How Shooting for Free Can Be Beneficial to Your Business

Countless photographers and videographers keep saying working for free is the worst enemy of our industry. Aviv Vana, the founder of CineSummit, takes another approach to free work and bet it can actually double your work income if you keep one crucial detail in mind.

Working for free is the worst idea ever. At least, it seems to be when reading blog comments, articles, Facebook groups, and other places on the Internet. But the definition of working for free is too often taken literally as a job that doesn’t have an immediate monetary return. According to CineSummit’s founder, and other accomplished business persons or artists, it can help you get more jobs, and thus more money in the long run. Vana goes even one step further and says it’s a great way to double your income.

His point is not to go out and shoot anything for free. Instead, offer your services to future potential clients who don’t have the budget yet, or to people that can give you access to a network worth the amount you’d otherwise bill. This idea reminded me of an article Chase Jarvis wrote a while back. His point was you should accept or do a project only if you get at least two out of the three following things: money, portfolio, and relationships.

What do you think? Do you work for free on a regular basis? Has free work ever lead to new business opportunities for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Lead image by rawpixel.com via Pexels.

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49 Comments

Clients who don’t have a budget for you yet, most probably won’t have it for you in the future.

If you really want to work with this client - make sure, you work on your project.

Depends on the type of client. If it is a growth client, then, yes, they can afford you later. The important thing is to ensure that they know what your normal price is at the start. Send them a bill with a separate line item for 100% discount, (even if it means charging them the taxes, if there is a physical deliverable).

A phrase such as, “I'll do this one with a full discount to help get you grow,” implies a quid pro quo without even saying it. They will remember who was with them at the bottom.

Christian Santiago's picture

Clients who don't have the budget for you yet aren't going to call you if/when they do. If you're the budget photographer, they'll only call you for the budget jobs. When they get that 20,000 dollar budget for a shoot, they're going to call a "real" photographer.

That is why you let them know you are not a budget photographer, by giving them a budget on the “free” shoot, so that they know what you are worth. You tell them, and you show them.

Christian Santiago's picture

Or I could give that budget to a paying client and get paid in money for my hard work. People don't value "free."

And the money aside, Clients who aren't paying for work often don't take it seriously, so all the parameters and moving parts needed for a successful shoot are going to be half-assed. Locations might not be ready, access and availability to key places and people are limited.

In the end, it's just not worth it. Yes, it might work out for 1 or 2 people, but the vast majority of people who do free work will just be taken advantage of and get nothing of value in return. Those are terrible odds, and I'll let someone else waste their time on them.

«…I could give that budget to a paying client….»

The author was talking about using your free time, when one does not have a client. If one is fully booked with no free time, then this does not apply.
[EDIT] Removed sarcasm [/EDIT]

«People don't value "free."»
If you had to say that, you missed my point.

«…Clients who aren't paying for work often don't take it seriously….»
You really are missing the point, and the examples given by the author. He is specifically targeting those who DO take it seriously, not a haphazard giving away of free services.

«…parameters and moving parts needed for a successful shoot are going to be….»

Again, you did not listen to the author. It won't be as you said, because the person in charge will be you, not them.

«…majority of people who do free work will just be taken advantage of….»
Not if they do it right. Listen to the video again, and see why none of these points of yours will be valid.

Sounds more like personal attack...

Sorry you felt that way. Not meant to come off like that.

What I mean is that all y̶o̶u̶r̶ 𝐡𝐢𝐬 points were already addressed. I addressed giving value to one's work, the author had addressed serious clients vs freeloaders, he had addressed who is the one in charge, he addressed what type of “free work” to do, etc.

[EDIT]
Oh,… wait….

I thought Christian was suggesting I was attacking him. Didn't realise that it was someone else felt like I was attacking Christian.

Either way, the apology to Christian still stands; I did not mean for this to come off as a personal attack against you, Christian.
[/EDIT]

Hah, ha. the Internet is funny.

Someone other than Christian or Alexander down-voted my apology to Christian when Alexander was offended!

I don't know what that means! ;-) :-D :-)

Rui Bandeira's picture

if you do a free job today in the hope to get payed for another job tomorrow, but tomorrow there will be another photographer doing free job hoping to get called the next day...guess what...the next day there will be another photographer doing a free job...so when will you get payed?
I realy dont believe on this way of doing business

Maarten Stappaerts's picture

...offer your services to future potential clients who don’t have the budget yet.
If so, will they ever have budget?

That sounds like an investment, so why not in return for your 'bid' you get a share in that start-up company.

Personally I don't believe in this idea. Companies are there to make money and so do we as professionals. Remember that every free gig is pushing your CODB up (which you have to take into account for your paying clients, so your rates will rise -slightly, depending of your free/paid job ratio-).

I agree that occasionally working on personal projects or charity projects to show what you are capable off is the right way, that's close to what Chase is saying about portfolio and relationships.

Remember you cannot pay your rent nor your daily bread with exposure.

It is not about exposure, and, yes, with the right client, one who cannot pay this year may just be able to do so next year. He is not advocating giving away free jobs to non-growth clients.

Maarten Stappaerts's picture

Karim, how are you supposed to know if this is "the right client"? Can you give me an example of a business job you did for free that turned out in a profitable returning client for you later on?

Not saying there are no exceptions but this seems like an investment to me were you can only hope it would work. Just wondering were you found that crystal ball that tells you this prospect will grow and will stay loyal to you after you did a job for them for free. LOL

Businesses are no charity projects running on volunteers in their free time instead businesses work with paid staff working for a living and so do we as professionals.
We don't collect gear to sponsor companies with a bad advertising habit.

Did you ever tried going to the bakery - in your spare time of course- and ask them for a cake promising them you will come back next week to buy even a bigger one?
I guess this will not work, just a wild guess of course...

«…how are you supposed to know if this is "the right client"?»
Research. the same way producers do. The same way anyone starting a business ought to do before jumping in. Google is your friend, Google Analytics even more so, and, depending on the client one is researching, several other specialised tools.

«Can you give me an example….»
Don't have to. The video did enough of that. But if you insist, a free job with one non-for-profit, at a ‘fair’ event, with several other non-for-profits attending, gave me contact information for several of the executives at these other places. Not only did that first non-profit use me several times after, but so did others.

«Not saying there are no exceptions….»
And that is the crux of the matter.

«…were [sic] you can only hope….»
…And that is where you are falling down. If all you have is hope, then you are not doing it right.

« …you found that crystal ball….»
There is no crystal ball, but there is guidance, and there is wisdome, and there are lessons from experience —and it does not have to be your experience.

For example, would you undertake a free project with Magic Leap? Launched in 2010, it has not yet sold a single product, and has not yet turned a profit. It has been burning through capital investments since its roots. BUT… it has a proven leadership in whom has turned to gold everything he has touched in the past, it has some of the most talented people in the industry working for them, it has the backing of some of the most successful companies and people. Will you say, “Hey, I don't want a foot in that door, they are in so much debt, they are bound to go under, and I will never get a dime from them,” or say, “I need to think up some project I can do for them, because even if they fold, so many talented people, who are currently with successful companies, or successful individuals, would have seen my work. I can exchange contact information with them, and my talent may be called upon.”

Me, I would be the second voice there, not the first. Let's see who has been through those doors; The first three off the top of my head; Mark Hamil, the Marley children, Google. That was all in a one month window a few years back.

Now a few years ago, at my first gig with that aforementioned not-for-profit, I met a certain young rapper, who just released his first (self published) album. I saw him perform, and I filmed him (for the non-profit). he approached me, and we spoke. After getting a handle on him, then going and doing my research, I choose not to do a project with him. I have not heard of that rapper since that day. (Perhaps he changed his name?)

So, no, there is no crystal ball, but there are ways.

«…businesses work with paid staff…. We don't collect gear to sponsor….»
Again, you missed the point. You are correct,… but you missed the point. In the video, see a man who did not one, but two free projects, both with very wealthy men, both of whom have done video projects before, and both accepted his offer. They both paid off for him.

«…ask them for a cake promising….»
AGAIN! This KEEPS COMING UP! The author specifically states he is NOT discussing people who come to you and ask you to work for free! That is NOT THE POINT! That scenario is discouraged in the video so stop bringing it up! Watch the video again!

Maarten Stappaerts's picture

I watched it again and what I noticed is that it falls in the category "do the thing YOU want to do (for portfolio/ personal project) so you will become better at it and you will be noticed by the ones you want them to hire you.

The thing I disagree with is the fact that it still minimalises the job of an image pro, you have to work for a sustainable living and although it is a fun job, it is still a job.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

It's more the opposite, I can do a job for free AFTER you gave me 10 assignments in order to thank you... Not BEFORE!

If they had the budget to give you ten assignments, why would a free job be considered a worthy gift?THAT is saying that they over paid you the last ten times. First one with a growth client at a full discount, (make sure your value is known), then that's it. Show me the money.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

It's happening sometime that my agent need a favor from a client and as they give me plenty of jobs, they ask me if I can take care of this favor.
Yes, they over paying me, but as it's my agent, they making money on getting overpriced camera work done.

Oh! so you do a favour for your agent, who in return, gives jobs to you and not the other providers. Yeah, so…. Not the same thing as being discussed in the video.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

My point is that free job can be given as a reward, not as a starting point. Not that hard to understand.
But it's look like all your messages following a negative trolling pattern.
(-Crying-) Sorry to see that no one understand you... (-Crying-)

«…free job can be given as a reward, not as a starting point. »
I understand that. …But that is not the issue of this video. Your point is a good one, —and I probably ought to have mentioed that in my first reply— just not in the same vein as this article.

«But it's look like all your messages following a negative trolling pattern.»
Then you, also missed the point. There is no trolling here. I am only trying to get people to see what the author was saying because they all seem to misunderstand him, bringing up issues he never mentioned, or asking questions he already addressed.

That is not trolling.

Oh, and it would be nice if you had context to the quotes. The first quote you show is about a totally different article which someone linked. The last quote was to a reply to someone where he had already made that point, and I had already replied, and he went on to make that point again.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Whatever the context, all your post are policing comment, always let them know that they are missing the point, and of course you do.
You don't bring anything except negativity here
Just here 14 posts are from you, and countless long message irrelevant to the original article.
You have way too many time in your hands, go out and do some work.

Please don't reply to this one again, it's useless. I am done.
Good day, sir.

For the sake of the accusation…. —and you are not required to reply—

«…message irrelevant to the original article.»
When the original author —and to make this clear, I am speaking of the author of the video to which the printed article refers— clearly says “Ⓐ and NOT Ⓑ,” but commentators keep ignoring Ⓐ and mentioning Ⓑ, I am not the one being irrelevant.

«…here 14 posts are from you….»
P.s., One thread is from me, most —eleven of the fourteen you mentioned— of my posts are replies to questions/comments made to me. That means only three replies to other people, (which means you miscounted, as there are five replies, plus one on an off-thread).

«…long message….»
…Because short messages leave too many questions which get asked, leading to long messages.

If you agree with the content and are an architect or a project developer, I love a new house for free and promise that if you do a good job I‘ll pay for the next house. Same for yacht builders, I’d like a 100+ meters yacht for free.

Sure, for a few lucky ones free work might lead to payed work, but they are the exceptions to the rule.
It’s like the lottery.
You want to be a millionaire?
Buy a lottery ticket.
There is always a winner, so it’s a proven concept...

Poor analogy.

I get the impression that people would rather pay for exposure (aka advertising) than getting it for free; seems like a strange business model.

On that note, this is worth a read

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/01/21/a-step-by-step-guide-to-g...

Worth a read?
If you like wasting time maybe..

“Though this might sound terrifying, the easiest way to give away half of your work for free while still doing just as well as everyone else is to do twice the amount of work of everyone else.”

Here’s another suggestion: do half the work of everyone else and charge twice the amount for it. That way you have a lot more time to work on your networking skills so you can find clients that pay even more. After a couple of months repeat the process so you do a quarter of the work you originally did and still make the same amount of money. Repeat this process until you don’t know what to do with your spare time, then start working more hours. By this time, you make at least 64 times the amount per hour of work you started with. Once you charge over $1,000 an hour, new clients will think you are the best in your field and other people will do anything for free for you, just for the exposure they get that way…

You missed the point of that article. That article was about being philanthropic. Nothing you said was about being philanthropic.

That being said, that article has nothing to do with this article.

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