When to do the freebies and when to say ‘No.’
The following represents a few thoughts in response to the problems currently being experienced by a few fiends who are photographers.
Photography regrettably doesn’t enjoy any exclusivity when it comes to cheapskates wanting freebies. Just listen quietly at a braai (barbeque) or any similar gathering and you’ll hear conversations like, “Oh, you’re a doctor are you? You know, I’ve got this pain in my knee…” Or. “An attorney. How interesting. What should I do if my neighbour’s dog….?” It is this very blight on society that has prompted IT geeks to print the ever-popular T-shirt that says, “No I won’t fix your PC!”
With almost 30 years in IT (12 of which were spent running my own consultancy) and a few additional years as a weekend earner in photography, I am no stranger to depressing and infuriating encounters with life’s beggars (those who approach you in search of free or discounted services). Oh, and this epithet also comprises those so-called ‘friends’ who want to sell you stuff you don’t need or ‘introduce’ you to some multi-level marketing participation scheme. This category of people, so often, also includes those who shout loudest about business ethics.
In the greater scheme of things, you’re going to be accosted by ‘takers’ throughout life wherever you are; whether they’re in the form of the dishevelled, hungry person asking for a handout at the traffic lights, the excessively charming woman wanting advice on computer repairs or the ‘friend’ who wants you to do some photography for free. How you deal with these people is going to be a significant determinant of your success or failure in business.
A photographer should be a business person first and a maker of images second – just my opinion. As an entrepreneur, I assume you have a Business Plan. If you don’t, either start compiling one right now or return to corporate life, because without one – you’re wasting your time and prejudicing your family’s livelihood.
By Business Plan, I don’t mean that obsequious piece of butt-kissing prose you offer that vile creature, the bank manager in the hope of being granted start-up capital, bridging finance or an overdraft. I mean that vital document that describes the What, Why, Who, When and How of your business existence. Included in this document should be a section on how much work/time/effort you are prepared to give or donate. Some businesses based on Christian principles use a guideline of one tenth of their time or talents. You can also clarify the parameters and conditions that need to be in place to justify your delivery of free work/products.
Also, in your Business Plan, should be the details of what you perceive to be the monetary value of each hour of your time, equipment, talents, skills and so forth.
Having such aspects of your business formally in place, simplifies your decision making considerably. Once you’ve finished your ‘free time’ for the month you’re in a position to POLITELY and DIPLOMATICALLY tell people, either that they don’t qualify for freebies or that your pro bono time for the month is finished and they must reschedule or pay the full fee.
An axiom I formed out of painful and bitter experience but now live by is, “Business and friendship are two mutually exclusive concepts, and require clear demarcation in order to avoid conflict.” Sounds almost like common sense doesn’t it? Endless coffees, light-hearted banter with clients, Facebook friendships, interspersed with an occasional bit of work is not even one tenth of what running your own business is all about. Sooner or later the harsh realities of contract negotiations, service levels and parting with hard earned cash have to be dealt with.
Business ownership (like all leadership) is often a lonely existence and is generally successfully undertaken by those eminently comfortable with their own company…er… to coin a phrase. To this end, do not even hesitate to dispense with those seeking freebies, discounts or exchange of favours. Take your unique product/service to your target market (that stratum of the population you identified in your Business Plan) by means of a client-orientated sales individual (yourself or someone else if you don’t have the skills).
Don’t be afraid of severing business associations with people whose intention it was not to pay you. These are the people who don’t know their own minds and are unable to differentiate between a photographer and a great photographer. They will wander off and pester some other poor sap while you move on and up. In so doing you will naturally surround yourself with positive, successful people who understand the value of time, skills and money and are prepared to pay for the delivery of same. It leaves you free to pursure actual friendships and to concentrate your energies and time on delivering the highest quality, best value-for-money product you can.