Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.
Please stop asking the creative community to work for free.
If creative work adds value to your product, gives you more exposure to your brand, and generates an impact on your bottom line, then stop asking the creatives to submit work in exchange for “exposure.”
Don’t ask photographers to volunteer for your many events at no charge, don’t ask writers – an obvious sore spot for me – to submit several “specs” of work to prove themselves before hiring them, and don’t ask designers and marketers to create your brand, or promote your brand, for free as you sit back and reap the benefits.
The whole “We’d like to give you exposure in exchange for your work” bit is overrated, misguided and usually, false. Work is work. And no work should be done for free.
Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The tipping point , or scroll down to explore more of her story.
The creative-service industry is part of our capital-driven society and an essential component of the economy. Writers, photographers, designers and marketers – just to name a few – need to receive payment in order for the economics to work.
In 2013, the National Endowment for the Arts showed a 32.5 percent growth in GDP contributed by arts and cultural production between 1998 and 2013. This contributed a total of $704.2 billion to the U.S. economy. In the same breath, according to The Guardian, each freelancer working in the creative industries loses an estimated $7,287 each year through working for free.
From simple projects like creating brochures and flyers to rebranding organizations and launching a social media presence, I have been asked to do more free work than paid work, and the reasoning is always the same: It’s good for my portfolio. Today, I say, no more!
More recent entries from Giselle:
- The shape of the city
- The risk-taker’s lament
- The gentrification exasperation
- The gauntlet of transitions
- The ‘Mini’ Series
I can’t quantify the exposure some say they will provide me in exchange for my services. It is impossible.
In 1993, Steve Jobs was on the hunt for a logo designer for his venture, NeXT – a short-lived computer company he founded on the heels of his ouster from Apple. He asked graphic designer Paul Rand to come up with some sample ideas before hiring him, but Rand gave Jobs a little lesson on economics.
In an interview, Jobs recounted Rand’s response to his request for free work: “No. I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve your problem for you the best way I know how. And you use it or not. That’s up to you. You’re the client. But you pay me.”
Rand knew his worth in that moment. He knew that he was being undervalued as a vital piece of the puzzle and made the relationship between him and Jobs clear, that he expected to get paid for all work he completed.
Organizations ask me all the time, “If I just select you as our sole creative agency, how do I know that I’ve chosen the best agency to work with without seeing any work for our brand beforehand?” And my response has changed over the years.
Years ago, I would say, “Oh, I completely understand and will send you some sample specs to help further your decision-making.” But now, I simply ask them the same thing they ask of me. “How do I know that I have chosen a client to work with that will fulfill the basics of my contract, pay me on time and provide clarity on all work projects?”
The answer is simple. You don’t know.
But again, those are the risks associated with hiring new prospects. Whether it is for a 9-to-5 position with a yearly salary or a creative freelancer with an hourly rate, the unknown is still the same. Yet, those who abuse the creative economy tend to overlook the immense value it provides. Contracts are broken with little to no reason, and mostly because of the power struggle between the creative freelancers and the big-dollar organizations. It is time to put an end to it.
Organizations like the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Association of Registered Graphic Designers in Canada and the No!Spec initiative have also taken positions against unpaid work. As in an industry, donating your work and time for a special cause or project should be the exception and not the rule.
I advise all creatives to be circumspect when engaging in pro bono projects, unpaid internships and spec work.
Follow Giselle’s inspiring story from the beginning: