When Is It OK To Work For Free?

Is it ever smart to work for exposure?

Luxury elopement at    Amangiri.    Photo by    Cameron Clark   .

Luxury elopement at Amangiri. Photo by Cameron Clark.

Some people believe that you should never work for free.

I disagree. 

I am okay with working for free, when it is in your best interest. I don't believe that "just say no" to working for free is always the best plan of action. Some amazing opportunities can come out of saying yes when a direct paycheck isn't involved.

Most of the people who will ask you to work for free — whether it involves taking a headshot for them, speaking at their event, or creating a flower arrangement for their morning TV guest spot — aren't trying to take advantage of you. More often than not though, the scope of the project increases, the expected benefit never materializes, and you're left feeling like you did a lot of work for nothing more than a handwritten thank you note, if that.

When deciding whether or not to do a project for free, I have a few guidelines that I often advise clients to take into consideration:

  1. Opportunities should align with your values and be some part of a trade or barter. Free is never actually free.

  2. Free can be strategic, so trust your gut, but ALWAYS do the math.

  3. You should have an agreement in writing, just as you would for paid work.

Let's look at each of these:

1. Opportunities should align with your values and be some part of a trade or barter. Free is never really free.

In the United States, using volunteers for a for-profit business is illegal. I'm not speaking of interns, but friends and family who may help you out on tasks like boxing up table linens during the 2 am tear down on a wedding day or working the registration table for your workshop – who you don't pay to do so. The IRS doesn't ban this for altruistic reasons, it's all about money: if you're not paying volunteers, that's payroll tax, etc that they don't get to collect.

This means that if you're asked to provide services for free, you need to have some sort of trade or barter in place. Photographers often provide professional headshots for wedding planners with the trade agreement being that the planner sends the photographer a paying client in the next few months. (You can also just decide that the headshots are part of your marketing or networking budget and not expect anything in return, but that's another conversation altogether. We're going to focus on the trade aspect for this one.)

Saying yes to something, by definition, means saying no to something else. Getting clear on your values will help you say yes or no to opportunities from a place of JOMO (joy of missing out) rather than FOMO (fear of missing out). Too many people trade based on FOMO, while forgetting that nothing is really free.

No matter what else it costs, an opportunity always costs your time: time away from your family and soccer games and dinners together, time away from your community and planting deeper roots with the people who are physically there when it counts, time away from your desk when you could be working on revenue-generating projects.

There's not necessarily JOMO when missing your child’s soccer game, but it's a little more palatable when you know the business that results from a trade will allow you to take your family on a fun vacation over Spring Break next year. The time you give up needs to be worth it to you, and what's worth it to you may look different than it does to someone else.

2. Free can be strategic, so trust your gut, but always do the math.

A good trade or barter deal will benefit both parties involved. The dollar amount of the trade you get in return should be roughly equal to the dollar amount of the product or services you're providing.

For example, if you're providing $30,000 in florals for a conference, can you reasonably expect to get $30,000 in business from the attendees who will see your work and then refer you? Or, let's say the price to attend the conference is $2,500. Will you be comped 12 conference registrations in order to match the $30,000 in goods you're providing for free? If not, is it worth it to you?

Legal aspects aside, anyone who's worked in a creative industry for more than 20 minutes will tell you that trading services or products based on an ego boost alone is not worth it.

Giant corporations who sponsor events like the Olympics always run the numbers and forecast ROI before spending the money. You should, too.

3. You should have an agreement in writing, just as you would for paid work. 

There's a quote that I love and refer to often: "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate." 

Scope creep on projects that are done for trade is all too common, and even having an informal agreement in writing (email counts) can help avoid bruised egos and hurt feelings later on.

At the very least, what you have in writing should include what each of you is getting out of the barter. Ideally, it will also have numbers: the amount you normally charge for styling a magazine photo shoot, and the amount in comped ad space the magazine is providing in return.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Avoid future business heartache (or heartburn) and write things down.

Doing things for free via a trade can be a strategic way to grow your business and leverage opportunities that may not have been open to you before. Make sure you're evaluating the requests you receive based on what they're actually worth to you, so that you can protect the future of your business and your professional relationships. Exposure alone doesn't pay the bills.

Originally published August 2016

The Best Ways To Beat Jet Lag On International Trips

My tried and true tips.

The Gorgeous Kitchen    at Heathrow Airport in London.

The Gorgeous Kitchen at Heathrow Airport in London.

As a professional speaker and business consultant, I spend a not insignificant amount of time traveling to conferences and to meet with clients. While it is a dream job and I am very lucky, the travel comes with the realities of jet lag.

If you also travel often for work – for destination weddings or attending wedding conferences – you know that you often have to hit the ground running with little time to deal with all the side effects of jet lag. Here are my top tricks for minimizing jetlag’s impact:

Bring your own tea and coffee in your carryon.

Bring your own tea and coffee in your carryon.

1. Make Your Destination Time Zone Your New Boss

Once you’re on the plane, set your watch to the current time in your destination and then behave accordingly. This means you will eat, sleep, and work on your new time zone, regardless of the time it actually is wherever you are in the air.


If you have trouble sleeping on planes, just remember that sleeping is a skill and like any skill you can work to improve it. While I am still not one of those people who can fall asleep the second I close my eyes and I’ve yet to figure out how to make the 20-minute power nap work for me, when it comes to sleeping on planes, I am now a pro. Here is how I do it:

  • I prefer the Howard Leight by Honeywell ear plugs because they don't hurt my ears. As a bonus, each pair comes individually wrapped, so you can toss them in your personal carryon without them getting gross.

  • I’ve been a religious user of the 40 Blinks sleep mask by Bucky for over a decade. The eye area is contoured and doesn’t lay flat against your eye lids like normal sleep masks. This allows room for your lashes to flutter so that your REM sleep isn't interrupted.

  • I also bring this cushioned footrest hammock by Sleepy Ride that keeps your feet elevated, allowing you to sleep no matter which cabin class you’re in. It works in both standard and extra leg room seats in any cabin. It is discreet and rarely noticeable except to possibly your seatmate (if you're using a blanket, it is not noticeable at all).

  • Keeping it real: sometimes I pop a Benadryl if my body does not want to cooperate in falling asleep at the new appropriate time, but if you can do it without a sleep aid, even better.


Since you’ll be awake while most people on the flight are asleep (because they are living in the present, you are not), here are a few things I do to make it all work:

  • When it comes to meals, you’ll be eating at the normal time in your destination time zone, not necessarily when the flight attendants serve food. This often means packing your own snacks: protein bars, nut butter packets with apple slices or a banana, etc.

  • I also bring a few of my own tea bags and Starbucks Via packets since airplane tea/coffee is not always the best. Just ask for a cup of hot water.

  • I recommend using the Libby app to download free library books and audiobooks to your Kindle or Audible app on your iPad or phone before your trip so that they’re ready for you on the plane. If your library uses Kanopy or a similar service, you can also download movies and TV shows.

    This is not the time to pretend you are going to catch up on all the business books you haven’t gotten around to yet. Choose books that are fun and compelling – page turners that you can’t put down, ones that make you want to stay up reading.

Post-flight selfie at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto in my 15-20 mmHg compression pantyhose.

Post-flight selfie at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto in my 15-20 mmHg compression pantyhose.

2. Take Care of Your Legs

Medical-grade compression pantyhose are one of the best kept secrets among flight attendants, wedding planners, photographers, makeup artists, and other career women whose jobs require them to be on their feet for hours upon hours and to look stylish while doing so.

These work the same way compression socks or compression leggings do. Just like you can find on-trend compression socks these days, you can now also find on-trend sheer or opaque compression stockings that look just like the normal everyday tights you wear with your Fall and Winter dresses. Look for a medium strength of 15-20 mmHg, the same grade that flight attendants wear.

While the graduated compression helps circulation, preventing blood clots and the dreaded post-flight Cabbage Patch doll cankle situation, it also helps decrease the effects of jet lag – a lot. Like a lot, a lot.

Splendid Pro Tip: Some graduated compression pantyhose are control top, but most control top pantyhose do not offer compression through the leg, so make sure you double check when purchasing that you’re getting the right product.

Art museum selfie.

Art museum selfie.

3. Keep It Moving

If you’re not headed straight to a meeting when you arrive, one of the best things you can do is keep moving – literally.

Hit up the hotel’s fitness center or go for a run (some of the best networking at business conferences happens between 5-6 am in the hotel gym, so hopefully you’re bringing some type of exercise clothing with you).

If you don’t have space in your carryon, pack your workout gear at the top of your checked luggage so that if your hotel room isn’t ready when you arrive, you can still easily grab it to change into.

If you’re not feeling up for a workout, play tourist and visit a museum or get in some retail therapy (shopping is always the most fun in foreign countries) – this will force you to walk around, keeping you active.

Splendid Pro Tip: If you find yourself in certain cities a lot, buy an annual membership to a local museum. It’s a great place to hang between meetings, typically has a decent restaurant, and a surefire way to get inspired.

Why You May Not Need a Business Consultant

Nor these 9 other growth “must-haves”

Photo by    Nancy Ray

Photo by Nancy Ray

This is not one of those clickbait blog posts where I tell you that the top reasons not to hire a business coach are because “you hate making money” or “you love having too much on your plate” or anything ridiculous like that. We all know there are times when we legitimately need an outsider’s experienced perspective and help. This is about determining when that is – and when that isn’t.

The people who provide business-to-business (b2b) services have families to feed and bills to pay just like you do and their expertise is often valuable and worth the money. They deserve to be well-compensated for their work just like you do for yours. That doesn’t mean what they offer is relevant for you in every season of your business or life.

When it comes to buying new products or hiring people to help your business get unstuck, always consider who’s telling you what you "have to do" and ask yourself, "what are they really selling?"

Here are 10 things wedding pros and creative business owners often hear when it comes to improving their companies that aren’t always true:

1. “You have to work with a business consultant in order to get unstuck and grow."

Maybe you do. Maybe you don't. Sometimes the time isn’t right to bring on a consultant, no matter how good they are or how much extra cash you have on hand. And I say this as a business consultant who pays my bills by helping wedding industry leaders succeed.

I fully stand behind the insight, wisdom, experience, expertise, and results I bring to the table, but I am never going to sell you something you don’t need.

Sometimes you may just need a business-focused weekend retreat with a small group of smart colleagues you fully trust to call you out on your blind spots. Friends who truly want the best for you but aren’t attached to your business the way you are. 

2. “You need to be on most social media platforms to be relevant."

Does the person preaching this sell social media management services? Does it make sense for your business to be on Stories every day? For some companies it does, for others it doesn’t. This also depends not just on your target market age demographic but on geographic region as well. 

3. “You have to have a custom website to stand out."

Maybe you do, and for some people a fully custom website is the best option. You might also just need a well-branded Squarespace site.

If the person preaching “custom or bust” sells web design, they may genuinely believe this to be true – but they also sell custom web design and need to pay their bills.

4. “You need the latest software to maximize productivity and efficiency."

I love a good technology solution, and the latest and greatest may make your life more streamlined. It may also be a cost you don’t need to take on right now. You may just need a well-optimized Excel workbook. 

5. “You need ongoing SEO services."

You might, depending on the type of business you run. You may also just need to do the tedious, long-game work of writing a blog post several times a week so that your site has consistently new content and new keywords for Google to index. 

6. “You have to take this online course."

Maybe the course will be full of useful, specialized education and a timesaver, like the new Essential PR Field Guide course from Natalie at In Good Company PR.

Maybe you just need to download some free library books to your iPad or take a free EdX online class through MIT or Harvard.

7. “You have to rebrand every 2-3 years."

This may be the most ridiculous claim of them all, and legitimate branding experts will never pretend it is true. There may be times where you need to rebrand and refresh your identity, but that decision should be based on your company’s goals, not your graphic designer’s.

Hire an expert who understands how to design for business ROI and whose work can stand the test of time.

8. “You have to have an app for your company."

You probably don’t and, more importantly, you probably shouldn’t. An app that only regurgitates your social media feeds just eats up phone storage space and actively brands your company as one that will waste someone’s time and money. 

9. “You have to pay to join a mastermind in order to be fully emotionally invested."

Paid masterminds were the "it business" in the mid-90’s, then again in 2007, and now they're back once more. In the wedding industry, mastermind fees range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to six-figures.

There are times when a paid mastermind with strangers you’ve never met or acquaintances you barely know makes sense. That said, always consider who is telling you that a paid mastermind is the best way to get the most out of the group.

10. “You have to spend money to make money.”

This is true – to a point. Your finances are your own private business and whether or not you choose to take out a loan or charge something to a credit card is up to you.

As you’re considering your options, one major red flag is if the person selling you a b2b service or mastermind tells you that you should take on a large financial risk because you’re “betting on yourself” and “you’re worth it.”

You are worth betting on. You are also worth not allowing yourself to be emotionally manipulated into taking on unnecessary debt.

If you’re on the fence about a business purchase, get advice from people you trust who won’t benefit financially from your decision.

There are many paths you can take to make your business better, and there are times where making those investments make sense. As you evaluate opportunities though, always consider the source. It’s not a good deal if you don’t need it.

A version of this post was originally published in March 2017