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Clients fail to get the message that ‘freelance’ doesn't mean ‘work for free’

2-minute read

Lauren Hellicar

12 February 2019

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Have you ever been asked to provide your hard-earned skills and experience for free or to reduce your rate by a client chancing their arm?

We take a look at what's behind the recently trending #fairpayforfreelancers hashtag on Twitter.

'Exposure' doesn't pay the bills

On 1 February 2019, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money programme invited self-employed listeners to share their experiences of being asked to give their services in return for ‘exposure’ rather than cold, hard cash.

As one contributor rightly commented, if his mortgage company would accept exposure as payment, then he would accept exposure in return for his services.

A marketing professional with 10 years’ experience, Stacey MacNaught, also spoke on the programme. She confirmed she’s still regularly asked to work for free, or to work at a reduced rate, in return for ‘exposure’ or the promise of further work.

Which groups are affected?

The number of UK freelancers has jumped from 3.3 million in 2001 to 5 million today.

As many as 43 per cent of freelancers have worked for free, and half of them have been asked to, according to IPSE.

Eight in 10 freelancers in the creative industries have worked for free in last two years.

However, Felicity Hannah, Personal Finance Reporter on Wake Up to Money, said that people responded from a range of different sectors and not just the creative sector. The programme revealed that one man was asked to work unpaid in a rugby club for six months.

And sometimes it’s clients from the creative industry who are pulling a fast one.

One contributor to the Radio 5 Live programme, a heating engineer, said he was asked to fit a boiler for an SEO company for free in return for a first or second Google search ranking position for his website.

What's being done about it?

IPSE is campaigning for the Small Business Commissioner to have more power to deal with the companies that try to get something for nothing.

Felicity Hannah spoke to Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal, who said he wants freelancers to come forward and expose badly behaved clients who ask self-employed workers to provide their skills without being paid.

He says the real issue is that people are scared to come forward and report incidences where businesses try to take advantage because they're scared of losing work. But as naming and shaming is the main statutory power they have, it’s important that hard-working freelancers speak up.

Join the club

The Freelancer Club has set up the ‘No Free Work’ campaign, which aims to get freelancers on board with the idea that they shouldn’t agree to work without being paid. Freelancers can sign the online petition and say no to working for free.

The Freelancer Club website states:

“Unpaid work is any scenario where a business exploits an individual for commercial gain by not paying for labour or services that have been provided by that individual.

“Unpaid work can have a damaging effect on the relationship between freelancers and their clients. It creates an environment where freelancers suspect their clients of trying to take advantage of them, rather than a positive working relationship. Unpaid work not only devalues the individual but impacts the creative industry resulting in a lack of diversity, a diluted talent pool and a poorer economy.”

Do you have stories of clients asking you to work for free? Join the discussion in the comments below.

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