Leave it to Seth Godin to send a whammy to my inbox this morning. It was a real doozy for me since it hit too close to home for comfort. As you know, dear reader, I have been contemplating how to get myself to the next level for some time now. I know what I do helps the common good. I am fairly loud in pushing the audience development goodness forward. I absolutely love and believe in what I am doing, yet it has been challenging, especially when people want my services for free. I know I am not the only one that feels this way.
I see it all the time in the “gigs” section of the job listings. “We need an artist, band, graphic designer, insert other artist title here, in exchange for some publicity and food (well, maybe food if you’re lucky). I hear artists grumbling about not getting fair pay for all the hard work that they are doing. I discussed this with a photographer friend who always used the phrase, “you have to pay to play” in order to get his photography business off the ground, and he is one of the most talented photographers I have come across for his particular niche. He certainly deserved to be paid for those photos at that level of quality. They got his talent for free.
Free can be good and lead you to a better place, but sometimes free ends up being a vicious cycle that is difficult to get out of.
Is free really “free?” Or, are we going in a negative direction? Godin asks us to weigh the benefits against the free. If it is worth it and will advance your career, help build your audiences, then by all means, take the free opportunity. If free is selling yourself short and not adding to a positive outcome, stop and step away from the free.
I have many free services that I do for the public. I blog, distribute articles, leave tip of the day and mini-podcast audio clips, give free talks/seminars/webinars at times, etc. I absolutely love what I am doing. The free is adding up though, and every time someone asks me “can I pick your brain?” a little piece of my dream of making a living doing what I enjoy dies.
In the meantime, I have seen nonprofit arts organizations and agencies with more resources go under. It didn’t make sense to keep going when they weren’t able to pay their employees or foot their bills.
There are more people clamoring for the spotlight, more people starting new businesses hoping to make the big time. In the five years I have been trucking along, I have seen consultants come and go depending on whether they land a full time job instead. Meanwhile, I’ve been in it for the longer haul. I have continued to take the free opportunities to put myself out there.
However, if I don’t do somethings for free, I may not be working at all. I can recall certain gurus of our time going beyond and saying not to be stingy with your gifts and giving freely of yourself will reap positive benefits for all. When I come across this line of thinking, I end up asking myself – maybe I am not doing enough for free?
I would love your thoughts on this one. As you can see, there is a back and forth in my mind about all this free business. There must be a way for talented artists like you and me to make money from our businesses instead of dealing with too many free-doms. So I ask you – When does free start costing more than it’s worth? How far should a small business entrepreneur go down the free path before it just doesn’t make sense any more?
In the end, as artists with valuable talents and gifts, we do need to ask ourselves these questions. Putting in sweat equity makes sense, yet bleeding yourself dry really doesn’t.
To end on a positive note, I want to thank all the people that have paid for my services, donated money, bought my book, or offered me some well needed friendly advice. I am so grateful for the people that valued what I do and want to see me succeed as well! Without you, I would not be hopeful enough to keep going. Huge thanks to you!
Please let me know your thoughts.
Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,
Audience Development Specialists
“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
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