How to tell someone you don't work for free
Screen Shot 2019-07-18 at 10.59.40 PM.png

I haven’t worked for free since Obama was President the first time. The more I own that my work has value, the less likely I am to accept doing anything I do professionally without getting paid. I stand firm in my convictions and refuse to settle for getting paid in exposure, because exposure won’t pay my student loans on time every month. Once I stopped agreeing to work for free, people who were more than willing to pay started to appear in my life more regularly.

Admittedly, this can be very hard to stick to, especially when people you really want to help request that you work for no pay. Just a few weeks ago, I was asked to draft and execute a social media strategy on a volunteer basis. It was for an event I really love and a cause I believe in, but I politely declined. I thought I would feel that tinge of guilt I often feel when I tell somebody “no". I even waited for it to come, but it never did.

I felt empowered enough and proud of myself enough for not falling for the scarcity mindset that makes many of us say yes to just about every opportunity, because who knows when the next one will come.

When I shared the above tweet, many folks asked what I say when I want to tell someone I don’t work for free, so I am sharing a few tips below:

1. If necessary, confirm that they are unwilling or unable to pay you for the service they are requesting.

This step can happen if you aren’t quite clear that it is an unpaid opportunity. Ask them directly if this is a volunteer or pro bono project. The goal is to make them say they can’t or won’t pay you. That can drive what your next move will be, and what boundaries you will need to set with them.

2. Summarize your level of experience and gently remind them that it is customary to be paid for your work.

You can say something like: “I have X years in my field, and have worked for company ABC doing [insert thing they want for free].” Believe it or not, it sometimes doesn’t even occur to the person asking you to work for free that it is a service that one should get paid for, as many people underestimate the value of our work. Don’t be afraid to gently push back on that mindset. Let them know that you are uncomfortable with and avoid giving away your professional talents and skills for no pay. Remember, do not back down, no matter how nicely they ask you to work without pay. Your skills are worth the financial investment.

3. If you’d like to, leave the door open for a good bartering arrangement.

This is totally optional - but I personally enjoy a good barter. Case in point: I helped a friend with some social media/personal branding for their business. i was about to get married and she was a budding fashion stylist in New York City. I needed someone to help style me for my wedding, so we bartered services - I helped her talk through her social media strategy, and she helped me pick a gown and accessories, and even helped pick the dress my bridesmaids wore. It was a win-win situation that was mutually beneficial for both of us, so in this case bartering wasn’t a bad alternative. Usually leaving that door open sounds something like this: “If you can give me more specifics about what you will need, I may be able to figure out a way to help you that is mutually beneficial for both of us.” You can also straight up ask if they are interested in bartering, but this is dependent on having knowledge about what services or resources they could provide.

After that, it is up to them how to proceed. This approach may not work for everyone, but the most important thing is that you do not, under any circumstances, settle for being paid in exposure. You work and your skills have value, and they are worth the investment.

This will be the beginning of a series about getting paid for your work. Next up, I’ll talk about the few instances where pro bono work could be useful, and when to accept it.

Loryn Wilson Carter
What buying a new work bag taught me about investing in myself

I carried my laptop and all my other belongings in a flimsy pleather tote bag for longer than I want to admit. It seemed like a good idea when I first started doing it. As an entry-level professional, it was often all I could afford at the time, and the way my non-profit salary, student loans, and meager budget were set up, it was the only solution that seemed to make sense.

I later switched to a Jansport backpack, and that worked fine…until it didn’t. I carried it around until there were holes in it, then went right back to stuffing everything into a black vinyl tote bag that could barely hold my laptop, bullet journal, pens, wallet and other everyday belongings. I just knew that one day, the weight of all those things would make one of the straps of the tote bag snap and then I’d be out here looking like Boo Boo the Fool, no longer able to carry my things with ease.

The truth is, as time went on, I could have afforded to buy a new work bag sooner. But I had convinced myself that I didn’t “need” to spend money on a better bag. That I didn’t deserve to “spend money like that.” That there was no way I could ever even afford one, so why even look for a better solution? So I did what many folks who were raised in poverty or with economic insecurity: I made do. And I kept making do, even when I didn’t have to anymore.

Simply put, I made what should have been a short-term solution into a long-term habit. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could invest in a sturdier, bigger work bag because frankly, I talked myself into believing that I wasn’t worth the investment.

A little over two months ago, I looked over at my Black pleather tote bag and decided enough was enough. We had a good run, but I outgrew using that bag for…well, everything. I started looking for a new bag that better suited my needs and my lifestyle. I wanted a bag that was stylish but practical and professional at the same time. And more importantly, I wanted it to be big enough to hold my laptop and bullet journal supplies and still have room for, say, a set of gym clothes.

My Twitter homegirl Melody recommended Dagne Dover to me over a year ago. Back in April, I visited their site again to see what they offered in the way of work and travel bags. The moment I laid eyes on the Landon Carryall, I was in love.

Large Landon Carryall from  Dagne Dover  in Storm Blue (currently out of stock, other colors available.)

Large Landon Carryall from Dagne Dover in Storm Blue (currently out of stock, other colors available.)

At $185, it was the most expensive bag I would buy at this point in my life and career. I found myself talking myself out of it, playing the tapes of those limiting beliefs in head again. LOL are you kidding me? There’s no way you can ever afford that. You don’t need that damn bag. You don’t even deserve a bag that nice.

So, I did what I am known to do in these moments: I crowdsourced some cheaper options. I figured, maybe I could find a bag I love just as much at a lower price. Maybe I could sacrifice what I want by buying some that I just “kinda like.” Maybe I could make do again.

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 9.31.57 AM.png

I thought I’d magically find a cheaper option that I liked enough to settle for. It didn’t quite work out that way. None of the other options gave me all the things I wanted, but what was really telling were all the folks endorsing the Dagne Dover bag. “It will last you forever and is nearly indestructible,” one friend said. “You will not regret the investment,” said another.

But what really snatched my wig was advice from Carol McDonald, my CEO:

“Spend the money on the bag you want/need. A quality work bag is worth the investment. You use it every day and it holds the tools with which you make a living. Don’t skimp.”

Welp. There it was, plain as day. Carol was right - my bag holds the tools I use to write, plan, build strategies for clients. It was worth the investment. I didn’t have to skimp and I didn’t have to sell myself short.

So, I saved a little bit of money each week for a month, and then purchased my first Grown Ass Woman Work Bag.


I am more than impressed with my purchase for Dagne Dover. The Landon Carryall is durable, stylish, and I have more than enough room for all the things. Not only would I recommend it to other folks, I would absolutely purchase it again in a different color. It also comes with a mesh wristlet that can be hooked into the interior of the bag and detached as needed, as well as a larger pouch for shoes or other items. The large bag retails for $185, and the sizes range from Extra Small or Extra Large. If you’re looking for a new work bag, this is the one.

The Landon Carryall has all the room for all the things.

The Landon Carryall has all the room for all the things.

The process of buying a new work bag taught me a lot about confronting my fear of investing in myself. I am unlearning my habit of defaulting to “LOL, I can’t afford that [class, product, etc. that will enrich my life or career].” Instead, I am asking myself, “How can I make this work so that I can invest in this opportunity?” That simple shift helps me go after what I really want and stop settling and telling myself that the next best thing will have to do.

In the words of D.R.A.M., I had to tell myself to go and get it myself.

What is the thing you have talked yourself out of wanting? Give yourself the permission to make a plan and go get it for yourself.

If you’re ready to fall in love with your own Landon Carryall, you can use this link to receive 10% off.

Loryn Wilson Carter