Kelly In Catty

This blog is Kell's attempt to keep in touch with friends far away who complain that I don't e-mail nearly enough.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Value of Free

Years ago, I decided to try my hand at teaching. I developed a curriculum that focused on Television Evaluation, designing it for youth groups, school kids, and whomever would want to listen. I eventually got invited to present to a group of adults over three sessions. Because I hadn’t really developed my materials fully – I offered to teach for free. In my eyes, I needed experience, and really needed to see what materials helped people.

When I was finished, I got a thank you note from the group. Inside the card, they sent a “little thank you gift” - a check for $25. I know this is going to sound odd, but to be honest, it kind of pissed me off.

I was reminded of this event when I agreed to photograph engagement shots for a co-worker. Before I get too deep into this story, I have to tell you that I don’t charge co-workers when they ask for photos. I am a longtime photo professional, and my time as a photographer is valuable (mostly because it takes me away from the little free time I get to play Solitaire online…) – but I have come to understand that free is far better than dealing with the issue of “value” that a co-worker might place on the work.

In other words, if I charge, and the co-worker is feeling jilted somehow, my life in the office will be miserable. The point is, I don’t care who at work asks for photos. They can have them. There’s no charge, and I’m happy to do something nice for them. (note, I am not available for their weddings - because I will only attend as a guest - but if they want a portrait with their dog - or their kids, I'm all theirs.)

I must also note that this co-worker and I are strictly professional. We don’t hang out. We don’t really talk that much – and we’re probably feeling fairly neutral about each other. We don’t NOT get along – but we haven’t exactly bonded, either.

This co-worker, however, found my offer of FREE hard to swallow. She said, “My fiancé and I would like to take you out to dinner- really nice dinner…. You can bring Dave.”

A small flag popped into my head, but whatever. She seemed sincere about it, so I accepted.

We had a really great photo session. The photos were fun – and my co-worker seemed to like them. She promised we’d go to dinner soon.

A few weeks later, we were out together, and had to travel about an hour to see a client. We stopped at a diner and ordered a quick lunch. I think I ate a burger or something. When the check came, she immediately reached for it. “Since I’m moving next week, I doubt I’ll have time to take you to dinner, so I’ll just pick this up for the pictures!”

I have to say - and I'm not proud - but I was really annoyed by that.

Ok. I know what you’re thinking. “But Kelly, you said you’d do it for free! What gives? You got a free lunch (and a check for 25$!!!)

Here’s the difference. Yes. I offered my services for free. Without help or influence, I decided to give of my time, expertise, and resources to deliver a product. I am totally cool with that. I am totally cool with a thank you card.

I am not, however, cool when someone else places a physical value on my free gift.
I am especially not cool when someone places a value on my gift – and then downgrades my gift to a six-dollar diner lunch. All I can say is “Thanks, but no thanks.”

It was more fun when I didn’t have any expectations.
Postscript I: If I’m being snotty here – just say so – but honestly – why not let me do my thing? I’ve always loved giving more than getting… Is that so difficult? I mean, I don’t think I’m the one-eyed monster here…

Postscript II: I did headshots for another co-worker’s son the other day. It was fun. We all had a good time. The next day, that co-worker came in, showed me the shot and said “Kelly – I really appreciate this. Thank you.”

It was music to my ears.



  • At 9:33 AM, Blogger Tiecen said…

    I don't think that in either of these cases, the person meant to offend, probably the opposite. In the $25 case, they might have thought that you wouldn't have accepted more. In the diner case, that woman was just inadvertantly rude, but probably not on purpose. That would honestly bother me too though. It turns your charity into a paying job and then it turns out that the pay is terrible. That makes it seem like you weren't worth full price.

  • At 10:32 AM, Blogger Kell said…

    Yes - of course you're absolutely right - I guess what I'm saying is - send flowers. Just send flowers.

  • At 5:10 PM, Blogger sass said…

    OMG. this is right up there with that water/soda restaurant situation!

    she shouldn't have offered if she knew she was "moving" and didn't have time.

    be offended. be very offended...


Post a Comment

<< Home