Should I say Yes to Every Opportunity? / by Alice Zilberberg

I hear this term being thrown around a lot. "Say yes to every opportunity!" You never know what opportunities are going to lead to, right? Well, um, no. 



After being active in art and photography for 8 years, my inbox is getting fuller and fuller with emails asking me to apply for competitions, be part of art fairs and art auctions, be featured on websites and books, art talks, and lets not forget the endless amount of friends who need photography services as favours. To start sorting through which ones to engage with, the first step is to estimate the risk. 


People say that great entrepreneurs take a lot of risks. But in reality, good entrepreneurs are just really good at estimating risk. Is this opportunity worth your time and money? How likely is it that you’re going to benefit and get back something from it? how likely are you to cover your costs? and get new clients and profit in the long run? Do you know other people in your network who have done it? … are all questions you should ask yourself before saying yes.

An Example

A few weeks ago I was asked to be in an art auction. The event was one night, I could bring up to four artworks, 50% went to a charity and 50% to the artist. It also costs the artists $250 for the night on top of the 50% cut. There were a few positives to it. Generally, I love auctions! I’ve put my work in many auctions before, many of them donating the full the amount to a charity. Many times the person who was running second to the highest bidder contacts me and get another copy of the work they lost the bid on directly from me, giving me a new client, who will potentially get more work in the future. Also,  sometimes nothing happens.

I wanted to participate in this auction, but after doing some basic math, I encountered some negatives. Firstly, it costs me money to print and frame the works, and that needs to be calculated into the cut. Second, the cost of $250 to only show my work for a single night seemed like a bit much. I’ve done art fairs that cost not much more than that where I have all weekend to sell an endless amount of artwork. I was asked to drive the artwork up myself, and it was pretty out of my way. So I estimated that even if all the work sold I would only break even and cover these expanses. I had also never heard of this event before and didn't have any artists to ask how this has gone for them in the past. At the end, it was too much of a risk, and while feeling very thankful for being invited, I declined this opportunity.



When you are weighing an opportunity, you are risking time and money. 

Say yes to opportunities when there’s a small risk. I generally try not to ruminate in decisions that are going to cost me less than $100, because If I lose that amount or less, I’m okay with it. Of course it depends on the situation and your career goals, but if something sounds exciting, and it won’t cost much, or is free, go for it.  There is a great article Here by Tim Ferris talking about choice minimal lifestyle and making decisions as quickly as possible to increase productivity.

The second part of the equation is time. When should you say yes to opportunities that cost you your time? Of course it depends again on your career goals. If someone is asking you to do a project that is going to be a week of work for you, with out a promise of getting anything back, maybe that’s not such a good opportunity.



Separating the word “opportunity" from a straight up “job” is the fact that it often means doing free work, or low paying work. Trying to get the most out of pro-bono work is essential. 

Trade Services

One thing you can do is trade services. I started trading services with other artists in the case that we both benefit from each other’s help. I recently did a headshot for a writer friend who in exchange for the shoot, helped me write a grant proposal. I asked a graphic designer friend of mine to design a logo for me in exchange for a print. 

Referrals & Recommendations

Another thing you can do is ask for referrals, and recommendations. If you are in need of more work, you can ask that in exchange for the favour, they can refers you to 3 people and or write a nice recommendation you can include on your website or Linkedin profile.

But remember, no one is obligated to give you anything back when you do pro-bono work. Make sure you do a good job! So that people are excited about your services and are happy to recommend you.

Make Sure You're happy to do it

In any case, whether it cost you your time, or your money, or your soul, at the end of the day, make sure when you're saying yes to something that you really want to do it! That it sounds exciting, and that it's a "hell yes!" and not a "yes..." or an "okay...sure". If you don't really feel like doing that photoshoot with the weird old guy who messaged you on craiglist, or shooting your friends band, or for that client that told you that shooting their product will be "good for your portfolio", then don't. Go to the beach, read a book. It's your life, and your career, and you don't always have to work so hard.