Today I saw an advice video from online mega marketplace Etsy aimed toward those who want to open a shop on the platform. Not at all out of place, nor strange that particular video is from 2012. What did stick out to me was the sentence, “Models will often work for free.”

This advice video is all about using models for product photography, product photography being The Number One Important Thing for Online Stores. Most of the advice is solid, albeit vague & not highly actionable. But the notion of working for free gets under my skin. Is this a charity shop that gives free items to people in need? Is it part of an internship for school credit? Will the model in question pay their rent with free exposure? Does a copy of the photos pay their transportation to get to the location?

The answer to those questions is likely not. The mindset behind the issue is, “I have a small budget, so I have to make do.” And that’s fine. It stops being fine when you require other professionals to make do. Some models, or artists, or drivers, cooks, hairdressers, bookbinders, quilters, & so on may work for free of their own prerogative. Many businesses do offer free services, but certainly with limits & it’s almost never for a small business that’s trying to make money off that service. It ought not be a mindset to find someone for free. If you need a service, you need to pay for it.

Conversely, services don’t necessarily cost a lot of money, either. Trading services can be a great deal; bartering is one of the oldest forms of business, after all. In his talk titled Tall Tales from a Large Man, Aaron James Draplin of Draplin Design Company shows a roster of logos he’s designed over the years & makes the comment, “One of these logos I got paid $25,000. One of them I got paid a burrito.”

So if you need help from someone & you don’t have a big budget, try striking a deal for a reduced rate or get a friend to help in exchange for lunch. But don’t ask people to work for free.

The heading image is a little type & photo treatment I tried out in Photoshop.