“I take pictures casually for friends and family. At this point, I don’t have a name or website, and I usually don’t charge anyone because it makes me feel uncomfortable since I am not technically a professional. When and how should I start charging people?” – Jamie
Since you enjoy your craft and regularly express that passion to family members and friends, a common perception spreads amongst your loved ones. They tend to interpret your passion as an invitation for free goods and services. So although you are putting in a lot of time and effort to create something beautiful that they can cherish forever, they fail to recognize those strong efforts as real work.
Why is this? Well, too many people, the word “work” carries along a negative connotation. They associate it with other terms like labor or service and with feelings like that of exhaustion, stress, anxiety, etc. So, when they see you with a big smile on your face and positive energy radiating off your shoulders as you excitedly create something beautiful for them, they think “He or she is enjoying this so much! This does not work for them. They are happy to do this for me!” and the thought of offering payment entirely escapes their thoughts.
But, can you blame them? If you haven’t actually communicated that you expect compensation for the work you share, then how can you expect a different understanding on their end?
When to start charging:
My simple, honest answer: right now.
Your time is valuable and it’s important that you treat it that way. If you’re going to dedicate more of your time to unpaid work, then you can’t be surprised when you hit a plateau or fall behind in your goals.
If you’re in a place where you feel taken advantage of or undervalued for the work that you share with family and friends for free, then there couldn’t be a clearer sign that there needs to be a serious change. It’s time for you to begin implementing business-like practices into the way you share your work with others. (Insert tough love air hug from me to you!)
Of course, in some unique cases, you may want to give someone the special the gift of your creativity seeking their happiness and gratitude as the only form of payment. And I understand that! But, if you are beginning to notice your span of generosity spreading too wide amongst a swarm of family members and friends, then no, I do not think it is okay, or fair, that you are not receiving payment.
1 // Practice a New Mindset
If you’re reading this post then you most likely have already recognized your growing desire to shift from hobby to business, but there is a big gap between that desire and your actual communication with others and your day to day actions. So, how do you bridge that gap and align what you want with what you say and do?
Begin by confronting your thoughts. Ask yourself questions like…
> How do I feel when I don’t get paid for my work? Why do I feel that way?
> Why do I believe that I deserve compensation for my work?
> How will receiving payment help me move towards achieving my goals?
The purpose of this exercise is to dig deep and unravel the reasons why you’re feeling a desire to get paid. Uncovering these truths will allow you to feel more self-assured in your position as a paid creative. You will no longer say phrases like “I feel uncomfortable communicating pricing because I’m not a professional”. Instead, you will feel more connected with the value of your creativity and the services and/or products you provide to others.
2 // Create a Pricing Structure with Confidence
You might be shying away from asking for payment because you simply do not know what to charge. This could especially be the case if you haven’t taken the time to consider your costs, research the market, analyze the value of your products and/or services, and complete other essential research as you develop a price structure.
3 // Practice Professionalism & Communicate Pricing
People don’t know what they don’t know. What I mean by this is that if you are not representing your products and/or services professionally, then how is anyone supposed to know that your art is more than a hobby? Actively and consistently educate others and represent yourself in the way that you wish to be perceived.
Some ways to do this include…
> When the topic of conversation starts to shift to your craft, pursue this opportunity to announce how excited you are about your recent transition into becoming a business.
> Create business cards and keep a little stack of them in your bag. Whenever someone mentions your work, don’t miss the chance to hand over a couple cards and give them a quick update. Own that moment!
> When someone mentions that they would love to have you photograph their engagement, children, family, etc., remain enthusiastic about the opportunity and ask if you can have their email address so you can send along pricing information when you return to your computer. It’s an indirect, nice way of saying “I’d love to! But so we’re clear – you do have to pay me.”
Online & Social Media
> Launch a website where you can share your work along with pricing information in a clear and organized way. If you aren’t ready to launch a full-fledged, decked out website, that is totally fine! You can still create a simpler platform that represents the direction you’re headed in.
> In addition to building a website, make sure to further represent your work on other social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram. If your intentions are to grow and be taken seriously as a paid professional by everyone including friends and family, then these social media outlets will serve as extensions of your message and portfolio. Use professional, directive verbiage in your captions like “click this link for pricing and more information”, which can be a subtle way of introducing people to the fact that you now require payment.
This brings me to briefly touch upon the subject of creating a business name. If you haven’t already, do it. You might not be 100% sure you’ve decided on a name that you want to have forever and that is okay. Choosing a temporary business name is better than not having one at all!
3 // Say No & Don’t Make Exceptions
Saying no is difficult. You immediately feel guilty and uncomfortable when having to do so. But the reality is – no one, especially your family and friends, will take you seriously as a professional and believe you need to be paid if you are only saying yes left and right, filling your schedule to the brim with unpaid jobs.
There will be moments that come about in which you feel compelled to say yes to an unpaid opportunity because you really do need that material for your portfolio. You might not be receiving money for your efforts, but you truly believe the experience will be extremely valuable to the future of your business. In this situation, I recommend saying yes, but do make sure you communicate that this is not something you normally do for free. The last thing you need is rumors spreading about you and your “free” work!
I don’t have a magic recipe for turning down unpaid work, but I do have some pieces of advice to help you in those moments…
> Slow down and be present in your response. Do not let your anxious feelings fuel your answer. Very often we rush through the conversation and before we know it we are saying yes and don’t know why!
> Find the words beforehand. In your mind, and out loud, practice saying no and if you feel it’s necessary, practice justifying that no. This way when the occasion calls for a no, you’ll have the words ready and waiting, instead of feeling scatterbrained and potentially fumbling over your words in discomfort.
> Know anyone who is looking to take on free work right now as they build their skills and portfolio? Have those names in mind so that you can back up your “no” with a helpful recommendation of someone else they can reach out to!