There is no short supply of blog posts that lay out for creative professionals the pitfalls of working for free and explaining how to avoid them. This is not one of those posts. At least, I don’t think it is.
This post is more to describe my boundaries for low pay/no pay work and why I have them, and avoiding feelings of guilt for how often I say no.
In your career as a video maker, graphic designer, writer, artist, and so on, you will or have already been asked at some point to do something for a friend, acquaintance, colleague or complete stranger for free or for really, really cheap. When first starting out it’s hard to confidently say, “Here’s the market value for my work. Here’s my price. Let me know if this is within your budget.” It’s especially hard when people in your community, who you’re very close with and love deeply, who work for causes you also love and believe in ask about the cost and availability your services. Because we all want to be good friends, and most of us want to serve the communities that we are a part of in one way or another.
But most of us have heard the expression, “Good fences make good neighbors”.
I’ve adopted the policy of telling absolutely everyone who asks about my availability to do video work a flat starting fee to do anything at all. In order for me to put a camera on a tripod and turn it on, this is the bottom dollar amount I have to be paid.
This establishes very clear boundaries. I’ve listed them below!
I value my time and my work.
There are a lot of great people, companies, and organizations doing a lot of great things in the world. I wish I could make a video for all of them. I can’t make a video for all of them. I have a wife. I have friends. I like to eat. I like to go to movies and participate in activities. I need time and money to do these things. If you ask me to work for free I’m giving away both --time away from the things I love other than work, and money I need to do cool stuff. These are both valuable resources to me, and most other people living on earth.
But also, I value my time and work.
I have a full time gig making videos. I spend 40 hours a week at it. I am, generally speaking, a pretty nice dude. I am not so nice that I want to leave a job where I get paid to do my thing and go do that same thing for a few more hours for nothing. Again, I don’t want this to come off as a rant. I just want to provide perspective. My craft stopped being a hobby some time ago. As much as I love it, there are some other things I’d like to enjoy when I leave work. Maybe we can grab a beer instead? Tacos! I’m on a real taco kick right now.
And finally, I value my time and work.
This is not true for all creative types, but for me, I want to be present during big and/or fun moments of the lives of friends and families. Big life events like weddings, if we are close I’d prefer to be a guest and celebrate you. Community events with cool speakers, or activities are also fun just to enjoy. I once had a job where if I was present at after hours work functions, I was expected to be documenting it, and that was not fun. Videographers and photographers don’t all want to experience life through the lens of a camera in every waking moment. Some of us want to just be regular humans occasionally. If you want to take me out of that, you have to pay me what I’m worth.
And because I value my time and work
I no longer end up working when I’m too tired, for too little money, and resenting the person who asked me. I get to be a better friend and husband, a good co-worker. I get to go to the gym. I get to eat food. I’m able to watch Netflix and chill. I’m less stressed and have better quality of life. And that’s a thing I’d like to keep going.
Essentially, I’m not just talking about how to say no to unappealing gigs, but also understanding why it is ok to now and then. You don’t have to feel pressure, or guilt, or shame for valuing yourself and your time. Once you get the hang of setting clear boundaries you will be amazed at the level of respect friends and peers begin to pay to you. And often, that translates into more of the work you wanted anyway. The paid kind.