Tomorrow is Halloween. And, because I’m in advertising, I’m thinking of going as a doormat this year. Why? Because I’ve been walked on. And the ghosts from this year continue to haunt me.

A while ago, I made the mistake of taking on a little extra work – just six hours a month at first – without increasing my contract by that same amount. Short-term, I avoided conflict. Long-term, my scope of work began to grow but my fee didn’t. (How do you get someone to pay you for something that you’re already doing for free?) That was a bad business decision on my part. Learn from my mistake.

Another company hired us to do a logo. While we launched into a full logo exploratory, they discovered an online design “auction” site that promised a logo for $100. They went through revision after revision online. And the designer who sold out for a smaller fee than the average hourly worker at Burger King got the compensation that he or she deserved.

I pitched more than one piece of business this year in which the potential client chose not to go with an agency. S/he just wrote down all the suggestions made by every agency that pitched the business and used that knowledge to do the marketing in-house.

Doing work for free does not pay off. It hurts the industry and it devalues what we do. How often do you hear attorneys tell potential clients what their defense will be before they hire them? How many physicians diagnose your illness for free? Heck, what plumber or electrician comes to your house without charging you – whether s/he does anything or not? Yet ad agencies – specialists in marketing communications – are constantly challenged to do strategic and creative work without compensation.

Spec pitches. Scope creep. Last minute additions.

We are our own worst enemies. Agencies that pitch spec creative when they have case studies to demonstrate their expertise are messing it up for all of us. Designers who give away logos – a mark that should be crafted to represent a company for years to come – are prostituting themselves. And companies that don’t view their advertising agencies as strategic partners rather than vendors are short-sighted and, probably, short-changed.

We all make mistakes. But we agency owners need to recognize that, while what we do may be fun, that’s not why we’re doing it. We do this for a living. That means we have to charge for it. Every time we don’t, we chip away at the perceived value of what we do. And that, my friends, is scarier than the most frightening Halloween costume.