More pricing wisdom from The Office

By Katharine Swan On Monday, May 09, 2011 At 1:04 PM

I love how often The Office finds humor in real-life lessons.  I've blogged about it before: the classic whoever/whomever debate, and Michael Scott's lessons in the importance of pricing.

We're on season 7 now.  A few nights ago we watched "The Search," where Michael Scott is lost in the city without his wallet.  He gets hungry and tries to con a hot dog stand owner into giving him a free hot dog.  First he offers his watch as collateral, saying that he'll come back later and pay the guy in order to get his watch back.  The stand's owner basically says that he can't do anything with a watch, and that he needs money.

Of course, this makes me think of website owners who try to get freelancers to write content for their site for free, often promising "exposure" or that they'll pay them when the site starts making money.  Regarding "exposure," what has value for the client may not have value for the vendor, so how does it benefit you to get exposure on a site no one has ever heard of?

In other words, what do you need with a men's watch?

And, seriously, who comes back later to pay?  Michael claims his watch is worth $45, but maybe it's a $10 watch and he doesn't care if he goes back to settle the bill.  Promises of future payment are the same as being paid nothing at all.

When that doesn't work, Michael tries another tact.  He asks, "What do you do with the hot dogs you don't sell at the end of the day?" and of course, the vendor says, "I throw them away."  Michael suggests that he "throw one away now, in my mouth."

Ah, another approach used by websites trying to get free content: "You're new/blogging/a stay at home mom, so you'll be writing for free either way.  Instead of spending that time writing for free for yourself, why don't you write for free for me?"

What a winner of an argument.  Unbelievably, some "clients" seem to think the logic here is sound.  Sorry, but if I'm writing for free, why would I want to do it for any other reason than my own pleasure?  Besides, if I write for myself, I keep the rights to the work and could possibly benefit from it later on.

Of course, the vendor still refuses, so Michael says, "You've lost my business!" and storms off.  It's funny on the show, because obviously his "business" was of no value to the hot dog vendor, yet website owners make that kind of threat all the time: "If you don't write for us for free now, we won't pay you when the website becomes profitable," or, "you'll lose out on this GREAT opportunity to showcase your work."

Lesson learned: Beware of wallet-less Michael Scotts trying to con you out of free hot dogs.

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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