We have an epidemic brought on by a combination of human nature and technology – an epidemic which has devalued our time, talent and expertise. The “freemium model” has become de rigueur in the online world, but the question we need to ask as we look at the data that tech behemoths like Facebook and Google have collected from us and are using to make a fortune in advertising dollars – was it all really free?

Enough with “freemiums”

Here’s the ugly truth. The likes of Facebook and Google are not providing you with a free service. You pay for these services with every piece of data in your posts and searches, which Facebook and Google then use to allow advertisers to sell to you. And make huge profits that you never see. We need to get out from under the delusion that anything is “free.” Even freedom itself comes hand-in-hand with responsibility (just ask my tween daughter about that one). These freemium models have undermined our livelihoods, especially those of us that sell our products and services online. Where do the freemiums end?

The cost of never paying

I recently saw a post in my Facebook feed where a friend was asking if anyone had tried a particular online meditation service for kids. Among the responses was the comment, “I would never pay for meditations.” It stopped me in my tracks. If you would never pay for them, then how in the world could anyone afford to create them?! They do not just magically appear online.

I know this for a fact because a dear friend of mine is a healer, writer and teacher who among her services produces recorded meditations. When I read this person’s comment I thought of all the creative energy my friend puts into writing her meditations. I thought of the technical skills she has had to acquire over the last 10 years in order to professionally record and publish online. I thought of the money my friend has invested in the design and development of her website. Not to mention the 15+ years of training and teaching she has done to hone and develop her skills as a healer and teacher.

Obviously the person who made that comment doesn’t value the work of teachers and healers who make part of their living serving clients online – but that’s become the norm. Online freemium models have skewed our understanding of how things get created. Most business owners don’t have VC investors funding the existence of businesses for years until they figure out their revenue model. Most have to generate revenue and profits as soon as possible or their businesses will not exist anymore. In fact, the person who posted that comment is an entrepreneur starting a new business whose survival will depend on customers paying for services.

Receive the proper exchange for the value of your time, talent, and expertise

It’s human nature. People will take what you allow them to have. If you don’t ask to be given the proper exchange for the value of your time, talent, and expertise, you won’t get it.

Case in point: a colleague of mine was asked to speak at several venues about crowdfunding. When he asked for payment, the event host told him that they did not have the budget to pay him. The conversation that followed went something like this:

My colleague: “Do you have a budget to pay for the venue and the refreshments and PR for the event?”
Event host: “Of course.”
My colleague: “So then you just haven’t allocated any payment for the speakers?”
Event host: “Well…”
My colleague: I’ll submit a proposal for payment and you see what you can do.”

This story has a sort-of happy ending. The event host did end up paying my colleague, but they did not pay any of the other speakers that appeared on stage with him. And the event host would have been just as happy not to pay my colleague. But he made that a requirement of sharing his knowledge and expertise, and he found out just how valuable his time was to them. The greatest irony of this story is that it was a large financial institution that was asking him to speak for free. Yes, a financial institution with plenty of resources.

This is one of those times when change needs to start at home

My suggestions (learned from hard experience):

Step 1: Stop letting people pick your brain for free. Put up paywalls. Require payment for your knowledge and expertise. Set limits on pro bono work. Set sliding scales if you want to be of service to those who can’t pay your full rate, but don’t give yourself away.

Step 2: Pay people for their services. Pay people for their time. Pay people for their creativity. If you want to be paid for your knowledge and expertise, always pay people for their knowledge and expertise.

The beauty of crowdfunding is its explicit endorsement of payment in exchange for time, talent, and expertise. Crowdfunding also requires campaign creators to stand up for their value

Ask yourself what you could be doing with all that time that you are not getting paid. Would you work on projects that would move your business forward? Would you go out to lunch with a colleague (who is not trying to pick your brain) and foster real human connection between you? Would you spend that time with family and friends? Would you get more exercise? Weigh giving away your time against this list, and it may become easier to say “no” to working for free.

Your freedom to be exploited for your time, talent, and expertise ends now.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Bill Huston

    Kathleen, this is one of the most powerful cases for consultants, speakers, bloggers, and any other creatives to be paid for their creativity and expertise. The example of the speaker at the event was spot-on in its analysis of paying for the value of someone’s expertise. If you invited me to speak then you are aware of the value I bring to the event. I think there is a myriad of reasons that people don’t want to pay that are outside the scope of this comment, but I have painfully learned that you must speak up for your value or go out of business.

    • Scott Madsen

      Thanks Bill! I think any consultant has had to cross this bridge in order to ensure their business survives. But in all honesty, many of our clients (artists, nonprofits, social enterprises, filmmakers, etc.) have to contend with it to an extent as their business is just getting started and during growth phases. We always value your input as a friend and colleague, thank you for voicing your opinion!

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