This is a post I don’t want to write, so much so that I’ve started and stopped writing this very post for several months, never having the courage to hit “publish.” I fear my message coming across the wrong way, I fear other photographers rolling their eyes, I fear sounding over-dramatic, but I’ve seen others talk in-depth about the topic and do so gracefully… so I know that it can be done. I also know that this message needs to reach my immediate tribe of people. I can’t assume you’ll thumb through the archives of business bloggers I follow and find this information for yourself, which is why I have to write it. This isn’t something exclusive to photographers, this is happening in all fields. It’s my honest hope that this post shows you a bit of my heart and opens your eyes to the reality of many creative industry professionals. I want to help you understand something important…so here I go!
I started my photography business five years ago because it was something that I loved. I loved the idea of freedom from corporate America, freedom to make my own schedule, freedom to serve people in a different way, freedom to fulfill a part of my heart that longs to create, and the thought of getting paid to do so fit nicely into the puzzle. I knew there would be a time for building, a time for offering my services at a lower rate, but I also knew that with time people would start to see me as a proper business. What I didn’t see coming was the vast amount of people and companies that would still view my job as a bargaining tool, five years later.
As a photographer, I’m part of an extremely collaborative industry, regularly working with other professionals and businesses to create mutually beneficial content for those involved. This is a portion of my business that I love! I love to network with other people, I love to create together, I find value in working with people to elevate the industry. I love the opportunity to give back and to give generously to people, to my church, or donate my time to a cause I believe in! But the tricky part is, I want the freedom to decide when and where to do so.
I get it. Everyone is a photographer these days and with the quick click of a button, voila! A beautiful picture comes to life. In fact, I bet your smart phone takes a better picture than your digital camera does! Perhaps this is where the disconnect between people and professional photographers happens. The lines become fuzzy and this very thing makes our job “look easy,” so it must be no problem for us to volunteer our services.
It becomes a very tough road to navigate when I receive requests from well-intentioned friends, family, or other professionals asking me to do my job for free or discount my rates. I get asked to exchange my work or discount my services for promises of exposure! and referrals! and I’ll buy your dinner! and photo credit! and and and!
Friends…I really, truly love what I do for work. But the truth is, I don’t want to work for free and I don’t think you do either. I recently watched a video by Jon Acuff that did a beautiful job of explaining this very concept. The last time I tried to pay my phone bill by promising to refer all of my friends and family to AT&T, it didn’t work! Turns out they don’t take referrals and exposure in exchange for cellular data, they just take real money ;). Hopefully you see the humor in this. It’s crazy to think about trying something like this with any business, don’t you think? This seems to be the expectation however, for a lot of creative industry professionals. For whatever reason our industry has become a negotiable one with a “will work for free” sign on our foreheads.
It isn’t abnormal to exchange business with people. It’s actually a beautiful thing that I love to be part of! Some of the best friendships that I have, have come from collaboration with other businesses. It’s more about understanding the proper way to approach the matter and doing so with grace. If you’ve ever asked a photographer to give you a discount or work for free, don’t feel bad! You truly didn’t intend to devalue them and their business, I know this and I’m not shaking my finger at you. But I hope you understand better now that our jobs are as real as yours. My photography business pays our bills, it allows us to gift our family with Christmas presents, and just like your job, it’s how I make a living. It becomes exhausting trying to prove your worth over and over, and I don’t think any business owner should have to do so.
There is a large community of my friends and family that do value and support what I do, and to those people I thank you. This post is for a select few; the ones that may have never considered any of this, the ones that truly didn’t realize, the ones who needed a little reminder. This is your opportunity to change your mindset and help support your friends and family in their craft by (gasp) paying them! This is true across the board, in all fields…not just photography. Please friends, value the work you see your friends and family doing. Understand the sensitivity of this topic when approaching them and don’t assume you get the “homie hook-up,” or “family deal.” Give them the opportunity to be generous with their talents. Don’t make them dread doing what they love. I know this might be hard to digest, but it’s the honest truth and I hope you receive it with an open heart!
…Deep sigh :)