How to respond when you’ve been asked to work for free

What if you could never receive another message such as “if you’ll make an illustration for me for free, I’ll feature it on my account”?

You know just how much receiving a message like that upsets you every. single. time. It’s time to dig deep into this problem and solve it once and for all! After reading this article (and applying the actions presented throughout), you won’t have to worry as much (or at all!) about receiving those messages. 

The best part? Even if you end up receiving a message like that on occasion, it will not bother you. And I can show you how in the next few minutes!

You can listen to this blogpost as an audio podcast episode!

The differences amongst us

To be completely honest with you – I have NEVER received a message in my Instagram inbox asking me to do work for free (with Franka Makes Patterns). But I’ve seen many of my close friends receive, and get rightfully irritated by getting such requests from complete strangers, making them feel even less valuable.

After spending the last 9 months looking at these trends and comparing how each of us behaves on social media, I’ve found the core reason why this keeps on happening to some, while not to others.  

And let me tell you – it has a lot to do with self-value.

It takes you only 5 minutes to do that – how can you be greedy?!

People being people, some of them feel the right to march in your inbox and request things from you for free.

I’ll preface this entire post by saying that this is completely and utterly WRONG and simply not okay. Each of us spend our time and energy on some things we are talented and skilled at, and they differ from person to person.

This does not give ANYONE the permission to simply shoot you a direct message on Instagram one day and ask you for free stuff. Nor to accuse you of beeing greedy and selfish if you refuse to make their (simply irresistible) wish come true.

Sadly, this is a reality for many, so I’ve decided to write a post about it, hoping to help you deal with (and eradicate) it.

Who is in charge of the inbox permission?

Let’s now conquer the elephant in the room – why does this happen (and keep happening)?

Let’s reframe this.

When do you think to yourself “Oh, I might send this person a DM and ask them to give me free stuff?

NEVER?! I thought so ?

But, would seeing someone who:

  • is not confident in their work
  • shows up on Instagram without any authority, only reflecting gratitude like they have not earned the sale because of their talents but have been blessed by the Universe
  • is not confident in their pricing (consistently changes=lowers prices and asks “Is this okay with you?”)

change the way you perceive them, even a tiny bit?

The thing is, even if we don’t start off by having a low image of someone – in fact, we might be in love with their work and value them highly, how they feel and communicate about their work reflects back to us, and thus impacts the picture we have about them.

How do you see yourself?

Do you perhaps share some or similar traits or behaviours like our imaginary creative in the example above? How about these questions below?

  • Do you feel like you’re not a professional artist?
  • Do you feel like you’ve not made it yet? 
  • Do you feel like you’re not a business owner? 
  • Do you feel the need to constantly lower your prices (or in contrast, never increase them)? 
  • Do your customers ask you for a discounted price after you’ve already settled for a price?
  • Do you discount the price yourself even before communicating it to the customer so it’s lower in the start?
  • Do you feel bad asking for more time?
  • Do you feel bad asking for more money?

If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, congratulations! Answering these questions was the first step to eradicating requests for free work from your inbox.

Note: This is tough stuff to admit to oneself, so don’t feel bad but rather feel proud. You’ve just become committed to becoming a better version of yourself.

How to STOP receiving messages for free work

The way we feel about ourselves, our work and our business, highly impacts the image on how others perceive us.

Think to yourself: WHY does this happen to you and not to some other artists you know? What separates you and them? What’s similar between you and the others this keeps happening?

This is why it’s SO important to show up confidently to work every day – literally like you run the world, because in reality you’re running your own business (which IS your world!).

I’ve noticed how most issues with this stem from not believing you’re a real artist or a real business. HOLY DOUGHNUT!!! How are you NOT?! You make art and you have sales. Both of these make you both an artist and a professional business.

It’s up to you to start showing up as one! Because the truth is – if you don’t value yourself enough, why would anyone else?

The starting point

However, the starting point is making a decision with yourself that you DO NOT want clients who will ask you to work for pennies and still expect a discount afterwards. Why? Because it’s a domino effect. If you make a decision to attract such clients (with your posture, behaviour and pricing), you will. Not only that, you will attract more of those who will ask you to work for free. And you will be PUSHED time and time again to continue to lower your prices.

Just ask yourself: how many times already, while you’ve been running your business, have you been asked to lower your price? And how many times have you done it?

History repeats itself, and this is a spiral in which you don’t want to find yourself in.

This is why you need to make a clear decision that you’re not pursuing that path anymore. That you’ll trust in yourself and your talents, which will soon enough attract more of the right clients that you want to have. Most pricing problems aren’t actually problems about price, but rather positioning (but that’s another blogpost of its own).

When you’ve made that decision, start practicing these behaviours on your social media and in communication with your clients.

YOUR COMMITMENT LIST:

  • Show up confidently – proudly speak about your work
  • Acknowledge that you got the sale because of your innate talent and skills (not because someone showed mercy)
  • Show gratitude for your clients, but be vocal about the impact of your work on them (they have chosen you over someone else for a reason)
  • Be confident about your pricing – make it a NON NEGOTIABLE
  • Clearly communicate the value your work will bring to your clients (brightened up home, smiles on other people’s faces, warmth around the heart etc) – don’t let them quantify and assign value to your work hours, let them price it based on the TRANSFORMATION you bring them
  • Remove the following (and similar) phrases from your communication: “Is this okay for you?”, “I hope this suits you”, “I can make this cheaper for you”

Note: You WILL lose some customers. But don’t cry over them, because in their place you will GAIN THE RIGHT CUSTOMERS! The ones who value your work and who will pay 4x, 5x, 10x the price your previous customers have been paying. Trust yourself enough to make this leap.


And there you have it – the solution to stop being asked to make art products for free, and the actions on how to start CHANGING IT TODAY. 

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