The Choice is YOURS: Clients!
If you've been a creative for a while, you've probably fallen into several traps along the way to being a true professional:
1) The "exposure" trap: A charity approaches, a non-profit, a "low budget" event, or just someone obsessed with a deal. They can't pay you, pay you much, or certainly what you need to grow your business - BUT if you discount or trade out your work entirely, you'll get great "exposure." It's a flawed interpretation of exposure marketing. A "Pizza Hut" opens in your town and there's never been one before. Their ads call attention to their presence. THAT'S exposure marketing. You need clients - paying clients. You don't need people to know where you are.
2) TRADE: A customer has a product and will be happy to trade you the fair market equivalent of theirs for yours. Who decides? Do you even need what they have to offer? Would you willingly seek it out and pay your hard-earned money for it? If the answer is no, stick to cash.
3) The "Back End" - "Take care of us on this one, and we'll take care of you next time." Guess what never seems to come along? "Next time." .
4) "Media sponsor." When was the last time you saw a logo, ad, brand on a t-shirt, whatever, and it made you want to go buy that product? The "sponsor" of an event is a trifecta - exposure, trade, and "next time." Large companies have a large budget to throw at sponsorships, their public image, placating the masses, even the need for a tax write-off. Do you have that much money dedicated to such things? If the answer is no, move along....
There are a few others, and I don't think anyone means ill will when they approach with one of these "offers," but human nature is too focused on a deal, not the value.
It's still very tempting isn't it? Growth in business is said to be under the greatest test within the first 5 years. Factor in a pandemic, housing crisis, recession, Y2K in any of the 5 years and you're more likely looking at a marathon of 10 or more years.
Can you hang in there that long? Do you have the patience? Do you really believe in yourself, believe in your product and its value? If you don't, you shouldn't be in business in the first place. Take heart, creatives can be creative for their own soul food. You may discover a better path professionally along the way that incorporates your creativity without diminishing your love of creating.
If you are committed to being in business, it's still hard to turn down opportunities. The same holds true when you've worked with someone, put the good faith in the relationship, and then you're chasing a check, dealing with a ghost, or they keep wanting more - "you took care of us last time..." Classic. But can you really "fire" a customer? Have faith in the process, see them for what they are, and be a ghost to them.
Let your reputation for quality grow. You'll attract the ideal customers who don't play the games - as long as you're worth it. As we say often, "all you have to do is not suck!"