every time I watch it even though it’s the reality that many people live in.

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.
“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.
“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.
“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”
To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”


I have been asked to work for companies for free. And, even though my fridge is full, my home is heated, and my closet is full of mismatched clothes that I thought were perfect in the store (Oh, how I hate shopping for clothes!), I generally say no. Why? Because I don’t work for companies that have earnings, budgets, and finance departments for free. A company’s desire for a great deal, the best price, a real bargain at the expense of the other party does not match up with my beliefs about treating people fairly and respectfully.

However, if you are an unemployed market researcher and can’t afford to have someone review and edit your resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile page, I am totally there for you. Need advice and guidance to submit your first ever speaking proposal to a conference? I’m there for you. Fighting with your Imposter Syndrome? I’m there for you again. This is where I prefer to spend my ‘free’ time. Ask me for help. I’ll help you for free. 


One response

  1. Yay! Great to read an article by someone “outing” the rort of not paying interns. As a casual academic mentor at a major university I hear of students seeking intern positions all the time – and being happy to accept $0 just for the work experience and hope that they may get a job. This practice by industry is wrong. Completely agree with your comments Annie.

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