The Disease of Discount

For many of us, we have hot buttons, topics or requests that upset us, get us on our soap boxes or put us in a state of pure frustration.

For me, this fierce dislike comes from the disease of discount. It comes from the idea or request that I should give my skills or services away for free with the hope of exposure leading to opportunity. Many creatives, risk takers or innovators can see this request as both annoying and offensive.
Lets break it down.

In the last several years, my work has been around creating platforms, pathways and community in hopes of moving ideas forward faster. Built around the idea that if we can bring people together, allow ideas to be shared, encourage support, then more great things can come to life. During this process, the visibility and profile of the risk taker is elevated and they are exposed to the community. In many ways, this is a great thing.

The challenge comes when these folks are exposed and people try to take advantage of them.

How does this play out? I believe it comes through the disease of discount. When folks ask artists or entrepreneurs to give their work away for free. It comes when someone says to them, “We love your work and we want you to help us out with XYZ event.” It comes when folks approach the new coffee shop or store and say, “Give us this item for our next auction so more folks know about you.”

If the creative gives their work away out of generosity, it often means that the only opportunities that come to that person are additional requests to give work away. For free. This can be offensive and frustrating.

I’ve watched this happen first hand over the last year as my wife established her floral business.

She receives countless requests to give her work away for free or at a steep discount. The frustration for me comes from watching my wife work hard to establish her business, provide for her customers and lead her team. These requests become a distraction and can lead to her feeling bad that she isn’t giving enough.
What can we do about it? I want to invite all of you to consider these ideas the next time you see a new business come to town.

Spend + Spend
As your organization or team is putting together an event, find ways to spend. You can lead by example during your event. Emerging Prairie just hosted a fundraiser where we used a food service to provide a kickass meal. We paid in full.

Turns out, this organization gave a very generous donation to us to support the mission. It felt good. Cash moved between both organizations and the partnership felt real and authentic. We felt good about paying full price and the donation led us to believe the restaurant values our work.

Bonus: The organization did not get hit up to give more discounts for all other fundraisers.

Exposure is Not the Hope of the New Venture/Creative
As any early stage business or creative knows, there is a great deal of financial risk for launching something. There is also emotional risk when we put ourselves on the line to be judged. The purchase of our product or service is also a vote of confidence, saying that we matter.

A few years ago, I worked with my team to put together a conference for an established professional services organization. The folks that make up this organization make very healthy salaries and are well educated.

I must admit, I became very offended when we were working on the items for the silent auction. Several of the committee members were asking artists to give away their work for the auction in order to raise money for the scholarships.

Why was I upset? These folks that make great incomes were asking a group that need funds to support their craft and refrained from thinking about the big picture. Another way they could have approached the situation is to spend their money for the auction with the artists and use their resources to support the creative community. In the end, I think all parties would have felt better about their efforts.

I’m grateful for the chair of the board. She decided to support our artists and served as a great example and teacher by showing how purchase power can support the risk takers.

More Money Equals More Value
The journey of an entrepreneur, artist, risk taker or creative is personal. It is filled with ups and downs.

We ask folks to provide services for free, either in their time or their craft. We are forgetting that the person on the other side of the equation is providing value and needs to be recognized for it. In today’s world, the currency we use is the dollar and, for many of us, it is connected to our self worth.

When we can be great customers and pay for the value others create, self- esteem for both parties goes up. More dollars move through the community and it creates patterns and habits for others to join. By paying for the value created, whether made possible by a barista, an artisan, technologist or organizer, we are tipping our hand to the person and saying, ‘We value you.’

It’s simple. Let’s pay for the special things that the special people in our community create.

Share the Risk
If folks are similar to me, they may take on projects or initiatives that are speculative in nature. My encouragement would be for the organizers or leaders to make this transparent and work with their partners to understand that things may go well.

For Emerging Prairie, we often approach folks on new ventures and request a Plan A proposal and a Plan B proposal. We may not know if we can cover the full value and we invite organizations to share in the risk and the reward.

A few years ago, I was approached to give a talk for free by an organization in our community that has been around for 50+ years. I asked to be compensated for my time, knowing the organization was for profit and hoping to make money from the event. I was frustrated when they said they didn’t have a budget and that the new event was a “startup within a big company.”

I declined the opportunity because I felt fairness was not considered. They came back to me and ended up paying for my services. I felt honored for my time and I believe their crowd found value from my message. We both ended up happy.

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