Here’s What to Say When Asked to Work for Free

This week I was asked to work for free. I saw it coming a mile away, a glowing orb of unmitigated bullshit headed straight my way. Color me unsurprised. So I rolled my eyes as far back in my head as they would go and did what I must. Because I know what to say when asked to work for free.

I typed “No, thanks!” into Slack. Hit enter. Smiled slightly.

While you have infinite linguistic options in this situation, I believe “No, thanks!” is the clear winner.

Silence works if you’re from Seattle. A long, detailed explanation of your bills, your overhead, the things that you require in order to exist on the planet as an adult human woman might also suffice, if you’re in an educational mood.

If you’re feeling nervous it’s tempting to say something along the lines of, “Gosh, well, let me think about that, I mean it’s a great opportunity and I really want to work with you…” (and on and on forever until you’re dead).

But I think that’s all a waste of energy. “No, thanks!” works great. Let’s break down why, piece by ever-loving piece.


You’ve got to lead with No. There’s not another way to begin this response that ensures the Offending Party will abandon the HMS Free Work.

You’re not a dispenser of creative materials. Words don’t flow out of you like a font. Are you a gushing pool of content gold, wasted until this genius thought to bring a bucket? Hell no.

So be a damn journalist. Don’t bury the lede.

Practice saying it. No. Nope. No. Naw. Hell no.

Pro Tip: Don’t ever say “I don’t have the time.” That implies that when you do have the time, you would want to waste it on this bullshit.


Commas are important. Let the Offending Party breathe into their own stupidity for just a moment. They might not even realize what’s happening here, it’s so brief, so fleeting. But somewhere in the back of their unrefined reptile mind some previously unused structure might light up.

Don’t count on it. But don’t forget the comma.


Keep it casual. “Thank you” is too much for this situation. There’s no need to make things awkward and formal just because the Offending Party completely disrespected your livelihood.

So now we have “No, thanks”

No, thanks I don’t want broccoli.
No, thanks I don’t want to go to your improv show.
No, thanks I don’t want to have my tooth pulled today.
No, thanks I don’t want to see Nickelback live.
No, thanks

Remember: the Offending Party will never realize the irony of your extending thanks for what is not a generous offer. For an appreciation of irony, consult your literary friends.


It’s important to keep things light. The Offending Party has no idea how much misfortune you wish them, there’s no need to frighten anyone.

Here you have options. Instead of the exclamation mark you could follow with a smiley-face emoji, if that’s in your messaging/emailing repertoire.

Using both is not advisable. Just check this out: No thanks! 🙂

I mean, come on, it’s clear you’re fucking with them.

On second thought, the Offending Party definitely won’t get it. Do what makes you feel good.

Finally, link them to your price list.

This is a Professional Thing to Do. The Offending Party deserves to have all pertinent information at their disposal to make a business decision regarding your services.

This is not what they will do.

The Offending Party will block you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and every platform imaginable. And you will breathe in the sweet air, uncontaminated by their trifling, cheap bastardness.

About the author

Katherine Karaus

Katherine is a technical writer, blogger, cat lady, and outspoken woman (probably a witch). She spews silly thoughts about art and work on Medium.

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