Work for free?

Kelly McCommons

Lets look at a situation: you photograph or film a wedding video for someone for very cheap or free to get your feet wet. You do a pretty good job and the clients are happy. Well guess what? The same couple will start telling other couples about your services and price they hired you for. That information spreads and you get several inquires for their upcoming weddings.

re-kellyYou try and raise your rates for the extra work. Those clients flee. What did you do wrong?

As a student, the world can open up a lot of opportunities. But people can sometimes take advantage of that. As an Art & Design major, I love it when I can share my craft with others. But there are certain times when I feel as though people try to take advantage of cheap labor.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tell me, “You should take photos/video for us because as a student, aren’t you looking to build your portfolio?”

I have done some projects on my own time. But I’ve become more up front on how to get reimbursement.

For example: don’t work for free for people that you hope will pay you down the road for the kind of work you do right now. The worst case is when you work for free because you think that later you will magically be able to charge the same client $100. It’s not going to work.

According to shouldiworkforfree.com (great name for a website) it expresses how to handle people that ask me to work for them. Basically if they are an organization or a company for profit, they need to pay up. It also gives a guideline on how to handle folks who are friends or family.

There are two tactics I’ve learn to use to work with people who are hinting that they want free work. I explain to them that I have two piles of work: one paid, one free.

The paid pile I will get to very quickly. The free pile is stuff that I work on when I’m bored…but I haven’t gotten to the free pile in 4 months. Then the conversation either comes to an end or to an actual conversation.

I was also in a situation where a client needed a project completed earlier than first quoted. It happened to be the last two weeks of school – the most stressful time of the semester.

So how much am I worth? It’s a tricky question to ponder, especially as a freelancer.

But most of us have crippling beliefs that cause us to totally undercharge.

Maybe we wanted the work we were afraid to charge too much so the client may pick us as the cheapest. In reality, the best way to solve this in some cases is come up with an hourly rate, and stick to that.

Yes, I’ve done 40 hours of work and labor for a commercial project that helped out a local non-profit. That should have equated to several hundred dollars, even a  couple thousand dollar if they would have gone with a more professional service.

Why do clients flee when you start asking for the green stuff? Because they don’t take value in your work.

In World War 2, the Red cross originally gave away donuts for free, but later when they tried to charge for it, people hated it. They didn’t want the donuts bad enough, apparently.

People hate having things taken away from them. Sometimes things start out being free, then people grab their pitchforks and torches at the first mention of reimbursement.

The one client who you should always do free work for is, of course, your own mother. Remember that she probably was in labor for 18 hours with you, meanwhile you can’t take ONE go**amn photograph of your brother? Come on!

Now, do I always turn away pro bono work? Not always, but it’s a battle I have to pick and choose. For example, in November I’ll be in New York City covering an award show in Times Square. All on my own dime. Sometimes the investment will reap rewards.

We students work too hard for grades, which actually costs money from our end, to give up more of our time and energy to edit your vacation photos. But if you slide fifty dollars across the table, my attitude might change.