How much do you VALUE your time?
Unfortunately, I see this happen way too much. "Hey everyone, I have an event coming up and I need a photographer to take some shots of the activities through the day. I don't have any money to pay but thought someone might want the work to add to their portfolio. Hasthag TFP. Who's interested?"
Then hundreds of photographers swarm in fighting for an opportunity to win this photoshoot. It leaves me wondering though, why would anyone do this? And, I am not just talking photography. I don't care what you do whether its web design, logo creation, or any type of service you provide. This TFP (trade for prints) mentally is something I hate.
I am not against working for free and there are times when I do work for free. However, I go in with the mentality of, "the greater the risk the greater the reward." What am I potentially getting out of it? Take the scenario above as an example. You are a new photographer and you are trying to get some experience to add to a portfolio to show potential clients in the future. So this event may sound like a good opportunity. But it's not! The client gets free labor, free photos for their advertising or marketing, however they choose to use it and you get... pictures for your portfolio?
Where is the reward for your work? Is that work going to land you a new client? Maybe if you can do some networking. Maybe if your pictures are really good. There are a lot of ways this can be beneficial. However, the risk of wasting your time to work for free seems to outweigh the rewards in the end. This leaves me wondering how much you value your time?
Stop undervaluing yourself
Realistically, if you are brand new to your industry or brand new to starting your business, there are times when working for free is appropriate. Perhaps your long lost cousin needs a website and you can help. They front the operating costs, and you get to show your skills to add to a portfolio. It makes sense to work with family for something mutually beneficial.
Once you have 1 or 2 jobs under your belt, the free trade mentality should start to disappear. Once you have SOME experience start offering a fair price for your work. It does not have to be high and it does not have to be low. But in some way at the end you should be compensated for your efforts. For some, working for free becomes a routine of business. It is as if that is what you spend your time looking for. Over and over again you offer free services to build a portfolio and in the end all you have to show for yourself is a great portfolio. But are you actually getting hired by anyone? Are you actually trying to get hired?
Once you have established some proven experience the looking for free work should no longer even be a part of your thought process. Unfortunately, I think too many of you out there are undervaluing not only your work but undervaluing yourself. It's like dating with no intention of marriage. If it does not work out then you don't have to deal with the pain. Working for free comes with less baggage whereas getting paid to perform a service comes with risk. What if it does not work out and the client is unhappy with the end result? That can be really scary for some of you but that is business. Those are obstacles you need to address if you ever want to succeed with your passions.
At this point, you have skills. You have proven you have value. The trick is now believing that what you have is real and deliverable.
What to do when someone offers you free work
I said it earlier and I will say it again, "I am not against working for free." It has its place and is a good way to grow your business. However, where is the reward at the end? Scenario above someone needs you for an event to do some photography and they can't pay you. Ask them this, "how many people will be at this event? Is the event free entrance or do people have to pay to get in? Will there be a booth for photography or other goods?
Get some information about the particulars. Once, you establish the value of the event you can now counter offer with a percentage of goods sold or ticket revenue. Whatever it may be, you are already taking the all of the risk, so demand that in the end you receive a reward based on the end result.
Often times in my business what I do for companies is undervalued by the client. This is natural. They are in business to make money not spend it and if they don't live in your world they don't really know what your worth. You have to teach them what you are worth. You have to show them your value. I can do the work for free but I want 10% of all profits created because of my efforts. I will take all of the risk but the rewards will work out better for me. It's either that or you pay me my going rate for a project like this, save a ton of money, and get a bigger percentage of the rewards at the end. Less risk for me. What's it going to be?
It is time to change this mentality of TFP for creatives. Your value is so much higher than that and if everyone keeps offering to work for free, then nobody will take what you do for the value it deserves.