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Stop asking creatives to work for free!

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

I published a variation of the following article as an Instagram post yesterday, and it received such a large response from so many other creatives and even brands in my community, that I decided to expand the post into a larger article and invite more people in on this conversation. Let's dive in.

It's been an interesting week for me and Marika Creative. Not sure what it is, but it feels as though I have gotten more requests for unpaid work in the last 3 days than I have since I started my business, and it's provoked the need to open up a very necessary conversation for those in or working with the creative space.⁠ ⁠

I understand that times are hard. Every single business and business owner I know and have spoken with over the last 6 weeks is struggling. If I could help everyone and work with them for free to see thrive, I probably would. I care so deeply about the success of others and their businesses. However, this season we are in does not give people the freedom to disrespect another business owner's time, skills, and offers by flat out asking for them for free (Literally, someone responded to an email I sent saying "Can I have this for free?" ... ) ⁠ ⁠

There are three reasons I want to highlight for why asking for free work from a creative professional is not appropriate, respectful, or beneficial to you as a business owner:

1. "I'm sorry, I don't want to pay for this Peloton right now, or can't pay for it right now, but can I have it anyways?" (Not real words uttered, but I think you get the point).

Think about that for a second. People don't ask for products for free. They don't go into Target or go shopping online and refuse to pay the retail price for the product they want or need. People don't even walk into salons and try to negotiate for a free mani/pedi, but the fact that we are conditioned to believe that it is almost acceptable to ask a creative professional for free services is something I just don't understand (If any one has an culture or historical insights into this, I'd love to hear it!)

It is important to remember that creative professionals aren't just providing a service, though; creative services are actually products too. My photography and creative direction services result in tangible deliverables that businesses use to scale, sell, and communicate with their audiences. What I deliver is a product that promotes trust, efficiency, and revenue. If you went into a store and you found a physical product that promised you all those things, wouldn't you pay full price for it, seeing its value for your business?⁠ ⁠

2. Not to state the obvious, but we have bills to pay too.

I could spend hours educating people on how much work goes into everything from concept, to production, to delivery, not to mention the value of my 8 years of experience, or the costs to run my business and paying the people on my team, and although that's not the point of this article, it's important to communicate that creative professionals make a living off of their skills. We pay rent, we feed ourselves, we invest into our businesses with gear, equipment, and software in order to actually do our jobs. I could go on. Running a business, whether it is product or service based, costs real money, which means we need real money from our customers and clients to keep going.

Sometimes, shooting for trade is great and makes sense. Sometimes, exposure really is valuable. But free food and a shoutout on social media does not equal revenue, guaranteed new work, and it certainly doesn't pay our bills. For me personally, I love to offer free work when it is appropriate to do so, but I will always say no when someone comes to me with an expectation that they can I have my services without any investment on their part.

3. You will actually succeed by investing in your business.

When you invest in your business, it shows that you are serious, humble, and respectful. When a brand asks a creative to work for free, it's typically coming from financial motivation, right? A lack of revenue, a desire to be frugal, etc. What people don't understand is that when they ask creatives to work for free, they are actually communicating that they do not understand the value of creative services, that they don't understand the impact those services will have on their business, and that they don't respect the time and offer of the other business owner (the creative) that they are interacting with.

When a business owner invests in their creative team, they prize the work that's created. They are confident in their image because they know that there was care and love and expertise poured all over their brand. When a business owner invests in their creative people, every one involved feels honored, excited, and the results will be 10000x better than from someone who doesn't feel valued or is not invested in.

Brands: Find the right creative people. Love them, invest in them, and watch your business thrive!

I'd love to know how this sits with you and if you have anything you want to add on to the conversation. Let's chat about it!⁠

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