STOP shooting for FREE or below market - you're screwing the industry

Man asking are you crazy, idiot? isolated on yellow background

What the hell were these people thinking?  At at time when things are not getting easier for professional creatives, we are increasingly inundated by people without skill or capability lowering the market price for services by charging very little for what they allege is professional grade work.  It couldn't approach professional grade work without an airline ticket and personal shreve, but they present themselves as pros.  A surprising number of these idiots work for free thinking that this is actually a smart decision.

When one shoots for free, that is EXACTLY what the client should assume that the work is worth. NOTHING.  Meaning worthless.  Because the person who provided it for free told you right up front that it's worthless.  Now personally I could care less if these idiots went under tomorrow, but the unfortunate reality is that in their brute incompetence, they denigrate the value of those who have put lots of time and effort and skills development into learning to grow as artists and in serving their customer.  

John Ruskin once said that no matter what you do, some person will come along and offer allegedly the same service or product for less, and those who believe that they will receive equivalent value are the natural customer of such people.  Mr. Ruskin was very smart and very polite.  He never outwardly said that such natural customers were whack jobs.  I will.

You get what you pay for.

Robert A. Heinlein once wrote that "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch."  A very accurate statement.  Everything has a cost.  And everything has a value.  When you set the value to zero, you are agreeing to eat the cost, and you are telling the customer the most that they should ever expect to pay you.  Nothing.

I hear it all the time.  "I'm doing it for free or a low price to get a relationship with the customer.  They'll pay me more on the next job because they will like the work."   No, they won't.  You've already set your price.  Those customers will NEVER pay more for your services because you've already told them what your work is worth.  You've set your price and value for eternity and you have earned a brand for your forehead that reads IDIOT.

I support a local photo store as an instructor.  Every year in January after the holidays, we get lots of folks in the 101 classes who received a camera.  Most of these people are reasonable and just want to have fun with the camera.  There are always some however, who on January 1st cannot turn the camera on, but by January 31st have business cards calling themselves a wedding photographer, or portrait photographer, or family photographer.  They haven't yet developed the skills to use the fully automatic functions, let alone to do more than mediocre snapshots.  There are no photographs being made here. Their would be clients would be better served by a six year old with mom's smartphone. With the lens covered in peanut butter.

At the same time, there are creatives who have spent years honing their craft, who have built skills and capabilities and who want to supplement their incomes or go pro, but believe that they are not yet ready.  If you believe this, it's true, but that may be more a confidence thing than actual lack of talent and skills.  You may find it amusing to see that those who post the most junk on social media are often the least competent as artists.  They are busy hunting likes and plus ones and whatever other social detritus allegedly defines skill and competence worrying more about what other people allegedly think than focusing on becoming better.

Having lots of followers on Facebook or Instagram does not make one a pro.  It means you have lots of people who agreed at some point to follow you.  It doesn't mean that they will actually do ANYTHING about it.  Social Media is a self serving ego fest 95% of the time.  I was recently told a story by a fellow businessperson who was lamenting that his partnership was getting all kinds of requests for free portraits because of a social media posting that other members of the partnership determined was a great success because they got 15,000 clicks.  Now they are on the hook to deliver well over 50 portrait sessions for no revenue whatsoever.  It's much faster and more efficient to just put your money in a pile and set it aflame. It was, from any rational business assessment, a stupid move.  

The bigger issue when a so-called creative prices work below market, is that buyers now start believing that this is market price.  Here's a notice for people looking at wedding packages.  Anyone who says that they can do a truly comprehensive wedding shoot and who is properly prepared and capable to do so and says that they will do it, not including reception work, for less than $3500 is lying.  They are lying to themselves and the customer, and they don't know they are lying because they do not know what the hell they are doing.  And by the way, don't expect much in the way of good work for $3500.

True pros know their value.  They walk from work that undervalues their capabilities.  They do not give in to "hard negotiators" who say the price is too high because John or Jane Whosit will do it for much less.  I saw this with a recent wedding couple who were traumatized by the stack of crap that they got for their wedding photos.  They brought me the out of camera JPEGs to see if I could recover or fix the utter manure that they paid for.  The perpetrator had actually shot a wedding before.  One.  The person had no skills, no planning, no idea what is involved in even a basic wedding shoot.  The person had never second shot, never been an assistant, had never actually done the real hard work that is professional wedding photography.  But they had a really nice camera, and were glib and confident, all smiles and friendly waves.  Unfortunately that "pro" delivered garbage to the couple.  The sad realization came to the couple when they realized that by going with the "cheaper guy" - their words, instead of the woman with years of experience, reference letters and a compelling portfolio who was six times more expensive on the bid, they ended up with less than what they actually paid for.  The opportunity is gone.  It's over and there's no reshoot.  Happy Wedding Day!  Not.

I'm not going to go into the near endless list of what these fake pros get wrong.  That knowledge on how to do it right took years to build, and so did the education beyond creative to build it into a business framework.  I don't work for free and neither should you.

If you are one of these freebie creatives, please go away.  Jump off a bridge or something.  My clients won't go to you, but you make my life tougher in getting new clients because you have set the bar so low on value by pretending to competence and capability that you are hurting the industry as a whole.  Stop lying about what you can do.  Become an assistant, be a second shooter, take on an apprenticeship.  Folks will find out on the job that you cannot find your ass with both hands.  Sadly it will be too late for some of them.  But you will reap what you sow and earn a well deserved reputation for being a turd and BS artist.

If you are a creative who has committed to skill and quality and feel encumbered by morons, you probably are.  Hold fast friends.  Show your work, be confident by proving that you are better.  The world is not fair and all people are not equal.  Don't get run over by some dimwit who thinks a good headshot can be done for $50.  The great Peter Hurley does not discount.  He commands a premium price for headshots and he gets it because there is never "good enough" or "passing". He has standards that he will not deviate from, and you don't have to deviate from your standards either.  If a potential client tells you that they are looking for work for free, they are telling you that your effort is worth nothing.  Fair enough.  Give them nothing.  If they tell you doing work for free will get you exposure, this statement can be added to the List of Big Lies right after "the cheque is in the mail".  It's bullcrap.  The only exposure you'll get is widespread awareness that you are a fool and willing to work for nothing.  Work for exposure is the equivalent of a sack of burning dog poop.

Some may disagree.  That's your right.  I don't care if you disagree and I don't need nor want to hear your opinion.  Go do the work in your own business and figure out how to pay the mortgage and buy food when you have no revenue.