Should you work for free?..

If it involves shoveling my driveway then yes, yes you should work for free.


I saw this flowchart which made me smile AND think (the latter being a bit painful).

First about the chart, it is the brainchild (and work) of Jessica Hische, a designer, typographer, and illustrator. Be sure to check out her site as she does beautiful work.

Second, the thinking... "Should I work for free"...

My experience concurs with Jessica's chart, "NO!". For those who think I wasn't clear enough, "HELL NO!".

I promise you this, you will never turn a free client into a paying client, you may have given them stunning photographs but they hold little to no value to the "potential" client because they gave nothing of value in return (money).

Two studies that help support that statement, in one study the participants were given what they were told was new pain medications with one being significantly more expensive than the other (in fact both medications were the exact same placebo). In another study folks were asked to rank the quality of different coffees, again all the coffee was exactly the same, the only difference was what the study participants were told regarding the price per cup.

The results of the pain medication study showed that the participants believed the more expensive the pill the better it worked, and the coffee study was the same, the most expensive coffee was ranked the best, the least expensive was at the bottom.

That being said, let me share two instances when I worked for free and got paying customers.

1. I learned that there were several seniors at a local high school who could not afford to have portraits done, this was troubling to me so I called the person in charge of the yearbook and offered to do free portraits for those truly in need. Well, when seniors (who could afford portraits) came to this person and asked for recommendations for photographers guess whose name she gave them.

2. For those who have read this blog for very long know I love my dogs, which led me to a shelter to do some free photos of animals looking for adoption along with staff portraits. The word got out to some of their donors who liked the work I did which brought in several paying jobs.

In both cases I did the work for free because I wanted to, I was looking to help, I was NOT looking to make a customer.

Bartering is NOT working for free.

I did some food photography for a restaurant that was opening and was paid in "credit" in an amount equal to what I would have charged, this worked out great for me, great for the restaurant, and as the restaurant grew I was paid cash money for future work.

Sometimes I hear from folks who are planning to give away their work because they need to build their portfolio, if that's the case give your work to those who will appreciate, do the portraits for your friends and family, they will appreciate your efforts and praise you to those who see it.

Okay, move back, I am about to step off my soap box.

Here is the flow chart from Jessica, clicking on it will open it larger and in a new window... which will make it waaaaaay easier to read.


Chris Riley said...

LOVE that chart. True and super funny!!

Sandy Camp said...

Fantastic Flow chart! Going to print a copy and put on BB ... at home NOT @ work! ;p

Susan Carroll-Seger said...

Great -really makes the point. I don't understand why some photographers just don't get it..

Miguel Palaviccini said...

Really Really like this post. I don't yet feel comfortable charging for my work, so I've done a couple of graduation pictures for my friends (who really appreciate it). I hope that next "grad season" (May), I can get some "clients" to start earning some side income.

Anonymous said...

While the chart is really, really funny, it asks a lot of good questions and raises a lot of good points. I have not yet 'leaped' to the charging side and I may never do so, but I will use this chart to steer me in that direction.

Scott said...

Just to further explain my stance - when I say you should never work for free, (IMHO) you shouldn’t do it with the thought that you will one day turn them into a paying client.

Would that ever happen? Sure, but it would surely be the exception, not the rule.

Working for free for those you care about you, who are near and dear to you, that is admirable.

We have nothing more valuable than our time.

Ashley Hataway said...

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Well put, Jessica.

GabbyRM said...

That's great that you gave your time in those situations where you saw a need and because you wanted to give without expecting anything in return.