Why won’t people pay for creatives?

Whether it’s an artist, musician, designer, blogger or any other creative profession, why is it so difficult to get people to pay for creatives?

pay for creatives bloggers freelance work


Do it for the exposure!

If you’re reading this and happen to be in the creative industry, I am sure you will have come across people who are after a freebie, or a cheap deal, or even have the cheek to ask why you’re charging so much, even though you know you’re underselling yourself. I’ve heard it so many times: ‘Can you do me a drawing for cheap?’, ‘Can you do a quick design?’, ‘I’ll show my friends and family so you’ll get exposure’.

The Oatmeal Exposure Paying Creatives

Should you pay for creatives?

I mean, they seem to find the work pretty easy? It even looks like they enjoy it!

If you’re reading this and are not in the creative industry, hopefully this will offer some insight.

Firstly, it is possible that an artist can do someone a favour, give a freebie, or offer family discount, but this should never be expected. Would you expect your family member or friend to work for free or cheap usually? Do you think any less time will be taken up on your project compared with others? That less material will be used? If anything, when working for somebody you know, there is even more pressure to make sure it goes well.

If you have an unknown band playing at your wedding, do you think they will have spent less time practising than a well-known group? ‘But a DJ is cheaper?’ (not always the case). Just like a DJ, a band has to put a lot of time and effort into their music, spend time creating the perfect set for the occasion, likely need to be able to take requests and have some showmanship. The difference is that the band has also had to spend years of their lives learning how to play, and then had to learn how to play those specific songs. Just like an artist had to spend years on their ‘hobby’ drawing or painting, learning and improving along the way.

hiring band pay for creatives freelance not free

Blogging has become a huge industry, yet bloggers and content writers are still expected to work for free, small amounts, ‘exposure’, or a gift. Gifts are fun, but landlords don’t accept them when it comes to paying rent. Blogging starts as a hobby for most, but when they start creating content for others, why should it remain free?

Just because something is a hobby, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. It also does not mean it was a god given gift. We are not born able to draw (if you came out of the womb with a paint brush, shh and let me make my point). We are not born able to play music (if you were, please have my babies!). The point is, to an extent, everybody’s skill set is learned, managed, developed over long periods of time. You can spend years learning to play an instrument well enough to do gigs, or a lifetime writing before you finally publish a book. Once you’ve gone through this, it might seem like it comes easily and people will wonder why it deserves to be paid for when it’s just a ‘quick job’ or something you like doing anyway.

Another thing that is often forgotten is that a creative person does not only need to be paid for time and material, but for the vision they bring to you. If you could come up with the same thing they do, you would. If you could design the dress your sister designs for you, you would. Thinking about a design is just as time consuming as actually doing it sometimes.

Don’t forget, creative people don’t get given free food or free homes. They have to make a living just like you do. I have come across some fantastic comments about how they should work a full time job and keep this ‘hobby’ on the side.

Exposure doesn't pay the bills! #freelanceisntfree Click To Tweet

If you’re still questioning whether paying for creatives is worth it: The website you’re looking at right now and all other websites you look at today, have been created by a designer. The image on your coffee mug, somebody designed that too. The device you’re currently using, designed to make operating it easier for you. The chair you’re sat in, designed. The music on the radio, brought to you by a whole team of creative people. Do I need to go on? Every single thing you touch or see is brought to you because somebody out there created it. Most people are happy to pay a lot for these things. But when it comes to a small designer or unknown musician, it is somehow not worth paying for?


Why do clients feel the work is not worth it?


They believe they can do better.

Often clients believe that they can do the same work or do it better. If they could, they would. It’s as simple as that. This is especially prevalent in the world of design. Design or art is often seen as simple, until a person tries to do it themselves. There is a big difference between a professional design or artpiece and a DIY one. If you manage to make something beautiful by yourself, well done, and welcome to the world of creatives.

Believe it or not, there are techniques, patience, time involved in each and every piece created. I don’t know anyone who is happy with something that took them 5 minutes.
One example I have come across in logo design (not myself) is ‘It’s just a font’ – that might well be…But you didn’t spend time choosing the font, try 50 different ways of making it work for the brand, making sure it fitted the theme, and then rearranging the words until it looked good enough. Pay up!

They can get it cheaper.

Some people believe they can get the same quality of work for less. When paying for a creative, you’re paying not only for the end result, but for experience, for the time it has taken to communicate back and forth until you’re satisfied.

This belief is not just the fault of the client though. So many creative people undersell their skills. With freelance websites like Fiverr and Freelancer, amongst others, it is difficult to compete and quite often a creative person will use these or try to compete in order to get some work.

Lack of seller confidence.

Confidence comes into underselling too. Creative people can also be very critical of themselves. Although anyone can be, when working with set values, such as numbers, there can be a right or wrong. With creative work, there is always room for improvement or small changes that could be made. When being offered low prices for the work in the first place, it can become a bit of a spiral of thinking you’re not worth more, and that others don’t think you are either. Keeping your prices lower than deserved means others will value your work at the same level. It also means that when you become more confident and try to charge more, people might think your work is expensive compared to what it used to be. By underselling yourself, you’re also underselling others who are trying to charge higher rates.

Buying online is less commitment.

Unfortunately, some loyalty between sellers and customers has been lost due to online transactions. You no longer have to face sellers in person, which would make it much more difficult to walk away with a purchase.


This one is sad, but true. Some people will try and get away with anything and if they think they can blag a freebie, they’ll do it.


What can we do?


Try it yourself.

Have you ever looked at something and thought ‘I could do that’? I know I have, and with some things I’ve succeeded. I got into blogging when I didn’t find the ones I read covered all of my needs, or discussed everything that I wanted to. I got into website design after being quoted for some (in my eyes) awful designs that were too highly priced.
However, despite those things working out pretty well after years of working on them, some things I have spectacularly failed at.

And that’s the point I wanted to make. If you think you can do better than somebody else, please try it. You will either find a fantastic new skill or you’ll realise how much goes into something so seemingly simple. If you think you can make your own pretty blog header, then by all means do so.


If you ask for a design/logo/photo shoot and you don’t like the finished result, let the seller know. Chances are they want nothing more than to please you, and to be happy with the work themselves in order to add it to their portfolio.
If you have received your finished product, agreed on payment, then pay it! I have known people to ignore payments under £10! There are also some people who say they’ll pay next week. I wish I could do that. Just pop onto the Asos website, ‘buy’ a load of things and tell them I’ll pay on payday! If you can’t afford the project or design, then don’t agree to buy it. I feel like it shouldn’t need saying, but unfortunately it does. Wait until you’re in a better position. On the other end of you not paying is someone who has prioritised your work above paying customers, something most cannot afford to do.

pay for creatives freelance not free


Protect your work.

A lot of online transactions for creative people are based on trust. With design work, you often have to show the client the work along the way to check they like what they see. However, after seeing a few people burned by being too trusting, I would definitely advise taking a deposit, or even making people pay beforehand if the full amount is not too high. Also, when showing designs to clients, watermark them. You can do this easily on the computer or with apps if using a phone or tablet.
It might also be worth having a disclaimer so that you can charge extra should the work go on for longer than expected, for example, if the client asks for re-designs.

Educate the client

If a client has never tried to design anything before, how will they know what goes into it? The time, effort, re-designs, how each change they make cuts into all of this. Before starting a project, try to outline the work involved, how long it will take, what will happen if re-designs are needed. This way the client can understand a bit more about the process.

I’ve mostly referred to design, but believe that my points can be applied to all creative work.

Clients: Pay your designers/artists/musicians! And pay them well.
Designers/artists/musicians: Protect yourselves & educate your clients.

Let me know your thoughts on this. I’d love more of a discussion as it’s something I don’t think is spoken about much. Have you ever been burned by a client? Or as a client, do you have thoughts about pay for creatives?

Tina x

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  • This post is one I will be showing to my tutors and peers when i return to university, i go to an arts university, infact thats all they offer, learning to value your own work is a massive part of what they teach on my degree and the others at the site, this article speaks the truth and i wish more people would understand that not only is it years of learning and practice, theres also a big student loan looming over me for learning my practice and getting a qualification in it!

    • Tina

      Wow, thank you! Your degree sounds great and I’m so glad it includes learning to value your work, as I think it’s something people really struggle with. I find it heartbreaking seeing my creative friends struggle to make ends meet or having to keep their creative work as a side job.
      Good point on the student loan! Thank you for your comment and for sharing the post, it means a lot that others can relate to it.

  • Ooooh this really grinds my beans! It shows such a lack of respect to creatives – you would never use the services of a dentist or a plumber or a taxi driver and then offer ‘exposure’ in place of payment, so why is it ok to do it to designers or writers or musicians?

    One of my favourites is when people try to act like creatives should want to do things ‘just for the love of the art’ and make out that you’re a shallow sell-out for wanting payment. Nah mate, love of the art doesn’t pay the bills…

    ~ Kate

    • Tina

      Exactly! We have bills, and sometimes need to eat!
      You’re right, with no other service would it be acceptable. I’m not really sure why it’s valued less, as it’s all pretty difficult and highly skilled.

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  • !!! Yes times 800 million! I’ve been a professional writer for more than a decade, and I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had an editor or producer be all taken aback and confused that I actually want to be paid for my job. I once had a producer lecture me on not caring enough about getting the project made because I insisted on them paying me something for the script… I walked out of her office.

    • Tina

      It’s incredible isn’t it? I’m glad you walked away from that! It’s a shame that that technique might work on less experienced writers. I’m glad and sorry you found the post relatable. Hoping that non creatives see it!

  • If I had someone come in and paint the walls of my house or build me a shed in the back garden if I change my mind and don’t like it DOES NOT mean I don’t have to pay them. Sometimes, I find it easier to say to people that offering a creative product (artwork or writing) is more like paying for a service not the final product. So weather you want to run with the final piece or not doesn’t take away from the fact that working hours were spent on it and requires payment. I find it odd that people still don’t get that when they’d see nothing wrong with someone being paid to sit behind a counter all day with no customers.

    This is a great post! Will be sharing around. 🙂

    • Tina

      Thank you! Such a great point about the sitting at a counter. In fact, a few great examples. Yet for some reason, it’s still not applied to creative work? Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • I don’t even know if I can articulate how much I loved this but hopefully my 9024783647364 tweets showed you I loved it haha! Perfect post you’re a writing genius my love! xx

    • Tina

      Thank you, thank you! The tweets definitely showed it! Thanks so much for sharing and your support. It means a lot xx

  • I couldn’t agree more. I have friends in the music industry and they influence this so much, I’ve also seen it happen to so many of my blogging friends. It really does disgust me and I’m so glad you’ve put this into words! Thanks so much for sharing x

    • Tina

      Thank you, it means a lot to have people who know about the industry support this X

  • Thank you for articulating our struggle so eloquently! I stopped accepting non-paid work (you know, for “exposure”) 2 years ago. I subsequently enrolled on a professional business training course and learnt to toughen up. My novels do not just appear at the click of a finger. If people want to read them, they have to pay! Thanks for sharing. I am completely on board with your campaign.

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