December 9, 2017

A Mother’s Journey: Don’t starve the artists

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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.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

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:

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:

Part 1 — The Brooklyn trip

Part 2 — The playbook

Part 3 — The space race

Part 4 — The unsettling score

Part 5 — The point of no return

Part 6 — The poetry of motion

Part 7 — The keys to success

Part 8 — The stumbling block

Part 9 — The Learning Hubby

Part 10 — The next breath

Part 11 — The imperfect storm

Part 12 — The defining moment

Part 13 — The balancing act

Part 14 — The right turn on Pleasant?

Part 15 — The exploration within

Part 16 — The long way home

Part 17 — The road to empowerment

Part 18 — The new direction

Part 19 — The social club

Part 20 — The way forward

Part 21 — The momentum conundrum

Part 22 — The Pleasant Street exit

Part 23 — The stemming of the tide

Part 24 — The starting line, finally

Part 25 — The full head of steam

Part 26 — The kernels of wisdom

Part 27 — The Book of Hub

Part 28 — The great debate

Part 29 — The girls are all right

Part 30 — The movement keeps moving

Part 31 — The picture of serenity?

Part 32 — The network effect

Part 33 — The original Woopreneur

Part 34 — The gift of reflection

Part 35 — The resolution revolution

Part 36 — The model students

Part 37 — The growing pains

Part 38 — The time trials

Part 39 — The parent trap

Part 40 — The stress test

Part 41 — The place to start?

Part 42 — The accidental perspective

Part 43 — The road less traveled

Part 44 — The one dedicated to mom

Part 45 — The collaboration realization

Part 46 — The business of growing up

Part 47 — The new home frame of mind

Part 48 — The look of leadership

Part 49 — The inner-city detour

Part 50 — The sincerest form of thievery

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