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Showdown With Showtime: Never Ask Professionals to Work for Free

We're used to getting so much for free, we forget that people deserve to be paid for their work.
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Startups have tight budgets, so often want to get the best deals for everything. The best deal is not free.

Dan Cassaro does awesome design work. So awesome that Showtime (yes, the premium television network which earned an estimated $692 Million in 2011) asked him if he wanted to participate in a contest to create a piece of art that reflects the "intensity" of a boxing match. The winner would win a trip to Las Vegas! Woo-hoo!

Who doesn't want a trip to Las Vegas? Well, Dan Cassaro, for one. He recognized this for what it was--an attempt to get high quality design work for the price of plane ticket and a hotel room. Considering a flight from NYC to Las Vegas can be done for under $300, round trip, that's some seriously cheap design work. Cassaro, who is being hailed as a hero by the creative community, began his response as follows:

It is with great sadness that I must decline your enticing offer to work for you for free. I know that boxing matches in Las Vegas are extremely low-budget affairs, especially ones with Floyd 'Money' Mayweather.

He then goes on to wish them well and hopes that they can get enough money to someday pay professionals for their work. Showtime should be thoroughly embarrassed by this episode. I hope they apologize and simply hire a designer to do the design work they want. They aren't the only big name group that wants free work. Nope. Turns out the NFL wants artists to pay to play at the Super Bowl Half Time Show.

This has not turned out as they planned, with the response from the proposed artists described as "chilly." And chilly it should be. It is time for everyone, big companies and small start ups, to stop asking people to work for free. If you get any benefit out of it at all, you can't even have interns work for you for free.

Why on earth does it make sense to pay interns who have no experience whatsoever while you promise mere "exposure" to professionals with years of experience?

I get "offers" at least once a week to write things for some great new start up. "Our website gets 50,000 page views per month!" they'll say, cheerily. "Think of the exposure!" Yes, exposure leads to either sunburn or frostbite, neither of which is pleasant.

I work for money. I'll take dollars, Euros, Yen, whatever. I'm not picky. When you ask someone to work for you for free, not only are you devaluing their work, but you're indicating that your company doesn't value employees. Is that what you want your investors to know?

It's not just "hey we're frugal!" but "hey, we will treat our employees like crap!" Because, even though a one time designer or a one project writer isn't a legal employee, they do work for you. You want the best people working for you, and you aren't going to get them for free.

Knock off the begging for work for free. If you want a real professional, pay for it.

IMAGE: Shutterstock (modified)
Last updated: Aug 21, 2014

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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