This is my little ditty about working for free. Basically I am pretty much 100% against it and I will tell you why. I have been running my own business full-time for eleven years now so this opinion is based on my experience with clients – and those that end up becoming non-clients, as happened in a recent case. I believe in charging a fair rate for your work and I wish that all of us working professionals would band together in this agreement. It would make us stronger as a whole. Work for free? No, thank you. I have bills to pay, let alone an upcoming wedding that I am saving for.
You Are Worth So Much More
You work hard on your business and you put everything you have into it. Your time and talent are valuable and you deserve to be compensated for them. Running a business is not easy. Any professional photographer can tell you that there is so much more to it than taking photos. There is the hours of culling and processing images. There is the bookkeeping, including invoices and keeping track of expenses. There is the marketing for promoting your photography so that you can get more clients in order to continue to support yourself. You should be paid a fair rate for what you are delivering to a client. When you work for free, you are telling yourself that you have no worth. (It’s not true.)
There is No Perceived Value
When you do a job for free, the value of that job is instantly lost. The client no longer perceives that it is valuable because they did not invest in what you are doing for them. I recently broke my “don’t work for free” rule and did a job for a former client that had me shooting in exchange for a full-page ad and a write-up about my work. On the day of the job, some models dropped out and the story was quickly becoming lost. I stepped in and offered more of my time (for free!) and arranged to get new models to come in at a later date in order to complete the story. I went above and beyond out of the kindness of my heart to help out. But doing this favour was quickly lost weeks later when the client was then confused as to why she should pay for some photos that I had taken for her personally. She was “disappointed” in my pricing. I was disappointed in her seemingly lack of respect for my work and for our relationship. But because she had paid nothing for the previous job, she saw no value in my work which is heartbreaking for someone like myself who gives my all in every photo that I take. It’s safe to say that we will not be working together again, despite having a working relationship for the past five years. Clients who do not pay do not see the value in what you do. Very rarely do they recommend you to others. Do you know who you will get the most referrals from? The ones who pay your regulars rates and then rave to all of their friends about what you did for them. Why? Because they appreciate you.
Credits Do Not Amount to Work
I love when I am asked to work for free in exchange for a photo credit. It’s a great idea but let’s be honest: you will never be hired based on one photo credit. Who reads the credits in magazines except for photographers? And who reads the credits on TV shows except for people working in that industry? The answer is: no one. Credits do not pay my rent. Do you know what does? Money.
Because People Will Always Find Money if They Truly Want Something
You would never walk into BMW and tell them you want a car for free so I am not sure why some people feel that it is alright to ask small business owners for free goods and services. I truly believe that if you really want something, you will pay for it. Somehow, you will find a way for it. We all want things but we only deserve them when we earn and pay for them. If your client really wants you, they will find a way to compensate you for your work (or they will find someone else to do the work for free which in that case means, they are not a worthy client to you anyways).
There are cases when you are working for an awesome charity or not-for-profit who you know just don’t have the money to pay for your work and whose cause you believe in. These are the times when it is okay to work for free. When you do work for organisations like this, it’s a great feeling, as long as they understand just what you are giving to them. I used to do a lot of work for an awesome not-for-profit and when I shot for them, I would charge them a discounted rate for my work. At the end of the year, I would basically donate it back to them. They paid me because they saw the value in my photography that allowed them to get more support for their cause and I donated it back because I saw the value in what they are doing for this city. It was a win all around.
The next time that you are asked to do a job for free, please reconsider it’s worth. What will you get from it? Will the client appreciate what you do for them? And at the end of the day, will this exchange make you happy? (The answer to this question is almost always: no.)