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My wife Linda and I were in Portland, Oregon for a few days last month. Great town, nice people.

We heard about the Portland Saturday Market (“the largest continually operating outdoor arts and crafts market in the nation”) and decided to check it out. It was terrific. Booth after booth of crafts, food, jewelry, clothing, sculptures and more.

I took a picture of one of the booths - it cost me a dollar.

Here’s what happened…

One of the booths consisted entirely of birdfeeders made from dishes (yes, it appears that someone has finally found a practical use for wedding china). Really interesting stuff and so I took out my phone and snapped a photo.

That’s when I noticed a woman standing behind the cash register in the corner of the booth, giving me the hairy eyeball. She pointed to a little sign indicating that in order to take a photo, you needed to leave a tip.


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So I gave her a dollar. (I briefly thought of telling her that I charge two dollars for anyone to look at me, but decided that would be unkind.) But I can understand her motivation. After all, people come by, weekend after weekend, stare at the unusual birdfeeders and take a picture. Most of them (by far) buy nothing.

So why not charge these people? You know, make a little cash on the side in addition to selling birdfeeders. It’s her booth, she sets the rules. But from a business perspective, it may be the single worst marketing idea I’ve ever come across.

The problem is that …

… instead of increasing engagement with her and her product, she’s decreasing it.

… instead of encouraging word of mouth by suggesting that I take a picture, share it with my friends and talk about her, she’s discouraging it.

… instead of building goodwill by turning curious strangers into friends, she’s building a wall and charging admission.

If "penny wise and pound foolish" had a mascot, it would be that booth. So here’s my homework assignment for you: Take a look at your business and make sure it’s set up in such a way that you give away lots of free (and valuable) things.

Information, advice, encouragement, samples, friendly handshakes, whatever. Focus today and forever on drawing people into your "store" and increasing the size of your fan base.

Remember, today’s picture-takers are tomorrow's buyers.

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in working with solo professionals and, in particular, teaching them how to position themselves as Likeable Experts. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette.