I have been having some interesting conversations recently about how do to know whether to accept an offer of work, such as an invitation to speak at a conference or write an article.
Often, good old gut instinct makes the choice for us. Sometimes, it is the head, such as when a job / project offers money at a time when the bills need paying. (Although even then, there are still questions to be asked.) However, sometimes it is not so clear, especially as working across the arts, increasingly we are being asked to do things without the offer of money, activities which take up time and energy which we could be using to create paying work. Whilst many of us are so passionate about our work that we would be prepared to do a lot without payment, we have to be very careful that we do not create a perception that the arts are something lovely but not to be taken seriously as a source of income.
Many years ago, I was given a good piece of advice to use as guidance when undecided about an offer: ask yourself, what will I get out of a project - Contacts, Kudos or Money?
Here are a few questions to think about when offered a project:
Who is offering you the project? How could doing this one piece of work for them move you towards your goals? With whom will you be working? Is this the chance to work with someone you have admired? Who will be the audience? Could having a stall at a fair, or being on a conference panel, get you in front of the two or three people in the networks you want to join, or provide an introduction to the one person you have been trying to get to for months? Is it a numbers game, for you to network with a large number of people and invite them to join your blog, newsletter or next show? Are you looking for people you can sell to or collaborate with?
Again, who is offering you the project? Is it a publication or event which will look good on your CV? Is it a person who is a major mover and shaker in your field through whom you can get reflected glory? Is it a conference which will build your reputation and establish you as an expert in your area? Is it innovative and place you at the cutting edge? Will the project be highly regarded within your field, raising your profile by association?
This seems a simple one, doesn’t it, especially as we all need to make a living. But is it? There are still questions to be asked. Are you going to have to lay out more money to buy materials / pay travel expenses, etc., than you will earn? Are you being offered your going rate? (Here is a tip - if you decide you are prepared to do a job at a lower rate because it will give you kudos and / or contacts, always put your full price on the invoice and then take off the discount to the rate being offered. This way, both of you will know you have offered a deliberate discount, rather than underpriced yourself. They will also know your full price for next time.) How will it fit in with your cashflow? (After all, you don’t want to take an unsatisfactory if well paid job to see you over the next lean couple of months, only to find that the client is a bad payer and you won’t see your fee for 3 to 4 months.)
As a general rule of thumb, I find that if I can tick one of them, it might worth doing; if I can tick any two of the three, then it is generally worth doing. If I can tick all three, then what am I waiting for?!
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