How is working on spec any different than working for free?

Or in other words, how else can a small business owner save money while supporting other creative professionals?

Where is this coming from you might ask? Well, I saw a tweet posted by a very influential photographer encouraging other photographers to use www.99designs.com. He advocates a service that unfortunately is part of the ongoing problem with low pay for creatives based on people being willing to work for free. That’s what spec work is. In particular, with a site like this, and it’s not the only one by far, they hold “contests” for design work such as a logo, and if your design is chosen by the person wanting a logo, then and only then, will you get paid for your work. And to top it all off, “prizes” are generally less than industry rates.

I find it very ironic that a photographer or other creative professional would support such shenanigans given the same problems in the photographic industry. How often do you see posts and articles bemoaning the ongoing lowering of the bar for rates due to all the would be photographers who will work for free or very little pay for “experience” or “exposure”? Its a problem that has become even more pervasive with the easy access to professional level gear.

The only way out though is education. We need to teach photographers and other creative professionals to value their time and each others’. We need to teach our clients to value our work and pay what we’re worth. And those clients may be us! That means charge industry rates yourself. And pay each other industry rates. Find someone who will do the work you need and skip the spec stuff. There is a range of prices in every industry that hovers around an average. You should be able to find someone you can afford. If you think you can’t have you looked at other options than straight cash? Contra deals, or barter of services in other words. Saving up a little longer to afford the one you really want to work with. Will your designer or whatever take multiple payments? How about some creative fund raising like www.kickstarter.com? After all, the money you spend on marketing your business is the best money you’ll spend and why would you cheap out? You wouldn’t on your gear when it counts.

And don’t forget, if you don’t want to work for free, why should anyone else?

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