Rule #1: Never Do Creative Work For Free

We will not solve problems before we are paid. Our thinking is our highest value product; we will not part with it without appropriate compensation. ~The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns.

This quote comes from a severely underpriced book that will renovate your universe. You will learn how to charge for your thinking, charge more overall, avoid the dreaded pitch, position your brand, build expertise, massacre business negotiations and provide 10X more value than you are now.

Sound useful? If you want to continue being a starving artist, turn away now and keep doing whatever you’re doing.

The book contains twelve powerful proclamations. The eighth proclamation, in particular, struck a sensitive cord that I want to explore: we will not solve problems before we are paid. How many times have you done free work in the name of exposure or potential contracts? How many meetings have you been called in to meet-and-greet, that end up being brainstorming sessions where your ideas are siphoned and used, without consent or compensation? How many unproductive pitches have you devoted your resources to?

For the sake of progress, I will be an open wound and expose my mistakes. Two injuries in particular are ghoulish reminders of clients-past:

1. Client A is a newly minted company that was introducing their product into the Kenyan market. I learned about their business, their altruistic agenda and their goals for the future. I thought our first meeting was a success, but according to the manifesto, it was my first mistake. I kept skirting around the topic of money, hoping for my prospective client to bring it up. He did not. Meeting Two was scheduled, this time at their offices with the co-founder and the rest of the team. I poured all my ideas on the table, going as far as putting together a strategy report. Each time we met, the money issue felt like a festering wound screaming in agony. Three meetings, several consultations and writing services later, they finally brought it up. They offered less than a third of my asking price. We parted ways and all my contributions became pro-bono by default.

Hold on to your machetes. There’s one more.

2. Client B is an OG in the industry, with an impressive product portfolio in every retail market in the country. I joined the creative team for their online campaign project through a referral from a previous client. We had our first meeting and, again, I gave willingly of my ideas and met with them twice for brainstorming (I can literally hear you calling me an idiot). My engagement contract was never signed, delayed for ‘reasons beyond their control’, but I felt falsely secure in the fact that this was a well-established company. They wouldn’t try to finagle me out my compensation, right? Wrong. And the whole team was finagled alongside me.

Trust no one.

Let’s play the game where we poke and prod at the mind-numbingly stupid mistakes I made. Eleanor Roosevelt once said we should learn from others because we can’t live long enough to learn from our own mistakes. So let’s learn:

First, I should have brought up the issue of money as early as possible. Waiting for a client to steer that conversation is not only reckless, it puts you at the mercy of their value judgment. You should know your own value, and as the manifesto says, “never apologize for being a responsible businessperson”.  The one with the least mental baggage about money always wins. That baggage is expensive. Get rid of it.

Second, I should have charged for consultation. If your thinking is your highest value product, as the Eight Proclamation says, you must charge for the strategy that precedes any application. Brainstorming sessions that disguise themselves as meetings must be caught and charged to the full extent of the law. Meet and greets are dandy and all, but draw the line at sharing diagnostic or strategic information during those meetings. You’re there to listen, so ask a lot of meaningful questions. Determine whether you and the client are a good fit. Ask about the budget. If the client is persistent about the freebies, the manifesto offers this useful phrase: “It is our policy to not begin to solve our clients’ problems before we are engaged.”

I’m a slow learner. But I learn. ~Sansa Stark-Lannister-Bolton.

Can you spot any more mistakes?

Remember, there are twelve proclamations. The bar of gold in this one is to value your time, resources and most of all, your thinking. Just make sure you have the expertise to back it up (which you learn how to build in the Seventh Proclamation chapter). There’s a lot of work to be done (and it won’t be free).