You have to know your worth – and defend it.

So over the weekend, I found out that my friend John quit his position with a company.  He had worked with the company for a couple of years, he worked very hard and was very diligent and was very supportive of the company.  Then, one day, he asked the company’s shareholders – for whom he had figuratively moved mountains and dug ditches – if he could become a shareholder, an equal partner or at least something comparatively similar.

The company’s shareholders offered him a pittance of a percentage.

So John quit.

And I don’t blame him one bit.

See, John’s gone through what I went through years ago.  It’s the theory of “know your worth.”  If you have a skill or a talent, make it work for you.  If someone wants to hire you for a job, make sure that “hire” means that you’re getting paid, either in currency or in trade.  If I’m hired for a writing or for a photography project, I negotiate with the client – are you paying me in cash, or are we negotiating a TFP (time for prints) where you pose for me in exchange for my providing you a photo portfolio?  Or are you providing me some goods and services in exchange for my work?

And I’ve stopped using the argument “you’re getting paid in exposure” a long time ago.  “Exposure” does not put food on your table and it does not put gas in your car.  “Exposure” is a colloquial phrase meaning “Do it for free and I’ll tell all my friends that you did it.”  All that means is that if you’ve told them anything, it’s that you’ve done something for free and that they should expect the same.  No.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t make exceptions to your own rules.  But they must be your choice.  Case in point.  I don’t photograph weddings.  I’m not a wedding photographer, nor am I a “second shooter” for a wedding photographer.  But years ago, when two of my friends were getting married at the Albany County Courthouse, and I knew they didn’t have ten cents between them, I showed up at the courthouse, took pictures for them, and at least made their day more special.  They’re still married and are still happy today.  God bless them.

By the same token, when I take photos and use hired models, I make damn sure they sign a model release and are paid a reasonable amount for their time.  This means that if I use them in a photo shoot and they are satisfied, I could use them again down the road for other photo shoots. This is how you operate – you pay someone a proper amount for their services, and you expect to be paid a proper amount for your work.

As I said before, I speak from experience.

Way back in the day, I would have no problem writing for various publications and getting peanuts for my words.  Then I crossed paths with a very respected editor, Catherine, who has become a trusted friend throughout my time on this world.  Catherine loved my writing, but she said that I devalued myself by writing for publications and getting pennies for my words.  “Do not pick up your pencil or turn on your computer unless you’re getting a good amount for your work.  Keep your copyrights.  Only offer publications first rights and don’t deviate from that.  Never sell yourself short.  Because companies will want your work – and they WILL pay you for it.”

Trust me, I heeded that advice.  With Catherine’s help and guidance, I became a shrewd negotiator in my freelance writing.  Make damn sure you send invoices, and that they’re properly acknowledged.  Don’t let anyone change the terms of a contract without your consent.  And if they do that to you once … don’t ever work for them again and provide them the opportunity to change the terms once more.

Now granted, I have written articles for free – heck, eight and a half years of blog posts in the Times Union didn’t exactly put Hearst money in my pocket.  But those blog posts about my Dream Windows and photo projects had an indirect advantage – one that I still use in my blog today.  I can take my photos and use them for what I call “Charity Season,” where my artworks can go up for auction and help benefit worthy charities.  I’m good with that.  I’m not getting paid financially, but I am getting paid in good deeds.

But the thing is … I needed a kick in the ass from someone to get me away from the concept of “oh, I’m getting published, my name will be in print, I’ll be famous and rich, sure I’ll do that for free.”  And I will always be grateful to Catherine for that.  Trust me, when you receive a check for $1,000 from a national magazine and your article is right there on pages 93, 94 and 95 … it’s all worth it.

Which brings me back to John.  Pay attention, bud, this is the part of the blog that’s devoted to you.

That company needed you a helluva lot more than you needed them.  Your involvement in that company made them popular.  And you need to look out for number one … and not let companies like that treat you like you’re number two.

Because there will come a day when you’re in the big time, and that company will be sharing old memories about how they knew you back when and hoping that you’ll be able to bring them on your coat-tails to the big time.

You know … in case you want to give them some “exposure.”

Just remember – the main ingredient in beef jerky is beef.  It’s not jerks.  And you don’t need jerks in your life.

Know your worth and stick up for it.

Just passing along the good advice that a good person once passed on me.