🎁 Freelancing in the Gift-Economy
A method of exchange based on trust.
There are no formal contracts. Just a consensual willingness to trust. Don’t worry—we’ll still have time lines, deliverables, and super-fun strategy sessions. The websites and logos aren’t free and value-less. They have value. What precisely that value is—is up to you.
The time is ripe for alternatives. I know. It feels weird. It’s my way of taking a step toward a world I want to live in. A world with more personal weight tied to every transaction.
I'm moved and inspired by a local bakery/farm trying it. They pulled their sourdough bread off the shelves and now give hundreds of loaves away every weekend. They make enough money to meet their needs and, more importantly, are making waves.
I’ve had the honor of working on four projects so far in the Gift. We’ve exchanged branding and websites for cash, handmade beds, carved signs, beer, and bread.
If we decide to work together, I will provide my services to you as a gift, and I trust you to gift back what (if anything) you feel is appropriate. That’s it. No formal contracts.
From my end, I promise to deliver your project to the best of my ability, within scope, and within the timeline. I’m honored by your trust and I’ll strive to leverage my experience to help you succeed.
From your end, you trust I'll keep my side of the agreement and offer what feels right; some upfront, some in the middle, some at the end. This extra layer of trust makes this model stand out from the default economy of commerce.
I’m not the first one to dabble with the pay-what-you-want (PWYW) model. See: a Panera Bread trial store, Radiohead’s In Rainbows album, Warby Parker, this Pakistani restaurant, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, coffee at Vermont rest stops, and open source software.
It’s not about undercharging or undervaluing yourself. It’s a fresh take on exchanging service for value. Traveling down a new avenue creates a bond deeper than a standard transaction that’s over as soon as the money is paid.
Each time I begin a new project in this model, the client and I enter in little nervous and curious, but came out the other side with a design solution and a fresh, fulfilling feeling that were paving a new way of engaging in business.
“Wes and I worked on multiple projects in the gift. It was handy for me to pay what I could to get the project rolling and what I could along the way. His design and strategy insights have made my life easier and business more profitable.” Keith Schoenberger, Fine Cabinetry Carpenter
It's An Experiment
I’ve only offered this model with local folks I can meet face-to-face or folks I already know. Radiohead said their PWYW trial did so well only because of their already loyal fans. Without any emotional or personal attachment to the business or musician, people tend to take advantage of the offer.
I'm believe there is a way to open it up beyond esisting relationships however, but I don't know how it looks yet.
More on the Gift
- Article: I wrote for the blog Freelance to Freedom: Why I Don’t Have Set Prices: A Different Way to Freelance
- Agency model: A Polish design firm provides certain services in the PWYW model.
- Book: Read Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein online for free.
- Book: The Gift by Lewis Hide covers a history of gift-exchange, folklore, and its reestablishment in modern times.
- Book: The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle. A personal story of his first year living completely without money.
- Platform: Time Banks is a online service to exchange one hour of service to another, and receive one time credit. Local communities are everywhere, and there’s no shortage of online groups. The Montpilier chapter is closest to me.