I had a client recently – we’ll call him Adam – who had some issues with HIS client who didn’t want to pay for his work because, in her opinion, the quality wasn’t up to scratch. Adam felt that it was to his normal, high standards and stuck to his guns until she finally paid up. She was trying to knock off a few pounds wherever she could whilst Adam held firm and said “no, you need to pay me the full amount”.
During a conversation I had with him afterwards, Adam felt he had to justify insisting on being paid every pound owed to him and he used the phrase “It’s not about the money, it’s the principal”.
Immediately I told him that he’s wrong: it most certainly is about the money.
There’s a sense in our culture that talking about money, or insisting on your value, is a bad thing. It can somehow make you appear to be a bit of a Scrooge, or it makes you seem materialistic.
In the creative industries, especially, many, many people will try to get you to work for free or for pittance. You’re expected to be grateful for someone to have given you work, or for the chance of “excellent exposure”.
During the (brief) time I was looking for work as an actor after just leaving university, I came across a job listing put out by the National Theatre. This prestigious, well-funded theatre was looking for extras to take part in one of their shows and – guess what – it was an unpaid role. Instead of cold, hard cash – you know, the type that pays your bills and helps you feed yourself – you were going to get the chance to be on stage of the National Theatre! A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Incredible exposure! Something amazing for your CV!
Well, let me tell you, I went to see that show (I wasn’t given the amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity), and you could barely tell one extra from another. Yet the set design was absolutely filled with unnecessary additions that must have cost thousands of pounds. There was a meat cellar that was seen for all of 30 seconds and which would have probably paid a basic salary for every extra there.
In my experience, the National Theatre is terrible for this kind of thing, but I’m not here to talk about them.
The point is that, whilst you might love your job and whilst you may still continue with it despite not earning a lot of money, that doesn’t mean it’s bad to want to earn at least a basic living. It’s not even a bad thing if you want to get rich from what you’re doing.
No matter how much you love a job, that won’t pay the bills. Money – that ‘dirty’ word – is what pays the bills.
So it makes me mad when people don’t want to pay you for your work and then make you feel as if you’re in the wrong because you insist on receiving the agreed compensation for services and/or goods provided.
It’s easy to immediately fall to justifying yourself in such situations – we’re almost all people-pleasers at heart. It’s much more socially acceptable to insist on full payment because of the principal of the thing, rather than because you need – or even worse, want – the money.
My challenge for you is this: if you’re having trouble getting someone to pay up and you feel yourself about to utter the phrase “It’s not about the money”, please STOP. You don’t need to justify yourself. There’s not a single person in our culture who can get by without money. That person who you are justifying yourself against needs money. The friends they might be slagging you off to need money. Your friends and colleagues need money. So there’s nothing wrong with YOU needing – or even wanting – money, too.
Money’s a great thing. With it you can grow your business, treat yourself, treat your loved ones, help others… So let’s stop tarnishing the word with incidental and incorrect phrases.
There’s no rule that says you can’t both love your job AND want to get paid for doing it.
It IS about the money. And that’s okay.
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