I recently had to choose between potentially losing a fairly lucrative job and attending a party. During initial talks with the client we had agreed on a set of dates for the shoot, but in the week leading up to it, they asked to move the shoot earlier into the week. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but it so happened that the newly proposed day was the same as a launch party for a charity art auction my work was in. There would be art collectors, gallerists, and others from the art community. So what was I to do?
When starting out we often jump at whatever jobs we can get. We agree to insane demands and timelines in hopes of impressing clients and getting them to hire us again. It’s ridiculous to say no to a job, especially one that pays decent. There is however another side to this.
When agreeing to do something, you are saying no to other potential opportunities. This is called opportunity cost – the cost you pay for choosing one opportunity and forsaking others. In my case, I could earn some quick money now or potentially foster some relationships that would be valuable down the road, maybe months or even years from now. The question is when do you go for the quick win and when do you gamble on the future?
In businesses where your customer turnover is high, say a souvenir photo stand at a tourist attraction, it doesn’t make sense to invest in opportunities that take a long time to pay off. It’s in your best interest to earn money as quickly as possible right now. However, in relationship based businesses, like most photography practices and especially in the art world, investing time (and money) into fostering relationships even if there isn’t any obvious financial incentive is key.
For me, there was a lot of value in meeting a few art collectors and telling them about my work – especially right before an auction where they would be potential bidders. Because an art practice takes a longer time to develop and these types of opportunities are very rare, the opportunity cost was greater than that of missing out on a commercial job (which is easier to get and slightly less relationship based). Thus I choose to attend the party and risked losing the job.
Please note, if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck you should probably take the job! This is because the opportunity cost of not accepting the job means you won’t meet rent payments or will go into debt (I wrote about this in another post). It is only once you have at least a bit of a financial base that you can afford to pass on jobs in favour of abstract opportunities. Being a starving artist is not cool, trust me.
Have you passed on quick gains for the chance at long term wins? Please tell us what happened, and how you decided on what to do, in the comments.
Image: In Front of a Nightclub, 2006 by Jeff Wall