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Never Do Anything For Free

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

I know how it sounds - bad. While on a personal level this is a questionable ethos, they’re words you may want to consider when it comes to your creative business.

You might be thinking “I’m not a business, I just do what I love.” If what you do makes you money you are your business and it’s likely you burn the midnight oil more nights than not.

Your passion, combined with a societal misunderstanding and frequent failure to appreciate the value of creatives, can lead you down a path of distractions and bring you to the edge of burn-out. Think about the last few times you said “Yes!” to a project with a low (or no) budget because it seemed like a promising way to gain exposure. Perhaps you hate telling people “no”, you have a fear of missing out. Do you sometimes let fear or impulsivity drive your decision-making?

I’ve done it - a lot. In most cases I learned something, had fun, pushed myself, or had to work smarter. Sometimes I sacrificed more than I gained. As a small business owner first starting out and working very hard, saying yes to almost everything resulted in frequent illnesses and repeatedly saying no to friends. I damaged valuable interpersonal relationships and sometimes, ironically, compromised the quality of work needed to honor the creative business I was so passionate about in the first place.

We, like everyone else, have only 24 hours a day for eating, sleeping, running our business, adulting, and making time for LIVING. I mean really living. This includes building your dream business and focusing on your passion. This means saying yes to creative projects that enhance your life and process, as well as those that build a positive support network around you.

Think about why you set out to do this in the first place. Then look at all the professional projects you’ve been asked to work on and the avenues they’re taking you down and weigh the value of those against that your creative goals and quality of life. How does it look?

Burning the midnight oil may be a right-of-passage for business owners, but it should be temporary and only when needed going forward. It should be purposeful and valuable. Your collaborative choices should help you see possibilities, expand your business, learn how to work smarter, enhance your creative instincts, etc. If you say yes, early on in your business, to dedicating your creative time to obligations you don’t grow from (those that devalue you or pull you away from your path) you say no to putting that time toward focusing on what matters.

I went to a seminar where a seasoned studio-owner said to the audience “Never do anything for free.” I remember thinking that sounded awful, but wanted to understand why she thought that so I could consider, or at least adapt, it.”

So, this is my version of that. Don't let your “yes” to others become “no” to you focusing on the true mission and purpose of your creative business. Of course, help your creative friends who need it! Take on the no- or low-budget project that will push you (in the right direction). Collaborate when you have time, just because it's fun. But always add value to, and get value from, your creative collaborations so you can effectively build your passion-dream, with clearer focus and direction and feel fulfilled when you do have to burn that midnight oil.

Column first featured in Collaborative Magazine

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