It oughta be axiomatic: "Personally, when I give my services away, which ain't often, I assume I'll never see a dollar from that client, ever." (Josh Hawkins)
I think photographers should use the Hawkins Axiom as a rejoinder whenever anyone asks them to work for free in return for "exposure."
Nonclient: "Well, we can't pay for this work but it will be good exposure for you, and we'll consider you for paid work in the future."
Photographer: "Actually, it's well known in photography that the opposite happens. The only exposure you get from free work is a reputation for working for free, and, if you work for free, most often you'll never, ever get a paid job from that client. So it's considered unwise to work for free for people you respect and want as clients. The idea even has a name—it's called the Hawkins Axiom."
Would that work? Try it sometime?
Probably won't catch on. The takeaway, though: If you want to get paid work from a client, better not work for that client for free.
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Mike Cytrynowicz: "Hawkins Axiom sounds good. Like Murphy's Law, etc. Photographer: 'The well-known Hawkins Axiom tells me that if you can't pay for this work, I shouldn't work for this pay.'"
Yvonne: "Perfect, and it could catch on if it spreads around enough. Well said, Josh Hawkins!"
Ed Hawco: "It needs to be catchier in order to catch on as an axiom. How about: The only exposure you get from working for free is exposure as someone who works for free."
Nick D: "The other strange thing I've noticed about clients is that those who want to spend the least are always the most demanding. Clients who have spent decent amounts of money are nearly always really relaxed about the outcomes too. Go figure. My designer colleagues seem to have similar experiences too."
Mike replies: Same with magazine advertisers. A big company that comes in with six full pages won't give you any trouble at all, but the the guy who's bought a $60 classified ad has all sorts of demands and will need lots of handholding.
Sietse Wolters: "In the thirty years that I have been working as a designer I always used three criteria:
- You have to like the client
- You have to earn money
- You have to make good work.
"When you score only two out of three it is still worth doing the job. If you have a pleasant relationship with your client and it pays well, but the results are a bit disappointing, that’s not too bad. If you like the client and you can make great work and you don’t lose money on it, that’s fine. If the client is an asshole, but he pays well and the work is topnotch, that’s okay. But when you score only one out of three don’t do it. Of course starters have to fill their portfolio. And there are always moments when there is not enough work and you have to feed your family (and those of your employees) so you have to grab all the work you can get. But in the end only a nice relationship, only money or only good artwork is not enough if you want to operate professionally."
Mike replies: That's great—very smart. Good advice. Thanks Sietse.
bruce alan greene: "I'm in motion pictures, but it has always been the same situation in this industry: So many desperate hopefuls, that there are many opportunities to work for little or free. And I've had good and bad experiences working for little or nothing. I'll share just one.
"A producer at one of the major media companies was doing a personal project, a short film. There was some small chance that the personal project would lead to a professional project in the future, but that rarely happens.
"But, being an honorable producer, she offered to pay me a small amount. I turned it down and offered to donate my time and even donated $200,000 worth of equipment to the cause. And spent two enjoyable but hard-working weeks on the project.
"The project was completed, but never went anywhere. I have not worked with this producer since (it's been almost a decade now), even on projects for her studio employer.
"But, I am still friends with the producer and we keep in touch.
"CUT TO: three years ago. My daughter graduated from college with a degree in literature. She had no job skills, and no idea what to do. And then, the producer in this story asked me if my daughter might like to see what they do at the studio. Take a little tour. My daughter said 'okay,' not sure what to make of it.
"Two months later my daughter had turned that connection into a job as the lowest production assistant, but she was in. Two years later, she has used that position to get a job as a writer producer at the same company. To my family, this 'freebie' has been one of the best money making investments ever! (of course, all that writing practice in college hasn't hurt her:)
"And the lesson: Don't work cheap or free on a 'for profit' project, and rather than show that you are desperate to work 'cheap,' offer to donate your professional skills at no charge. Show that you are so successful, that you don't need the money.
"For all others, use the Hawkins Axiom."