It’s come to my attention recently that a variety of entities have taken to asking yoga teachers to give classes for free for the “exposure”.
This type of behavior is very old news in the henna world. Artists are asked to work for free in exchange for “exposure” all the time. And the one-liner quip that savvy artists often pass around amongst ourselves still rings true – “People die from exposure.” Even if they’re not literally freezing to death out there, starving artists remain starving when they give their work away for free in hopes that someone will perhaps maybe pay them for some other work down the road. Let’s make sure that we don’t also get a new cultural touchstone of “the starving yoga teacher”.
There are so many reasons not to give away your work for free just because someone else asked you to. Let’s go through some of the ones that both henna artists and yoga teachers share. We’re alike in so many ways, and the more we share knowledge and support one another, the better we will all do!
1. Your Skills Are Worth A Lot
It takes a long time to get good enough at something that someone else is noticing you and asking you to share your goodness with the world. The fact that you’re being asked to do this work for free means you’re good, and people are noticing. They want in on what you’ve got to offer. They think it will make their company look good to have you associated with them. You are at the top of your game, or at the very least on your way there, and it’s obvious to whoever is asking you to come and share what you’ve got.
2. This Type of “Exposure” Isn’t Good For You
And it isn’t good for your industry in general, either. Let’s bring up another oldie but goodie – why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? People who are enjoying what you’ve got to offer without paying for it are not so likely to pay for it down the road.
If henna or yoga are offered for free on a regular basis through one entity, why would people come somewhere else to pay for it? You might want to believe that your henna or yoga is so special that people will come and seek YOU out in particular, and will be happy to pay you later, because you are just that awesome. The people who want you to work for free will happily feed your ego so that you might really start to believe that. But really, if a reasonable facsimile of what you offer is available for free on a regular basis, many people will go for that. People who are coming for the FREE YOGA! (or FREE HENNA!) that is being advertised, are NOT coming for the BEST yoga/henna…they are coming because it is FREE. So these customers are already ones who are more inclined to go for the free thing than the good thing. And if what you’re offering on a regular basis is the good thing, and it therefore normally costs real amounts of money, then these people are unlikely to convert to regular paying customers for you.
Another way that this type of “Exposure” is bad for you is that this sort of practice, if it becomes the norm, will destroy your whole industry. The more people who come to believe that yoga classes should be free, the more people who will expect them, the less people there will be who are happy to pay decent, sustainable prices for them. Every time someone who is interested in yoga chooses to go to a free yoga class, they are choosing not to go to a paid one. And every mat space that is unused during a yoga class at a studio is bringing that studio on step closer to the day the eventuality of having to close their doors for good.
3. You Shouldn’t Be The Only Thing They Don’t Pay For
How much does this company that wants free services invest in their other offerings, like their real estate, inventory, and the other marketing they do? If they’re happy to make an investment in other things, you should insist that they also be willing to make an investment in you. They have the money. You have the thing they want (skills and experience). One is exchanged for the other – that is how business works. That’s how all the other businesses are working. The business of you should operate in the same way.
And to this point – the company asking you to pay for your services probably WOULD, if you and everyone else of your caliber insisted upon it. They’ve decided that having what you do is good for their business. They see value in it. If you and everyone else like you insists on being paid, eventually that will happen. Companies try to get henna artists to work for free constantly. The actual professional henna artists have a shared understanding that that doesn’t fly, and respond to inquiries requesting free services with quotes reflecting our standard hourly rates. Whether your rate is per person or per hour – and per hour is far, far better to keep things super clear cut and avoid being taken advantage of in other ways – provide that price.
4. This Is Exploitation
Henna artists and yoga practitioners have one super important thing in common – we love what we do. We love it so very much that we would surely continue to do it even if there were no money involved. We want to do it as much as possible, focusing on these things that bring us and those around us joy. If we are sharing out passion in such a way that there is no money earned by any party, that’s one thing. But if there is money involved for one party but not the one providing the actual valued service, that is exploitation. If a for-profit company wants to benefit from your labor, even if you enjoy it, they need to pay a fair price for that labor – one that takes into consideration all of the hard work and training that it took you to get good at what you do.
5. There Are So Many Other Things You Can Do For Exposure
You could offer your services for free on your own terms. You could offer a free sample class at a local small business, or a conference, where there is not already an endless stream of other people doing exactly what you do, where you will be *the* yoga teacher in the minds of the people you interact with, rather than one of that seemingly endless stream.
You could create resources. In the time it would take you to prepare for, drive to, and offer this free “opportunity”, you could just as easily organize a photo shoot, record and upload a video to YouTube, or write an article. And those resources will serve you much better in the long term.
The key thing here is that you could spend the time building up your own business rather than someone else’s. Sit down and make sure you’re listed on Google Maps, that your Yelp listing is on point, and that your website is up to date.
Pretty much anything else you could do is going to be a better long-term investment in your happiness and the growth of your business than spending your precious energy working at someone else’s event for free.
6. And Sometimes It’s Not Even About The Money
If you’re running a yoga studio in hopes of having a sustainable business so that you can continue to share what you love, then the above points have perhaps been pretty convincing. But even if you just want to share your love of what you do, there are such better ways to do it that won’t devalue what you and your colleagues do. There are tons of community organizations that could benefit from what you offer – ones that are struggling, and run on a shoestring budget. Organizations that are not for profit, but rather exist to help people, might be very happy to have you come in and share your goodness. Reach out to them.
Heather Caunt-Nulton is a professional henna artist, who organizes henna conferences and teaches classes on both the art and business of henna. Her henna kits are available at wholesale prices at ArtisticAdornment.com.