I had a consultation with a friend and potential client the other day about a project her women’s group wanted to hire me to do. They have a stock of handmade items they would like to sell, and they wanted me to build a unique e-commerce website, take all the product pictures, and write whatever copy was needed. For this, they offered 20% of all sales revenue.
At first, I was so excited by the idea of this nice, big, cool project, and I loved the products they were selling (the details are immaterial; suffice to say, everything is of excellent quality and really beautiful).
But then I did the math. Boy, nothing kills my buzz like doing math.
Total stock to sell is about 100 items altogether. That is 100 photographs to take, crop, color-correct, optimize for web viewing, etc., which represents a time investment of as much as 25 hours just by itself at 15 minutes per image, which might be high or low; I just picked a number. Then there’s the website to build, which, judging from my recent experience trying to build my own, would be a minimum of 30 hours for me to do (I am a photographer and a writer, and only incidentally and by necessity a hobbyist web designer). I have never built an e-commerce site and wouldn’t even know where to begin with that, so that would be an unknown number of hours in addition. The products range in price from $10 to $75, with an average price is $25. So the maximum revenue this venture could generate is $2,500 if every single item sold. My 20% of that would be $500, at best. Assuming I were able to complete all the necessary work in 55 hours, that comes to about $9 an hour. Knowing me, it would take a lot more time than that. And there’s no guarantee all the stock would sell, of course.
I had to tell my friend with tremendous regret and no small amount of guilt that I could not accept the job on those terms. Just taking the photographs for as little as $2 per image (dirt cheap) would come to $200, a figure she felt already exceeded her group’s resources. She was very understanding of my position and said she would take the pictures herself and post the products on eBay.
I walked away from the conversation feeling deeply ambivalent. On the one hand, any money is better than no money–was I a fool to turn down a paying gig, no matter how small? And, her group is a charitable organization, so was I just being selfish not to donate my services to them? On the other hand, I would have been taking on a project in which the primary deliverable was a website I don’t actually know how to build (yet). Hardly fair to the client.
What it comes down to, though, is that I place a certain value on both my time and my talents. For all the time and dollars I have poured into my business ventures, I simply cannot give my services away without tremendously motivating extenuating circumstances, which I just couldn’t see in this case (a temporary website that I would have to maintain continuously as stock sold out and then shut down entirely once stock was gone would have created an ongoing time commitment for months). I want to stress that it’s not that I don’t value either the client or the product, because I do. I wanted to work with my friend and I wanted to sell those items, and I believe that if her group had the means to pay me more for the project, they would, but they don’t. And to hand over dozens or hundreds of hours of my life in return for so few dollars, I could not do.
A good friend of mine recently started her own photography business, too, specializing in family and kid portraits. She is clear-eyed and businesslike about what she offers and what she charges, and she is polite but firm about not compromising her standards or her terms for anybody. At times I am kind of taken aback by her approach, but at the same time I realize that she is working to make money, and she cannot do that by giving anything away without getting something (for example, a referral or repeat sitting) in return. She’s smart, and she knows what she’s worth.
My greatest struggle is to ask others to pay me what I believe I am worth, either as an employee or as a contractor. I have a trunk full of skills and experience and credentials, I am not an amateur (except in web design, obviously) and I am not at “entry level” in my career. I have a lot to offer as both a professional and a human being. I deserve acknowledgement and recognition of that. But the fact is, I’m learning slowly the hard way, that I have to really believe that before I will ever convince anyone else.
This little episode has revealed a lot about me, some of which I would rather not see.
Being an entrepreneur is a daily challenge to put oneself out to the world and ask the world to pay for one to do whatever it is one does. It’s risky on so many levels, and so frightening. I’m struggling with that fear that makes me want to shrink back, get out of the game, stay anonymous, not ask people to pay me hundreds or thousands of dollars per project to do something I love to do and am really good at (there, I said it!).
Facing and pushing through this fear is my greatest challenge right now, what my mother calls my “growing edge.” Every day, I get up and push on.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ~ Marianne Williamson