Freelancing isn’t Free Work

As a freelancer, there is the flexibility in schedule, not having to deal with traffic jam, and creativity to build your own brand. It’s rewarding. However, it takes hard work. Unlike working for someone, I do not have a boss who gives me work or feedback, a marketing or sales team who brings me clients, a secretary to organize and maintain books. No, it’s all me. It’s a one woman shop.

Creative profession is not a hobby for my own pleasure or fun. It’s there to generate income and pay my bills.

Every freelancer or teacher gets something like. My publishing professor has received emails where companies want to take advantage of interns. For example, one company laid off several people and wanted interns to fill in spots that were supposed to be filled by paid employees. My professor refused and said that he will not be sending any students unless each student is being supervised or working under a person in that specific role. It seems that unpaid internships are now the new entry-level jobs.

I’m also in beauty school because having one art is too confining. In one of the chatboards that I’m part of, one person received an email like this. I bet it is a scam or a request from a naive person. Sadly, someone may take up on it.


Let’s look at the request above. This pisses me off for many reasons:

  • Professionalism. I’d love be a bitch by sending back a corrected version of her email. The poor punctuation and errors is off-putting by itself. One typo lone wouldn’t bother me. But, here we have an adult unable to pass elementary school grammar. Also the “hi there” makes me suspect that the sender is mass emailing. Also, that’s how you’d send a text message to a friend. Don’t send any professional type of email with that salutation. Use the first name. Re-read email before sending. There’s a difference between casual and incompetent writing.
  • Poor Attitude. Oh, so we poor students should be grateful for picking crumbs that fall from the table, huh? She’s acting as if she’d doing the student makeup artist a favor.  If this head designer has such a reputation, then she can clearly afford to pay someone for services even if it’s only $50. That is nothing but at least something.
  • Why would you want students to do your own wedding makeup? Wouldn’t you want someone with experience? This makes me wonder about her expectations. Clients like this expect high quality, professional level work for free.
  • Ignorance and Naiveté. Some people are well-intended, but have no clue. Creative people are NOT wizards with an art calling who conjure up art with no effort. I enjoy what I do but that doesn’t mean it’s effortless. Designing and writing takes a lot of mental effort and valuable. I spend days researching, figuring out ideas, drafting, and then completing the project. Then, for a makeup business, there’s the supplies, travel, planning, and other fees. And, I have to make a living. Would exposure pay bills? Does this person not understand how a business works? Would she ask her baker, caterer, and other vendors if they can do it for free for experience or exposure? There is no such thing as free work.


Now, what is legit.

I worked on projects with photographers and others that mutually benefit both of us such as a mutual trade-for-services or barter. I don’t mix personal with professional.

Very recently, I helped create a photoshoot. I hired models for free pictures and makeup artist services, a student photographer for a small fee looking to build her portfolio. She’d provide me with pictures for my portfolio. It was a win-win situation. I used real people instead of professional models. That helps all of us.

I wouldn’t ask a student photographer to take free photos for my personal family christmas postcards for experience or exposure. I’d pay her.

If this head designer had a low-budget show or fashion show for charity where she can use student makeup artists for experience, then it makes sense. It shouldn’t be for her personal bridal makeup.

If I were the instructor, I’d first breathe. Then, I’d send a response explaining why I will not be referring my students to her. I’d be less likely to respond to her future requests. She gave me a bad impression and I would not want to network with her.

Here’s another way to silence such requests. I’d say, “Sure, I’d do it on one condition. For every hour of my service you will clean my house and/or babysit my child. Why don’t you start first?”

I’ve received something similar for editing and book design. Every creative professional has a similar story.

Then, freelancers get fake reviews in the name of “poor customer service” from entitled cheap bitches who want to take advantage of small businesses or individuals. One person I know received a faux negative review from an old classmate from high school who lived several states away. Of course, she called her out. That reviewer deleted the comment and disappeared.

Then, you get ballistic people who seem to think that email equals being on speed dial 24-7 and expect me to respond right away to an email sent at 11:30 pm. The emails are not pressing matters and can wait. Thanks to these people, I put down my office hours in my contract and that I’ll respond within 24 hours (the standard time-frame for business communication).

In general, setting boundaries is an important skill, but even more so as a one woman shop. Freelancing isn’t always glamorous or fun. You occasionally put up with bullshit. Thankfully, it is rare. Most people are great to work with and I enjoy meeting all kinds of people.


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