Career, Rulebreakers
Comments 5

Get Money.

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Being creative is cool. You know what else is cool?

Getting paid.

That’s right, I said it. Money. The stuff that puts gas in my car and keeps my electricity on. The stuff I shell out to Navient every month because I’ve been out of college for seven years and my student loans are still very real. Being serious about your work means being realistic about what your work is worth. What YOU are worth. It means believing it, and not being ashamed to say it out loud without feeling like an asshole. Your job isn’t to protect your clients’ feelings. Your job is to do your job, do it well, and get paid for it.

This blog post isn’t about getting paid for stuff. It’s actually about not getting paid for stuff. But before I dive in, let me say this: Get money.

Because whether you’re dealing with contracts, lawyers, agencies, brands, or one off clients, money conversations can be awkward, tricky, and confusing. Mike Monteiro’s Creative Mornings talk, “Fuck You, Pay Me”  is one of my favorite articulations of why not being bashful about getting paid is paramount. My ideas will make you money. So you will pay me for them. Period. That campaign you’re going to use all year? Money. That tagline you’re going to slap on your packaging? Money. Or on a billboard? Money. Or at a subway stop? Money. That hype video script? Money. Those blog posts you want to use to build your brand voice, which is actually my voice, that you’ll “…leverage to connect with your consumers on a personal and emotional level while differentiating your company from all the other like-minded companies in your industry?”


So let me be explicit. I don’t care how much jargon they throw at you to make you feel like you’re not getting the shit end of the stick when they offer you “swag” for your services. Asking for compensation doesn’t make you an asshole. It makes you a professional.

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But there’s another side of work that I think is equally important. It’s the side where I do, occasionally, work for free. I know there are people who passionately disagree with me.  Business Insider even wrote an article about how annoying it is. While I believe fervently in earning dolla bills for my craft, I also haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be just starting out. To not know where to go. To know I’m worth something, but to not yet have any real proof or credibility. I’d be delusional if I thought I could honestly sit here and say I got where I am without some good ol’ fashioned free help along the way.

There’s the blogger friend who recommended me to the first agency that hired me. She knew I had no formal advertising experience, but also felt I was capable of writing social media content. (Sup, Kate! Forever grateful for you.) There’s my former colleague, Lexie, who spent hours of her time helping me build a deck that reflected my capabilities early in my career. (She also introduced me to Keynote. I was young and naïve.) There’s Roo who gave me free input on rebranding my blog years ago at a café in New York. There have been hundreds of phone calls and lunch chats in between, because being in the presence of people who know their shit is inspiring. While my intention was never to scrounge for free advice, they kindly and willingly gave it.

That’s why, when a friend (or even a random person) asks to chat, I say yes when I can. Sometimes it means saying, “The next few weeks are crazy. Let’s look at next month!” (I  did this today.) Sometimes it means utilizing my 45-minute commute. Sometimes it means responding to an email on my lunch break when a friend asks for help. Help within the creative community is one of the many reasons I love being part of it. Giving it helps me stay in touch with the fact that I started somewhere. I want people to believe in their creative magic. To believe their ideas have merit. That they’re capable of succeeding at the thing they love. If that means subjecting myself to an occasional touch base with a creative, passionate person who’s excited about their potential, then so be it.

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And look, I’m not condemning people for being busy. Hell, I’m busy. I say no to things because I’m busy all the time. But I don’t want to be remembered for being busy. I want to be remembered for being generous. Note: Not so generous that I’m giving out free ideas. That’s my line in the sand. That’s where we press pause and talk budget. It’s frustrating when people think ideas sprout out of the ground like weeds after the first rainy week in spring. Coming up with ideas, good ideas, takes uninterrupted time. My ideas WILL cost me time, and they WILL cost you money.

What I am condemning is the elitist attitude I come across occasionally in the creative community where we start acting like our time is the only valuable time. We can give once in a while, and our bank accounts (and schedules) won’t crumble. If it helps, set boundaries around the meeting. Ask what the objective is. Have a clear start and a hard stop. End with, “If there’s anything else I can do for you in future, I’d be happy to sit down and talk about a budget.” If you’re so self-important that it feels daunting, imagine that the person you’re rolling your eyes at is the most connected badass on the planet. I’ve lost track of the number of intros, projects, and opportunities that have come my way because I sat down with someone for 15 minutes.

This week, try to take 15 minutes and help someone. For free. I’m not advocating for saying yes all the time, to all the things, especially when you know you logistically can’t. I’m advocating for not being self-aggrandizing about saying it. When you feel that flash of annoyance creeping in, remember that it’s perfectly okay to know what your time is worth. Asking for money doesn’t make you an asshole. Being an asshole makes you an asshole.

Don’t be one.


  1. Yes to ALL of this. Like, there is a huge difference in doing something for free BECAUSE YOU WANT TO (whether it’s to help a friend, to get experience, to do it for fun, etc.) & doing something for work because you’re good at what you do & you do it professionally & deserve to be fucking paid for the content you create & the voice you share. And frankly, there’s grey area between the two, between being a pushover & an asshole – between knowing your ideas have actual, monetary value & also knowing that you have agency over what you decide to give out for free, should you WANT TO, & that that’s FINE, & that you’re not so special & brilliant that you can’t also sometimes give it away for free if that’s what you *choose.*

    And thanks for the shout-out! I think often about the time I recommended you for that Vayner gig & how far you’ve come since then… & how I’m still doing the exact same sort-of-lame thing I’ve been doing all along. It’s pretty embarrassing, actually, & it’s safe to say I could use some creative motivation myself these days. But girl, you’re killin’ it, & I am so glad to have been able to be a part of the process. You inspire me on the daily, even from afar.

    • So. Much. Yes.

      It’s a delicate balance, and that grey area is super blurry. And I’ve 10000% found myself overcommitting and I’ve had to step back and learn to say no to a thing (or 10!)

      But after hearing someone literally groaning about how offensive it was being asked out for a coffee chat (*gasp*)combined with that garbage BI article, I’d had enough of the elitist garbage. How successful ARE you that you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be just starting out. So successful that you now COMPLAIN about those who look up to you? Please. I have great respect for people who have the courage to track down a someone they admire and ask for their time, knowing there’s a LIKELY chance they WON’T have time. That takes guts. I like guts. So I say yes, when I can.

      And I think about you, too! I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity. And for what it’s worth, I’ve felt like I wasn’t getting it right way more than I’ve felt like I WAS. Getting here took a lot of self started ass kicking. I went through some truly dark periods. I wish more people were MORE honest about that part of “chasing your dreams” or ~~the hustle~~ or whatever. But I believe in you! And if you ever want to brainstorm, or talk / skype / HANG OUT IF YOU COME TO NH, I’m always down to be a part of YOUR process.

      Sending love and motivational vibes your way!

      xoxo C

  2. Mrs. P says

    Everything is about balance and continually checking and rechecking how everything aligns. The best way to get paid is to have an excellent product with a good worth ethic and know the market. Know how much your worth compared to what others bring to the table. Your work ethic and lack of drama will always make you more valuable, also your willingness to meet any demand your client needs.

    I have a really high maintenance client, someone most people couldn’t work with for any long period of time. Over time we became friends, enough so that I can put her in check when she starts getting unruly. The day a client gets too unruly, or seems to sap a higher percentage of my life energy than I care to give (and I’m pretty generous) is the day I let them go. Never sell your soul to someone who does not appreciate you.

    Confidence is what allows you to get the pay you deserve. I think everyone goes through a bit of uncertainty when it comes to talking about money. The easiest way to get over it is to practice saying it until you can say it with certainty. Any hedge in your voice opens the door to devaluing your work. Be willing to walkway…and make sure you have impeccable reviews and referrals. I almost never have to use them but they ar there if needed.

    Once you’ve Gained the experience, certainty and PAY it’s time to do one more check…are you paying yourself? Have you allowed enough time in your schedule to have a bit of “me” time. Working your ass off for something you love is great as long as you don’t let it prevent you from achieving other things you want in life. Some things get harder to do as you get older. I wish someone had talked to me about that.

    There is no better way to put things into balance than to help another…doing this from time to time keeps you humble…just keep that hard stop I and you’ll do fine. I am great full for all the free advice I have been given. It opened the door to a whole bunch of creativity I didn’t know I posed and I’m having a blast! And one last mention, if you someone inspires you in someway, or there is a goal you wish to obtain, DONT be shy…ASK! The worst that can happen is someone will say they can’t help you. I missed out on some incredible opportunities because I either thought no one would help or was too uncertain to ask about it.

    Dang, Carly, you did it again….you inspired a long response. Great writing! 😀

  3. Mrs. P says

    Ugh, I hit post comment before finishing my review. Autocheck, is not your friend…and I don’t usually babble incoherently. 😉

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