A potential client wants me to design promotional material for an event. However, in their initial solicitation, they said they would pay me with a free pass to their event which they claim is "$X value".

I am only interested in this work if I get compensated adequately in money. Not only does their "$X value" not leave much room for negotiating based on how much work it will take (it's not like they can give me 1.5 passes for instance), but I would not have gone to this event anyway, so to me it is $0 value.

I would like to say something like:

I'm interested in the offer but I only work for money, not "$X value" items. Also, I will propose you a pricing after we discuss the project and I can gauge how much work it will be for me.

How can I say this politely? Or should I just decline the offer outright?

How to deal with a company that wants to pay you with items instead of money? is very similar but not very relevant to me, since it concerns a situation where the work has already been done.

  • 21
    If the potential client is naïve enough to think that the travel, and other expenses you would incur by using their "free pass" are irrelevant, they are probably not people you would want to attempt to do business with, unless you shared their views on economics (and from the question, you don't share them).
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 1:46
  • 34
    The "free" ticket that you don't want has even less than $0 value to you since you'll have to book it as income and pay taxes on it so you'd actually end up paying your own cash for it.
    – Johnny
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 2:13
  • 2
    Are the clients corporate commercial, or say a charity, or other not for profit? Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 3:04
  • 16
    You're doing it for the exposure, right? theoatmeal.com/comics/exposure
    – Berend
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 10:26
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    If they truly believe that the ticket is worth $X they should be able to find a way to convert it to $X and then give you the money, right? That is what "WORTH" means right? If they are not confident they can make the conversion, then clearly it is worth LESS than $X by their own valuation.
    – Aron
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 5:09

8 Answers 8


I'd respond with something similar to:

Thank you for your inquiry. While I'm unable to accept a ticket to your event as payment for services I'm happy to provide a quote for you and a payment plan once we've discussed the project requirements. Let me know when you'd like to meet or call regarding this project.

  • 51
    Glad to see this answer accepted; It's highly professional and assumes good intentions. It's not devaluing the initial offer and it segues very nicely into discussing the requirements, which might very well get your foot in the door. Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 23:02
  • 3
    I now know what segue means. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 10:58
  • 4
    I prefer clearness to politeness: “I only take money.”
    – Anko
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 16:17
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    @Anko, "I'm unable to accept a ticket to your event as payment" seems completely clear to me...
    – A E
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 10:03
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    @GaneshSittampalam "...it's sad that you... misuse language..." I appreciate your perspective, but this comment thread is already too off-topic and lengthy to go into this discussion further. If you post a question about the purpose and use of language in communication to the appropriate stackexchange site I'd be happy to expand on my perspective.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 11:40

That is polite enough in my opinion. I would make it even shorter.

"I'm sorry but I don't do work on those terms, please let me know if you would like me to provide a quote for the job."

If they don't answer I haven't wasted much time. It clarifies my position and leaves the ball in their court if they want to negotiate.

  • 57
    +1 Or even "Sorry, I only work for monetary compensation. If you'd like to me to quote the job for you, I'm happy to do so."
    – Jane S
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 5:06
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    @JaneS Or just plain "Nooooooope." If this is the opening offer, chances are pretty good it's a toxic client.
    – ceejayoz
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 14:39
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    Toxic clients don't worry me, as a freelancer you develop strategies to deal with those and you charge them more to make up for the grief... getting paid is the only real concern
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 21:12

It's unclear to me why so many people are afraid of negotiation and for asking for what they want/deserve.

Quote a price. Either it will be worth it to them or not. You don't need to be polite about not accepting an offer, that doesn't necessarily make you rude. You don't even need to necessarily reference it.

Don't let them set the standards or the options for the value of your work.

I would say something like:

"My price for that work would be $xxx. Let me know if that works for you!"

Consider this. If you went to a car dealership and offered a car dealer a few cases of wine for a car, the dealer doesn't have to apologize for not accepting it, they will probably just tell you their price for the car.

  • "You don't need to be polite about not accepting an offer." - You do if you still want to get the work but just not for the current offer. Having just bought a new car I'd hazard a bet that your car dealer would politely decline and then tell you the price rather than just tell you their price. I didn't offer wine but I did offer less than he was asking and the response was along the lines of 'I'm sorry, I'd love to give it to you for that price but XYZ stops me, I can do it for...'. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 15:35
  • Perhaps I should rephrase. You shouldn't be rude, but you don't necessarily need to be polite. This is business, after all. Some people will be polite, and that's also fine. It isn't required. And lack of polite statements is not necessarily rudeness. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 22:00
  • @DavidLjungMadison I usually think of polite and rude as opposites, so I'm not actually sure how you are suggesting to behave.
    – user42272
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 22:02
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    There's being polite, there's being rude, and then you can simply state facts. For example, your comment above this one is your response to mine and doesn't contain any polite niceties in it. It's neither polite or rude. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 22:32
  • There is a problem with this approach. Since the prospective client claims that the ticket has a dollar value your proposed answer is ambigous.
    – Taemyr
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 8:02

I think you should seriously consider bartering as payment for some jobs. I agree barter isn't acceptable for every transaction but sometimes it can lead to surprisingly beneficial outcomes.

In a book I read recently, The Entrepreneur Mind, one section spoke specifically to working with barter as payment.

The gist of that section is this:

If you think you can leverage the barter into an outcome that is worth more than the monetary value you would be paid then you should take the barter.

You may have little interest in the ticket but you could sell it, give it to another client/perspective client, or trade it for something else. I admit this takes more effort on your part but if you trade well you can come out ahead.

You also say ticket is free. People are more willing to part with items like tickets, which can be thought of as a kind of option, than with money since they see them as possible income rather than immediate loss. Look up delay discounting for a better explanation of the phenomenon. Working with this assumption, you may be able to negotiate for more worth than the client would be willing to pay directly.

  • 8
    Nothing wrong with barter if there is a clear advantage or if you're doing someone a favour. But in this case there is no clear advantage.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 21:48
  • The only time you should barter is if there is a specific advantage you want to gain. Then you say, "Normally I would charge X, but if you can introduce me to Y then I will do this for free." Or whatever it is that you want down the road (maybe actual paying gigs with this company, for instance.) Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 0:01
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    It is especially a disadvantage when the unwanted item has a limited shelf life like a ticket. With more tangible items you can potentially barter or sell those to others. With a ticket they will have issues with this especially if the tickets have no resell value, restrictions on resale, or can easily be bought (or bartered in the exchange of services) from the event promoter. The OP has nothing to gain from accepting the ticket.
    – Bacon Brad
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 0:33
  • +1 you have to be smart about it (negotiate a favorable deal in all cases) but many industries work with a lot of payment "in trade" - I worked for a publishing house and we got a lot of trade-for-advertising deals to the point that we had a whole computer system to manage all the trade-stuff we got in; hotels, restaurants, etc. would often pay like 50% in trade that then our sales force would use when traveling.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 13:56
  • 1
    Yes, but those were generally bartering in "value tickets" with a long shelf life. 10.000 USD advertising at going rate usable over 3 years has a value. A ticket for an event in X months has a much lower resale value AND a very short timespan before it turns null and void.
    – TomTom
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 17:17

To offer a the other side of the argument, if the event had plenty of potential future clients, I would take the pass, or possibly a cut of the gross, and use the event for grabbing future clients.

  • 6
    You'd have to be pretty desperate for clients for that to make sense.
    – Casey
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 19:48
  • @Casey You've obviously never owned your own business. Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 19:49
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    Maybe the wisdom of spending time you could be using for paying clients on someone who doesn't want to pay in the hope that you'll find some other clients later if they're happy with the valuable stuff you gave them for free is a secret you don't learn until you've operated a business.
    – Casey
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 19:53
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    @Casey Mind to add a few commas in that?
    – cst1992
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 10:12
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    But taking classes makes sense, there's the difference.
    – user42272
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 22:03

I would not bother to respond (with anything more than "No. Thanks. Be well."

Clients that try to engage in business relationships this will often have other corners they are trying to cut, or otherwise compromise. Chances are that you will pay more in wasted time, even if they actually pay in cash.

I have had this happen a few times to me, and as well to colleagues and other associates.

I would never recommend it, but if somehow you feel you need to barter, be sure to only accept the COGS-value for what they are offering. They are they ones that need to (initiated) barter — they can afford the comp in order to get a nearly-free service that will stimulate more cash-sales (e.g. tickets in this case).

  • 8
    Not answering the way to go to terminate potential future businesses. E.g., I've contacted many estate agents in the past to find me some object for renting. Quite some of which never replied back, I guess because they focus on buying, not renting. You can guess that I won't have any use for them in case I am looking for buying.
    – phresnel
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 13:40
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    While the company's offer is not worth spending much time on, a courtesy email takes a minute and is good practice. Also, if barter does happen, what matters is how much each side values the good being offered, not COGS.
    – user45590
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 13:58
  • I agree 100% with the 2nd paragraph, but I have to think that such a client would also bad mouth you for not responding at all.
    – BSMP
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 15:25
  • 1
    @BSMP but someone who does wonky-business has a reputation like that among their contacts — what is their 'bad mouthing' really amount to? Regardless, I have no objection with the suggestions to offer some courtesy reply. Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 20:13
  • 1
    @NewAlexandria - They only have a reputation like that among people they've done it to. The folks they pay properly, the friends they don't do business with, and the folks reading the negative review the client leaves on Google don't know that they cut corners. They only know what the client tells them, which will be that the OP stops responding once you start talking about payment.
    – BSMP
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 20:25

I'll keep it short and simple, and a little tough.

Thank you for your offer sir, but we deal in money system rather in Barter system. Please let us know if you are interested in having a project discussion and further getting quotes from us

This might not look gentle enough but is an effective approach to speak up every thing in small words. It will caste an image that you sell your knowledge as per your style not others


The number one underlying thing here is how YOU value the service that you're offering. Potential clients will come and go, and they're going to test you with stuff like this. It's up to you, with each one, to figure out if the end-result is going to be a win-win situation.

Offering you a ticket for compensation is a test -- no more, no less. If you're not firm in your resolve, then this potential client learns that you can be strung along and that while you might turn out high quality work, you don't value your time. And you'll be abused until you get sick of it.

If this potential client really needs your unique services badly enough, then a better offer would be put on the table. Like the others here have noted, receiving an offer like you have already sets a bad precedent. You've already been labeled, by the client, as a potential sucker. But that same client wouldn't try that with, oh, some design firm with a big downtown office somewhere. Absolutely, do not accept. But also, give a lot of thought about the impression you're making on potential customers, and adjust yourself so they'll know you're serious (right from the start!) and won't try this kind of stunt.

  • 8
    I'm not sure why you're shouting about the asker cleaning up their act. What did they do to deserve that? Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 23:11
  • 1
    Sometimes it can be as subtle as a weak handshake. Or, the initial consultation gets "steered" by the potential client instead of the consultant. Or, the consultant announces to the prospect that he/she (the consultant) is a student with not much experience. It's like throwing fresh meat out in front of vultures. I see this all the time on the Freelancing stackexchange mentioned above.
    – Xavier J
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 23:22
  • 9
    I'm not sure why you think the asker has a weak handshake or is letting the initial consultation get steered by the client, or is announcing that they're a noob. By declaring that they should "CLEAN UP [THEIR] ACT", you're being rather insulting to the asker. I gave you the opportunity to retract that insult but, instead, you added three more. That's way, way out of line. You've decided that the asker has certain characteristics, based on zero evidence, and now you're berating them based solely on your unfounded opinion of them. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 1:31
  • I'm not sure why this answer is so down-voted. Perhaps the voters haven't had much experience working for themselves? I don't know. What I do know is that the situation described here does happen... often. Especially to independents. I have had to terminate my business relationship with many clients because of this type of negotiation. +1 for bringing up a topic the other answers have missed...
    – Cypher
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 17:29
  • @Cypher That's the conclusion I've come up with. The downvoters are somebody else's worker-bees.
    – Xavier J
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 17:31

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