We've all been there. On the other end of a computer reading an email asking for our product or time be donated or invited to participate in a creative collaboration and paid in promotion. We've each probably also written such an email. When you're good at something and enjoy your work, it's tempting for folks outside of the industry to assume the work is easy and therefore your time and energy is abundant. And much of the time, for creatives within the industry, collaboration is currency.
So, as two creatives who sometimes produce work for no pay, and also ask other people to do the same thing, let's talk about when it's OKAY to do "free" work.
1. Are you excited about it?
Does this project or company tug at your heart strings or align with your current or ideal brand? If you have hesitations, it's likely those won't go away and the possibility of bitterness creeping in as the project continues is quite high.
2. Is it work that you'd like to do MORE of?
Say you're trying to expand your editorial portfolio and this is a chance to photograph for a friend's new style blog. This could be a great opportunity to share a few strong images that will hopefully generate this kind of paid work in the future. Our first collaboration was a food shoot for Ashley's blog. She wanted higher quality images and I wanted to try my hand at food photography.
3. All parties contribute and benefit
Remember that 7th grade group science project? The one where your stomach sunk when the teacher announced the group because you knew you'd be carrying all the weight? Let's avoid that. Make sure each party is contributing (whether a physical project, styling, photos, materials, design, etc.), and in turn that each party benefits (final images, lots of credit, portfolio examples, etc.). If in the end you know it's unlikely that you'd share the images or design in your portfolio, it might not be worth your time.
4. All expectations are clear.
Be overly detailed about what is expected from and provided for each participant. Set deadlines and days to check-in on each other's progress.
5. It doesn't overwhelm your PAID work.
Sometimes, especially during life's big transitions (moving, new to freelance, etc.), it can be tempting to commit your extra time to FUN work which isn't always the paid work. To keep our schedules in check and our bills paid, we each have "x" amount of man-hours a month set aside for this kind of trade work. If an opportunity comes along that we'd love to be a part of, we can then look ahead and communicate a realistic time frame that's fair to ourselves and the potential collaborator. This also provides a tidy and polite way to decline other offers when we're already committed.