Monday, May 12, 2014

Working For Free: When You Should and Shouldn't

Donating our time as creatives comes naturally to us when we love what we do.  After all, we were probably doing our work for free long before we decided to make it a business.  There are situations when donating our time can really benefit us creatively and as a business, but there are other times when donating our time dampens our creativity and takes us away from paying projects.  Here are the questions to ask yourself when deciding if you should or shouldn't take on a pro bono project:

1. Are you doing this for attention or exposure?
If you're hoping it will give you more exposure, and it doesn't lead to anything, or worse yet, someone uses your work without giving you any credit at all, you may wind up feeling very upset with the people you worked with and as if you could have spent your time marketing yourself more wisely in other ways.  If you still want to do the job in the hopes of gaining some exposure, make sure the client understands that this is a trade of your time for full credit whenever your work is used, and make sure to get it in writing so that you have rights to refuse any illegal or uncredited usage.

2. Did they ask you, or did you offer?
If they asked you, than they really need your services and should most likely be hiring you rather than asking you to do it for free- if you say no, they'll likely move on and look for someone else who will do it for free.  If you're offering, do it because you have some time in your schedule to spare and enjoy the work or the mission of the organization, or because you're comfortable working out an appropriate trade agreement that recognizes the value of your donated time, since you can't claim your time as a tax donation.

3. Are you in a desperate situation financially?
If you're in a desperate situation, taking on more free work isn't going to help your situation.  If anything it will simply worsen your morale because you're continuing to devalue yourself.  You'd be better off taking small jobs or craigslist requests that pay something rather than doing any additional free work that will weigh down your schedule when you could be working for others who will pay you.

4. Are you falling behind on other work?
If you can't keep up with the work you have on your plate, and an opportunity that you've always said yes to for free in the past walks in the door, than it's time to let them know that you can't do it for free anymore because it will take you away from caring for your paying clients.  If they'd like to become a paying client, perhaps it can become a priority for you, but you'd need to make it very clear as to how it will be different than what you've done in the past.

5. Do you want to help make a difference?
If you're doing pro-bono work for a non-profit organization or individual out of the love of your heart, make sure you still have all of your contracts in order about how the images will be used on your behalf and on behalf of the organization.  Also, if you'll be using sensitive subjects or stories on your own website or portfolio, make sure you get model releases and permission from the organization and/or the subjects before sharing the work.

6. Are you doing it to test equipment, try something out of the ordinary, or build a portfolio?
This is probably the best reason to do something for free, because not only is it a way to improve yourself as a creative and take risks you don't want to take on a paying client, it's also going to benefit you in the long run if you create something successful and have the permission to share it with your audience.  This is how many people fill their time with personal projects that generate buzz around their work.  If you're going to do it for free, the best reason is to do it all on your own terms.

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. I am currently in photography school and sometimes I find it hard to start asking people to pay me. All of your statements make a lot of sense and I think they are going to help me realize that unless it is for me, or my school work I should be focusing only on those willing to pay.

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