Monday, 9 March 2015

Never ascribe to incompetence what can be explained by sheer stupidity

Earlier today, a contact of mine pointed me towards a web page offering advice to people looking to start a career in photography - it can be found at Smarta.com - How to become a freelance photographer

I've been freelancing with modest success for just over ten years now, so I'm qualified by experience to know whether the advice that Smarta are offering up is sound and, surprisingly, most of it is - there's mention of the need to be organised, the essentials of marketing and working within budgetary constraints... but then the whole thing comes crashing down with the following nugget

"Work for free

Everyone loves free stuff. They especially love it if it’s something they need. When you’re starting out, offer examples of what you can shoot to show off what you’re doing. If you hear about a job you think you could never land, ask to do it for free. You’ll be amazed at the doors it opens."

Ordinarily I'd just roll my eyes and move on - except, in this instance, Smarta.com is one of the delivery partners for the Start Up Loans Company, who are "a government funded scheme to provide advice, business loans and mentoring to startup businesses" (blurb taken from the SULC website)

Worse still, Smarta.com is owned by Shaa Wasmund, who was recently given an MBE for Services to Business and Entrepreneurship in the 2015 New Years Honours List.

Let's allow those two facts to sink in for a second.

A company that administers government backed loans to small businesses, owned by an MBE, is advocating that startups in the creative industries (photography, in this instance) should work for free.

Setting aside the obvious question of "how the hell is a photography start-up going to pay back their taxpayer funded loan if they're advised to not charge clients for work done?", let's look at how the concept of working for free - or ridiculously cheap - is plainly absurd and insulting when applied to any other business, thanks to this video by production company Scofield Editorial



Author Harlan Ellison has a more acerbic and biting take on why "free" should not be a choice for creatives of any type (contains language not safe for work - you've been warned)


Finally, to remove any last vestiges of doubt, illustrator Jessica Hische has compiled a flowchart that starts with the question "Should I Work for Free?" which allows you to find your own way to the relevant answer (hint: it's usually No)

On that note, I think it would be safe to say that no-one at Smarta.com or the Start-Up Loans Company is working for free; I'm pretty sure that Shaa Wasmund asks for more than a byline credit whenever she's asked to put in a few hours for a client.... and I think every UK taxpayer knows that no-one in the Department for Business Innovation & Skills goes more than a month without drawing down a healthy salary funded via the public purse.

So, why the disrespect for creative professionals?

That's what it comes down to in the end. When we're not fighting against instances of our work being stolen - sometimes by those in government / politics - then those very same people are advising us (directly or otherwise) that we should consider working for free.

Frankly, it's beyond insulting. I can't find words adequate enough to convey my sheer disappointment that such irresponsible and offensive advice is being peddled to those who are considering a career in any creative art - which is all the more confusing since, just over a year ago, the UK government published statistics to show that creative industries were responsible for £8 Million per hour to the economy - or £71.4 Billion per year.

Perhaps the businesses that contributed all those pennies need to rethink and follow the advice pushed by Smarta.com et al instead; I'm sure it would be for the best, right?

1 comment:

  1. They're right though.. I went to a fancy restaurant the other day and asked them to feed me for free.
    I was amazed at how quickly doors opened for them.. to eject me.

    ReplyDelete