Joan Quirós - Lettering
Joan Quirós is an independent professional focused on lettering and illustration.

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— Joan Quirós Blog

The Weight of your No


Everyone who makes a living from any creative field, whether it be design, illustration, photography, painting or calligraphy, sooner or later we have been asked for a favour, we have been invited to collaborate on a project, on an exhibition or to give a talk. Everything, of course, totally for free.

Maybe the project is interesting enough to attract your attention, the proposal seems quite attractive to you, or the person who is asking you for the favour is someone close to you or is a lifelong friend, but you have to keep in mind an extremely important thing, you’re paying with the most expensive currency: your time.

Formulate the right questions.

When we find ourselves working on this kind of project we must analyse meticulously our situation and our perspective, as well as our availability, our short and long terms plans and goals, and immediately we have to ask ourselves the following questions: How is going to benefit me? Is it going to help me to reach my goals? How much value I’m providing? Does that value will return to you in one way or another? Is this project enough attractive or adventurous to accept it?

Saying Yes means saying No to other things.

You have to keep in mind that, saying yes to a proposal, you’re saying no to other good things, you’re saying no to your free time, to interesting projects or better paid projects which can arise while you’re working on that collaboration, and even it can affects to your quality of life, because you’re overwhelmed or grumpy because you’re feeling that you’re working for free and, besides that, you have to work extra hours.

Everyone has dealt with badly paid projects, those with which you end losing money. But that money can be recovered or replaced by another better paid project based on that previous experience and valuing better your next project. As I mentioned before, in case of the unpaid collaborations and favours, you’re paying with something intangible but irretrievable and extremely valuable, that’s why you don’t have to give a Yes lightly, as the same way you don’t value a project without receiving all the information and figuring out how much time, effort and resources would you need to dedicate to that client.

I encourage you to to an exercise, every time you receive this sort of proposals, take a sit, valorate thoroughly how much is going to take developing it and value it economically based on the effort, energy and value you’re providing to that event or favour. Once you’ve finished, look at those numbers and ask yourself several times: Does it worth? Does that value will be in return in one way or another? What I’m giving up accepting to collaborate on this project?

A yes in exchange for freedom.

I know some professionals who, in exchange for working for free, they demand total freedom as a condition, that is to say, they can develop the project freely, experimenting and taking all the risks if they feel it’s appropriate, but without accepting any revision, obstacles or modifications from the client. I think this is a good practice for those occasions when you don’t have so much work or you’re running out of ideas to develop a self-initiated project, you need an excuse for experimenting or just you want give your support to a charity or a NGO.

This is as great option, because you’re using freedom as a bargaining chip, so you can experiment and explore new paths, therefore, these conditions must have clearly explained when your client is signing a contract.

It’s no so difficult.

To be honest, I’ve always found hard saying No to lots of projects just for the fear that the other person takes it as a rejection, something that differs from reality. When you express a refusal to collaborate for free on a project (or badly paid), you have to be aware that both parts are benefiting with it: You gain time, managing and investing it in other important things, and the other person doesn’t get a project in which you have worked reluctantly and you haven’t given your best.

Also, you have to understand that a No, always depending on how you say it, doesn’t need to be offensive to the other person. He or she is asking for free work, so doesn’t have the right to be annoyed, because that person is asking for something that benefits him/her, so in this case a No is a win.

A Yes in exchange for promotion?

Unfortunately, with the peak of social media, this practice has become very popular between people who is looking for non remunerated projects, taking advantage of the anger of being visible on the internet and getting followers and likes.

During my professional career, there are many people who have reached me offering promotion in exchange of free work. In these cases we must resort  to the questions I’ve mentioned before: How is going to benefit me? Is it going to help me to reach my goals? How much value I’m providing? Does that value will return to you in one way or another? Are their followers the target audience I’m looking for?

Besides all of that,  you have to investigate who is that person, who is he/she working for and which kin of promotion is offering you, because, at this time, neither the electricity company nor the supermarket accept likes and followers as a payment method.

Stop being a people-pleaser.

I have to admit that I’m guilty of being a people-pleaser, so this means that is easy to us to be assertive to others, leaving our principles and our own priorities, just for trying to please other people. You have the right of saying NO to those people who are trying to get something from you, think on your priorities and principles and stick to them.

Never underestimate the power of a No, there are lots of YES waiting on the queue.