PHOTO LOVECAT - 5 new articles

Working For Free: When You Should and Shouldn't

Donating our time as creatives comes naturally to us when we love what we do.  After all, we were probably doing our work for free long before we decided to make it a business.  There are situations when donating our time can really benefit us creatively and as a business, but there are other times when donating our time dampens our creativity and takes us away from paying projects.  Here are the questions to ask yourself when deciding if you should or shouldn't take on a pro bono project:

1. Are you doing this for attention or exposure?
If you're hoping it will give you more exposure, and it doesn't lead to anything, or worse yet, someone uses your work without giving you any credit at all, you may wind up feeling very upset with the people you worked with and as if you could have spent your time marketing yourself more wisely in other ways.  If you still want to do the job in the hopes of gaining some exposure, make sure the client understands that this is a trade of your time for full credit whenever your work is used, and make sure to get it in writing so that you have rights to refuse any illegal or uncredited usage.

2. Did they ask you, or did you offer?
If they asked you, than they really need your services and should most likely be hiring you rather than asking you to do it for free- if you say no, they'll likely move on and look for someone else who will do it for free.  If you're offering, do it because you have some time in your schedule to spare and enjoy the work or the mission of the organization, or because you're comfortable working out an appropriate trade agreement that recognizes the value of your donated time, since you can't claim your time as a tax donation.

3. Are you in a desperate situation financially?
If you're in a desperate situation, taking on more free work isn't going to help your situation.  If anything it will simply worsen your morale because you're continuing to devalue yourself.  You'd be better off taking small jobs or craigslist requests that pay something rather than doing any additional free work that will weigh down your schedule when you could be working for others who will pay you.

4. Are you falling behind on other work?
If you can't keep up with the work you have on your plate, and an opportunity that you've always said yes to for free in the past walks in the door, than it's time to let them know that you can't do it for free anymore because it will take you away from caring for your paying clients.  If they'd like to become a paying client, perhaps it can become a priority for you, but you'd need to make it very clear as to how it will be different than what you've done in the past.

5. Do you want to help make a difference?
If you're doing pro-bono work for a non-profit organization or individual out of the love of your heart, make sure you still have all of your contracts in order about how the images will be used on your behalf and on behalf of the organization.  Also, if you'll be using sensitive subjects or stories on your own website or portfolio, make sure you get model releases and permission from the organization and/or the subjects before sharing the work.

6. Are you doing it to test equipment, try something out of the ordinary, or build a portfolio?
This is probably the best reason to do something for free, because not only is it a way to improve yourself as a creative and take risks you don't want to take on a paying client, it's also going to benefit you in the long run if you create something successful and have the permission to share it with your audience.  This is how many people fill their time with personal projects that generate buzz around their work.  If you're going to do it for free, the best reason is to do it all on your own terms.

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Pricing Resources for Photographers & Freelancers

Pricing is often one of the factors in a creative business that seems difficult for many people to work through, but we've spent a lot of time writing about the how and why of pricing over the last few years.  Here's a resource page of our posts on the topic of pricing your services and your work....

Presenting Your Pricing Online

Why Hiding Pricing Only Hurts You
The drawbacks of being secretive about your pricing online.

Pricing Critique Webinar - Best Pricing Page Practices
How you present your prices can be just as important as what your prices are.  This post shares best pricing page practices.

On Sharing Pricing Up Front
How to win over clients with up front pricing.

Psychology of Pricing
Does your pricing strategy match the clients you want to work with?  A checklist of things to think through and apply to your pricing methods.

Price Matters, Price Always Matters
Thinking like a client about online purchasing.

Hidden Costs & Pricing Factors

How Much Does Each Click Cost?
Should you buy new equipment or rent new equipment?  Check this out to find out what might work best for your situation.

Photography Overhead Costs (or Why Photography is Expensive)
Learn more about the hidden costs of professional photography services.

How Much Do You Need To Make?
Determining your service rates based on your income goals.

Charging Travel Fees for Destination Clients
What to prepare for in your budget for travel fees.

Formulas for Pricing Products & Services
A detailed explanation of pricing products and services in a creative freelance business.

Quality Vs. Quantity

Quick Thoughts on Buyer Behavior
The difference between price shoppers and quality buyers.

Things We Can Learn From Apple
How having a premium product can be a better position than a bargain product.

When Potential Clients Say You Charge Too Much
Are they trying to get a discount, or is it really not in their budget?  These subtle differences help you know if they're worth working with or passing on, as well as if you need to step up your quality.

How to Respond When A Client Says "Too Much!"
How to respond to clients who experience sticker shock on product prices after you've already shared their images with them.

What Will Bring In The Most New Clients?

I had a great question while consulting for another photographer recently and it was one that I had never really stopped to consider so concretely.

"If I can only invest my time and money into one part of my business right now to have the biggest impact on bringing in new clients, where should I focus?"

I knew the answer immediately, because it's the single most important thing that has always made the biggest difference for me.  No matter how outdated my website portfolio is, how messy my branding might be at the moment, when my last blog post was, how active I've been on social media, or how many website directories my page is listed on, by far the biggest impact on my business is directly related to how happy my clients and fellow working colleagues are with my quality of work and how easy I am to work with.  It seems so common sense that most people don't even mention it, but it really is the single biggest factor in being successful as a creative.

Service businesses are highly recommended by former clients on one of two factors: how cheap they are or how amazing they are.  Being cheap may be a great way to start and prove you can do the job, or allows you to sustain a side-business as a hobby or part-time venture, but it isn't a model for longevity or sustainability if you're going to work as an individualized creative service.  So, my recommendation is to be highly recommended for being amazing to work with.

How does that play out in a list of actionable items?

  • Make promises with your clients that you can exceed regularly, which means having all of your business and production ducks in a row so that you never need to apologize, only surprise!
  • Prepare your clients expectations by detailing your process and how you work
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate  - return calls, emails, texts as soon as you can
  • Check in with your clients when you've completed a job to find out what they loved and what you can improve
  • Stay in touch with your clients through an email newsletter, loves notes, phone calls, or facebook friendship, because people aren't checking your blog or website on a regular basis after they've worked with you already, but because they've worked with you, they'll be the first to help recommend you to new people who are looking
  • Give your previous clients opportunities and ways to work with you again by running specials on products they may not have purchased, or offering additional services that benefit them
  • Revisit other people you've worked with on a shared project, like wedding vendors, makeup artists, venues, etc. and see if you can collaborate on a future project that would benefit them
  • Thank people for their referrals when you know who the referral came from and let them know how much you appreciate their support of your work and service
  • Create work that your clients will want to share with everyone they know by going above and beyond in ways that you know will make them happy
  • Be easy to work and a joy to be around by not letting your ego get in the way of doing something that would help out a client or another vendor
If you can do this for every client you work with, you will see exponential returns on your investment of time and dedication to client happiness in ways that support rates that exceed industry averages and provide the demand that supports being selective in who you work with.  

Note: If you don't have a list of clients that you've been able to be awesome for yet, than your job is to go out and create awesome work for people you really admire or are inspired to work with, but then treat them with the same level of professionalism that you would with any paying client.  Too often people who do complimentary work to build their portfolio don't do it in a way that would make someone want to work with them again, and therein lies the cycle of destroying working relationships before they've ever been created.

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Interns Part I: Finding interns to make your life remarkably better

This guest post is from Phillip, who I recently met at the Art Directors Club in New York City.  While we were meeting, he had several local interns working away in the room near us on a Wednesday afternoon... I thought he'd have a little advice to share with you about how he finds his interns. - Anne

This article could be written and finished in one sentence: "Finding an intern to work for you is as easy as creating a Craigslist ad ( and asking for help."

 As a former educator and mentor and tutor, I love working with high school students. In my hometown of Santa Barbara there were a few arts programs in some of the high schools that required the students to do 40 hours of internship time with a creative professional. Students I knew started contacting me to fulfill their internship hours and before I could say "extra pair of hands" I had multiple students available last Summer to assist on family photo shoots, carry gear, count receipts, etc. I didn't train these interns in highly technical stuff like editing, retouching, second shooting, etc. They were simply an extra pair of hands on every shoot I went on. And they were great!

If you want someone more like an office manager or in-house retoucher/editor and you need to spend a little more time cultivating your intern, you can do something like this on Craigslist (click to view larger):

This was accompanied by ONE lovely sunset photo of a couple on a beach:

And that's it. Within 24 hours on a MONDAY I had over fifteen people email and I shut the advertisement down. I received requests from "Brookies," students at the prestigious Brookes Institute of Photographer, college students, high school students, people with extensive resumes, and people with no photo experience whatsoever (but they really liked photography). All of these people were willing to put in time and gain knowledge from the experience.

In the end, I chose the one guy whose response made me chuckle. He said he had an unhealthy addiction to Pinterest. And someone else in town knew of him and recommended him. We met once over coffee, and I hired him immediately. I feel very lucky to have met Matt Misisco because he has become a great friend, was the best assistant ever, and is really a great human being. I also figured out how to pay him because I highly valued his help (I gave myself a $25/hr raise and paid him $10/hr for five hours each Monday). I would recommend hiring someone based on personality over qualifications, absolutely. All you really need for a good intern/assistant is someone with a YES attitude and who will show up on time. And that's it.

Fluffy resumes don't mean a thing. You want someone who will represent you well on a job, no matter where you are. Technical skills don't matter. If they are trainable, that is preferable, because you aren't working with someone who thinks they know how to do things right (even if it's not how you manage your workflow/editing).

Some issues I've run up against when working with other interns that I would be careful of: Lack of transportation. Know-it-alls. Social ineptness. Dramatic/complicated home life.

I want to make clear how easy it was to find an intern: It took me less than five minutes to build that request on Craigslist, and it was the best decision for my business I ever made.

I wish I had done it sooner.

Curliest Photographer You Know

Phillip Van Nostrand built his business in Santa Barbara, CA, where he has shot over 50 weddings, countless head shots, and events for the past 5 years. He travels abroad at least once a year and is almost up to 30 countries traveled. Published in the New York Times, Huffington Post, New York Times Magazine, featured on Under Armor for Women’s web page, featured in Santa Barbara Dining and Destinations Magazine.

Free Website Tests You Can Do Right Now

We've hosted several free website critique webinars on, based on the best practices that we've identified in our industry and across websites in general.  Since we don't have the time to test everyone's websites, here are some resources to help you get feedback on your own website right now!

UserTesting - Peek
UserTesting offers a free "peek" of their services in a 5 minute recorded video of a user clicking around your specified website and sharing what they love and don't love about how your site navigates as well as the information available on it.  This is a great way to see how an objective general user interacts with your navigation menus, contact form, and online content so that you can see what fixes you might be able to address in order to improve your website for visitors.
peek usertesting

HubSpot - Marketing Grader
HubSpot is one of my favorite free services for analyzing your site's inbound marketing strategies with SEO, Lead Generation links, Social Media reach, and other online markers of presence and accessibility.  The software is fully automated, so it's less high-touch, but it approaches your website from a similar perspective as a content web crawler like Google would. This is a great way to see what social media and marketing strategies you aren't currently implementing that you can improve upon.

Pingdom - Speed Test
Pingdom focuses on improving website speeds by identifying slow loading materials on a page as well as what loads first and last.  One of the factors in how your website ranks in search results is how fast your content can make it to the search engines, so running a speed test can help you identify the images or code that need to be cleaned up for faster loading.  Pingdom also gives you a sample of how your website stacks up against other sites that are being compared so that you know where you stand in loading times.

Try each test now and see what you can work on!  Have you seen any other awesome website tests people should run their website through?  Share in the comments!

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

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