How do you say no when someone wants you to work for free? How do you do it without feeling guilty or mean-spirited or selfish ?

I’m sure we’ve all been there: someone just wants what we have but doesn’t want to pay for it – they can come at it in many different ways. Something feels off, we want to say no but we don’t know how to.

We feel so bad saying “No”, that we end up saying “Yes”. Then we feel resentful and we know we should’ve said No”.

Don’t worry, I have four really great scripts that you can use every time you want to say “No” when someone asks you to work for free.

So what does working for free look like?

1. It can be in situations when people suggest a collaboration with you. The word collaboration is highly misused and abused. Sometimes, it’s a thinly-veiled request for you to work for free. But in reality, they pretty it up by calling it a “collaboration”.

An actual collaboration is a mutually conceived or respectfully planned idea between two creatives or professionals. It’s definitely not a smash and grab something for free!

So if the word collaboration comes up, you should assess whether it’s really a  collaboration or do they want something for free?

2. Exchange for exposure. It’s when people say, “If you do this for me, I’ll give you social media mentions to my  very large following.” Or “If you work for free and it will lead to more clients who I can introduce you to.”

That’s a classic one! And then that’s that old chesnut of swapping services or contras – “If you do this for me and give me your thing, I’ll give you my thing.

In reality, the person who’s asking generally has more to gain from it. Why? Because it was their idea and they want something that you’ve got. Whereas you might not want their thing, but can’t say no so you do it anyway. Under duress.

How do you say no to that?

How do you say no to working for free without feeling selfish, mean, or guilty? I’ve got four scripts that I can share with you. You can use all of them or whichever one applies to you.

1. Show gratitude, but ask for clarification.  

Here’s an example: “Thank you for thinking of me. This sounds like a great fit, can I just
check whether this is a paid opportunity?” 

You’re telling people that while it sounds like a great idea, you’re clarifying if it’s actually paid because you do need to get paid. It’s a kind of a roundabout way of saying “I don’t work for free, but I’m interested in your suggestion.”

2. Acknowledge the offer, but direct them to the link to your current prices, offers or packages. 

Here’s an example: “Here’s the link to the current packages that I have. I think XYZ package would be the best fit. Here’s the copy of my Information Kit which includes my rates card.”

3. Acknowledge and thank them, but be upfront in saying that you are not accepting unpaid projects at the moment.

Example: “Thank you so much for considering me for this. Unfortunately, I am unable to take any unpaid projects at the moment. But if that changes in the future, I shall let you know.”

4. Show gratitude and kind words to the inquiry about your work. 

I use variations of this – “Thank you so much for your inquiry and your kind words about my work.” Because often they do come with genuine kind words about my work, and I’m sure it’s same for you. 

“Thanks for your inquiry and your kind words about my work, but out of respect for my paying clients, I am unable to do this work for free. But here’s where you can book a consultation, and I have a wealth of free resources here.”

So that way, you’re saying that you can’t work for free because you’ve got to respect your paying clients, but you give them a consultation booking link linking to your calendar. They can book a consultation with you and it could even be a free consultation. But at least you have formalized something, you are in control and you’re not just giving stuff away willy-nilly.

Then, if they want to become a client, they’ve already started the process. If they don’t want
to pay for anything, you can just send them to your free resources like your freebies page or
a link to something that might help them.

I hope that these tips helped you in finding ways to say “No” when people want your expertise, products or services for free. It’s totally in your rights to say no!

Don’t get bullied into it or guilt-tripped into it.