The Value of Free
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.