MSEL: Pay.

A friend of mine hosts craft workshops and was recently asked by the management of a large-ish local craft fair to host a one-day workshop at an upcoming fair. My friend sent over her proposal with her pricing, and the manager responded, “Oh, we can’t afford to pay you. But you can pass out your cards to participants and get publicity.”
An independent artist whose client base is growing needs help with social media, marketing, basic layout, order fulfillment and customer service, so she can focus on making art. She posts for an unpaid intern who is skilled at all of the above. In lieu of pay, the intern will get experience, which she can put on her resume.
A stylist is looking for unpaid interns who are good at project management to organize her studio, assist on photo shoots, drive her around, and occasionally do dishes. She puts out a call for interns on her blog, listing the qualities she requires in an intern. The gig is unpaid.
As artists and entrepreneurs, we’re often asked to work for free. We’re told that it’ll be great exposure, we’ll get publicity, we’ll have items for our portfolios. A number of bloggers have written about this (some good posts are here, and here). And I agree – we should not work for free. But there is a flipside to this:
We should not ask others to work for free, either.
Not only is not paying people for their work unethical, unprofessional – and, in the case of unpaid interns, illegal* – it’s bad karma.
And it ruins it for those of us who are looking to get paid for our work.
I want a world where the work of artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs is taken seriously. This means that not only do we need to take ourselves seriously, we need to value the work of those who provide us with the goods and services we need to thrive. And that means we need to pay for what we receive.
Publicity isn’t payment. Experience isn’t payment. Being able to put a whole bunch of items you designed for free into your portfolio isn’t payment.
You want to get paid for your work? Well, you also have to pay.
You can’t afford to pay someone right now? If that’s the case, re-evaluate your business model, increase your prices, get some funding, ask for an extension, call on your friends for a one-time favor and get them to pack up orders. The burden for your business’ unprofitability, however temporary, falls on you, and not on the world. 
When you take other people’s time seriously and pay them what their work is worth, then you contribute to a world in which independent artists’ time and entrepreneurs’ work are valued. Pay your vendors, your suppliers, your consultants, your employees. You’ll reap what you sow. It’s just good karma. It’s just good business.
* The HR Consultant in me must tell you this: an unpaid internship is only lawful in the context of an educational training program, when the interns do not perform productive work and the employer derives no benefit. “It the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they [the employer] may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s)” minimum wage and overtime requirements.  Furthermore, “if the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled to compensation under the FLSA.”

13 thoughts on “MSEL: Pay.”

  1. Thank you for writing this! I recently read a solicitation for an “intern” at an uber hip foodie store in Oakland and nearly choked on my single origin coffee because it was, in fact, a JOB posting for what should have been a PAID position. Totally illegal…

    BTW, I also LOVE your prints!

  2. You are absolutely correct that we, as artists, need to pay – for the art of other artists rather than bartering, for services we secure such as business advice, photographing, website design. I’m guilty of giving away a lot of free advice and help. I see now how I am de”valuing” my self and my services. I’ll be working to figure out the right market rate so that it drives my client to factor this cost of doing business into their products.

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