Tag Archives: business

} On Working For Free

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I have taken this subject seriously for over a decade. (Ok, I sound old! haha) Perhaps because I’ve been working for myself for 11 years now, always in artistic fields. I’m talking about the idea of “giving free work”.

I mentioned earlier the creative aspect, because this issue seems dominant (and frequent) in professions such as graphic design, photography, illustration, writing, handmade, music… Altho after asking around, it is obviously not reserved to more creative work; fields like computer programming, teaching, and in a way, professional sports, are also often asked to work for free.

Now, let me get something straight first. I am not talking here about investing skills in a non-profit that you care about (read on that (and this whole subject really) on my friend Pierre’s blog!). Nor lending physical goods, for a small amount of time, for a photoshoot, which will be returned intact and without fees to you. Nor helping your mother out with her lost kitty flyer. Nor giving simple opinions at a hangout with friends about their text on their website.

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I mean more like magazines and journals asking photographers to give a free picture(s), but “we’ll give you credit, of course”. Or a start-up company asking for free copy writing for their first website, but “we’ll pay you on future projects”. Or big music festivals asking small bands to play for free, because “it’s great exposure and visibility!”. Or a publishing company asking an illustrator to create them a book cover, because “it’ll be a great portfolio piece”.

Or, in handmade goods’ case, which is the category I’ve experienced personally for the past almost 8 years, a blog asking to send free samples, and then “I’ll blog about it”. Which is exactly what happened (for the I-can’t-even-count-how-many-times) to me a couple of weeks ago that got me feeling this urge to talk about it now (along with this NYtimes article from a couple of months back). For some reason, this time in particular urked me even more than usual (lol), because the email was filled with “I LOVEEE your work!!!!”, a “You inspire me!”, and a couple of “Handmade is my life’s passion!!!”. Which is very contradictory, because when you ask me for free items, you are saying that my work is not worth a penny to you. You are also acting like you don’t respect my time, all my efforts towards my career, nor my products. So NO, I don’t inspire you. And by not even offering to pay shipping costs, you’re adding salt on my wound (or, insult to injury, if you prefer). Even more, the blog in question (nope, won’t drop a name, ain’t giving it free publicity HA!) was in Italy (where I’ve sold only like twice ever), written in Italian (I can’t read it, hence I couldn’t even know if she wrote well or not), with really bad pictures (as in large-view-on-plaid-tablecloth-with-a-lot-of-flash bad), and it looked ugly as fuck as a whole (sorry, but it truly was a pain for my retina).

Let me just say this:
• Credits, future potential projects (also called “opportunities”), and exposure don’t pay current bills. Ask anyone, in reality, these very rarely bring some concrete paid work. The chances of a company seeing one of your photos in the local paper and then actually researching you, contact you and offer you a paid contract are slim to none. Sure, it *could* happen. But I’m also sure your phone company *will* shut down your service if you don’t pay your bill… There is an epic rant by Harlan Ellison (pretty funny too!) on the subject over here, and you can also read a good article called “Opportunities Are Bullshit“.
• Your portfolio already exists, and that’s why they’re contacting you in the first place. Because they saw it, and liked it. That means your portfolio *already* works great. YAY!
• As far as blog posts go (which is also in the “exposure” realm), I think they ask for this to justify their own time spent on blogging. So basically, you’re asking me to sacrifice my finished product, and time, and materials, and even take extra money out of my pocket (shipping fees), in order of helping you feel like you’re not wasting your own time and energy? Puh-lease. Don’t forget that pretty much none of the great, interesting, inspiring and most read blogs ask people to give their work away: they either just blog about it because they want to, or actually buy an item for themselves first.

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I remember that in the early years of Etsy, there was chat rooms, and also live critique workshops, where one could voluntarily put their shop up for constructive comments from other sellers. I really loved participating in this, I felt like I could help others with the knowledge I had acquired over the previous months/years. They still had to do the work themselves, but having suggestions and opinions from people not as emotionally involved in the project is never a bad thing. However, one thing I always voiced my opinion against was “adding a free item” or “giving coupon codes for a next purchase” once you actually made a sale. I am against it yes, but my opinion is much less radical on this subject, simply because this is something one would decide of their own free will and initiative, not pressured into by someone else (altho at some point the practice was used SO much by so many sellers, that I did receive 2-3 “there was no free stuff with my order, this sucks” messages, which obviously I thought was annoying, and rude. lol).

I also remember that as a young graphic designer, right out of school in the early 2000’s, without any actual contracts in my portfolio, that suggestions of working for free in exchange for “exposure” and “portfolio pieces” was very enticing. I am guilty of doing a couple of free business cards back then, as well as doing a couple of projects for a very low pay (between 25 and 50% of actual worth). I also realized quickly that I lost much drive for the project once I got half way thru, and my self-confidence got screwed up fairly quickly in the process. But believe me, I totally understand that urge to actually create, as well as that desire to show what you’re capable of, to prove yourself to the world, at any cost. The problem with that is (this also applies even if you’re a veteran) that by giving of yourself for nothing (or undervaluing), you’re denying that vision of the person you want to be: a creative paid right. You’re shooting yourself in the foot, basically. It’s also cutting the grass under the feet of others in your field (they are your competition, yes, but they are also a lot of things that you want to be, such as actually paid), and hurting your profession as a whole (if everyone starts to sell themselves short, at some point no one will ever want to pay (or pay what it’s worth) for the service/object, EVER).

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As far as trades with strangers go, well… I do them myself once in a while, but only if I actually really WANT or NEED the product or service, and if they are of close value. The problem only arises if it’s something you don’t really desire, or if it’s not even close to being equal.

And for friends, I suggest going with your instinct perhaps? If it’s a case of the “can you program my whole CSS 5page bilingual website in exchange for a coffee and a hug?”, then you might have to either just say that you don’t feel like it/don’t have time, or think of a counter proposition that makes sense and suggest it. For example, a couple of rooms in your new apartment might need to be painted and it seems like about the same number of hours than the task they asked you for. They’ll either decline altogether because that made them realize what they were actually asking for (and hopefully, they are a true friend and will keep being your friend as usual), or think it’s totally worth it and you’ll both be happy! But if it’s something along the lines of “can you show me how to put this text in bold in my free WordPress blog post?”, then don’t be an asshole, don’t charge for that! lol

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Free work is never really free. Each time you do it, you hurt your value and loose some self-confidence, because it’s like accepting and agreeing that your skill is worth nothing. Personally, I prefer eating peanut butter toasts for a long while before I agree to that again. ;)

Ok, I think that I’ve gotten pretty much everything off my chest now. lol! Obviously, not everyone has such a radical opinion on the subject… Including Seth Godin (which surprised me actually) in his blog post “Should You Work For Free?“.

I accept other points of views, or a more nuanced opinion, so feel free to share them in comments, even if it’s to tell me that I’m totally wrong. lol! ;)

To finish on a less gloomy note, I suggest taking a look at this “Should I work For Free” visual chart for a humorous spin on a serious subject! ;)

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Filed under My Life

} On Staying Small

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I was watching, on Sunday morning, an episode of a À la di Stasio (a Quebec tv cooking show that I like, but that I don’t watch religiously) in which there was an interview with Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, a restaurant in Manhattan (East Village).

I listened with interest, without necessarily being over excited about the discussion, until she talked about being small (30 places in her very popular restaurant), and staying small. By choice. Gabrielle listed a couple of very legit reasons why she intended her business to stay that way (mostly to not be diluting the spirit of her business). She then concluded on the subject by simply saying “I also don’t want it.”

Hearing that sentence, in the midst of wanting to make my blog more personal once in a while, sparked the flame for this blog post.

I have said this before (on staying small, which doesn’t necessarily mean being the only employee forever and ever, by the way) on numerous occasions – to friends and family. I have pondered on this fact quite a lot by myself as well, especially after being asked “Where do you see your business in 5/10 years?” If I answer something along the lines of “Nothing very different. What’s wrong with it now?”, I sometimes encounter a face that I usually interpret as being “You’re not very ambitious.” I’ve also noticed that most of the time, people also associate ambition with success…

Truthfully, I already know that I’m not be the most ambitious person in the whole wide world. Well, not in a stereotypical “supersize your business/have plenty of employees/make tons of money/buy a mansion and fill it with a shitload of expensive objects” way anyway. If you have seen my work just a bit, you already know that this kind of thinking does not translate in my products either, creating mostly jewelry and objects for your everyday affordable life. In the 6.5 years of Nea, I have never listed a single item at over $150. Doesn’t mean I won’t ever, but if it ever happens, it’s going to be on a very time consuming piece, and that number will be about valuing my work/time right, not about the big bucks.

Back to (lack of) ambition. Well, that is a pretty subjective thing. Ambition might be about money and company growth for some, but for me it’s more about growing with the actual products, learning new skills, diversifying what I offer, finding promotions that work, evolving what I’m passionate about making.

Would I like to make a more decent salary? Sure. But truthfully, my answer to that is VERY far from “at all costs”. Not if it’s going to make me unhappy or feel crappy. For example, I kinda have a low acceptance threshold for brick&mortar stores who treat the consignors/designers badly (such as not paying them in decent delay, or asking for exclusivity for an unusually large area, or taking off the designer’s name tags on the items they sell). When that happens, if a talk or email doesn’t work, I don’t think twice about pulling my stock out of there. The quicker the better. I have decided to do it a couple of times, and never regretted it even for a second. I will not work with those kinds of businesses – it hurts all brick&mortar stores, it hurts all artists, it hurts my own brand, and it hurts my soul.

For the way I am built, going big would be: being stressed WAY too much, spending excessive amounts of time on organization rather than creating and making, saying “see you sometime, perhaps” to most of my social life, not having time to notice one of many beautiful architecture details Montreal has to offer while walking to a business meeting in a hurry, having to be “the boss” rather than just “Janick” (plus, I would suck at that, big time. Pun intended.) Going big would be like turning the lights off, in my life as well as on my creativity.

For the way I am built, staying small is: doing what I love, the possibility to create (and offer easily and quickly) new items whenever inspiration takes over, having the freedom to go out to lunch with friends at (almost) any time, learning and exploring new skills, keeping stress levels usually low, making mistakes (no one can get out of that one) but that don’t have negative domino repercussions on other people’s lives, growing at a slow but steady pace (which totally fits my overall personality in the personal life too), noticing how a morning fog or a airy snowfall can beautify a concrete city. For me, staying small in business is happiness, which is how I personally define success. To recap, my ambitions are to stay happy. A tiny non-ambitious thing, really. lol ;)

And, what is wrong with staying small anyway?
For the customer, it means dealing with a person rather than a machine. It means the possibility of customization. It means you can actually feel the personality of someone thru their work. It means you are directly supporting a person in doing what they are passionate about. It means you can express your excitement towards an item and actually make someone’s day at the same time.
For the business (and the person behind it), it means every single story shared by your customers are actually heard, and cherished. It means you can make someone happy by the simple gesture of switching a blue bead for red bead. It means doing yearly taxes reports just takes a day or two (lol!). It means you know with precision what’s going on with every aspect of your business. It means that every time someone buys something you made, you feel honored. Staying small is big on the rewards.

Don’t the best ointments come in small packages? ;)

Yeah… Going big… I also don’t want it.

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Filed under My Life

The Boss of You

This book is for any woman who has already started or wants to start your own business. I haven’t read it yet, it was launched in April, but I surely will! It’s been having great reviews from women who read it!

The Boss of You is a book (look inside at Amazon!), but also a Website and a blog.

Perhaps you’d like to win a copy? If so, head over to the Trans-Canada Esty Team’s blog to participate and have a chance to win! You have until June 11th!

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Filed under Reading

Gift Guide 2007 { Business }

As part of my Holiday Gift Guide 2007,
here are some suggestions for the business related items!

Take the Handmade Pledge this Holiday season!

* Please note that none of the sellers featured are sponsors! These a MY favorites!

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Seems like a weird category? Well, we all work, don’t we? :)
Find the perfect handmade gift for you boss (to help with the raise maybe? lol), your coworkers or your workaholic friends! :)

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German grey felt and soft Austrian leather laptop wallet by WorkingClassHeroes.

Officially permitted Stella Im Hultberg mousepad by mirrorgirl.

Fabric covered pencil cup and paper clips by ShimAndSons.

Illustrated desk calendar by WittyWorkshop.

Steel card holder by TimothyAdamDesign.

Leather weekly planner by MyHandboundBooks.

Checkbook cover by downstairsDesigns.

Griddrawsmall tablet created by designers, for designers and other thinking persons by Matterial.

“Go Green” rubber stamp by sweetpaperie.

Recycled bike chain clock by 1byliz.

Fabric memo pocket by kasaa.

2008 calendar by ErinRuth.

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Filed under Decor - Object, Gift Guides, Handmade