Alright, let’s talk about it (nope, not sex), let’s talking about working for exposure. I’m here to give my opinion, and what I’ve learned over the years.
This post is about working for exposure, because I find this to be a very grey area for many people. When a company that has nationwide commercials, a large following, and products you know/love, I find it really hard to understand how they think it’s appropriate to ask for free work in exchange for exposure. When a smaller company asks for work in exchange for exposure, I have a lot of questions to ask myself. As a small business owner, I get a pit in my stomach just thinking about not paying people for their time, energy and talent. I’ve never had an unpaid intern, I’ve paid all of my freelancers in a timely fashion, and when someone has offered to help me as a friend/family, I’ve felt responsible to send them a gift card, a gift, or something to show my gratitude. I want my business to be one I’d want to work with, so I strive to create that with everyone I work with.
Let’s talk about exposure. Lots of companies (large and small) will ask you to do something for them (the talent that makes your business shine) in exchange for exposure. Typically, exposure is a feature on their website/instagram, “artwork by XYZ”, or some sort of attribution. This might be credit in one place, but not in others. Without a contract, who knows how you’ll get credit, and for how long. One instagram post crediting your work is probably NOT going to change the whole course of your future, or even bring you any new work. Considering the audience is another HUGE factor. Is the audience looking for your special talent to follow and work with, or are they a group of people who wouldn’t fall under your dream client list? Does the companies request have the potential to go viral? Is it a collaboration, or are they looking for free work? Again, this is a grey area, and I’m specifically talking about people asking you to design something for their company, without paying you. Something that benefits them. They want to support you, without actually supporting you. But you’re doing a great job making them look great! Do you think they’d do something for you if the tables were turned?
What exposure isn’t…
Exposure is NOT money. Dolla Dolla Bills ya’ll!
Exposure is NOT PAYMENT!
Exposure is NOT guaranteed sales/contacts/fans/followers.
Exposure is NOT a feature with your picture, telling people how fabulous you are, and why they should work with you (or even what you do!).
Exposure is NOT valuing what you do, your services, and the fact that this is your job.
Exposure is NOT a collaboration, or a trade. (Those should both be mutually beneficial).
This company obviously see’s value in you, you’re talented enough for them to seek you out, and want you to represent their brand! They like you enough to share your work with their fans, but not enough to pay you. This goes for big AND small companies. I totally understand that a small, local company probably doesn’t have the funds that a nationwide company does, so it’s important to take that into consideration, and price appropriately (I’m not suggesting to discount your services, but find what feels good depending on the scope). Even offering $50 to cover an hour of your time (depending on the scope again) is a step in the right direction. Find what you’re comfortable with, and consider how much time, and energy you’ll be pouring into the project.
It’s important to remember that you’re setting the bar for the rest of the community. There will always be someone, hopefully someone just starting their career, who is willing to do something for free. Or maybe they’re just VERY passionate about this project. By taking that job for free, you make that company question why they’d pay someone if they can get the same services for free. Therefore, those services are not valued. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Is this worth my time?
- Am I passionate about this project?
- How much would I charge someone for this?
- Why is it okay to do it for free in this case?
- What is the exposure? Is it tangible?
- Will this exposure be receptive and help me book more jobs? Or will this exposure be a one time shout out?
- Do I NEED this job?
- Do I even want this job?
- Is this a hobby, or my career?
- What is my worth? How do I value my time?
Number 10 is so important. Do you value your work enough to reply back to the request and ask for what you think is fair? Never be afraid to at least ASK for compensation, or some other form of payment!
Imagine if the tables were turned, would you go into a company unrelated to what you do, and ask them for things for free? Would you walk into target and ask them to give you a free pair of shorts because you just REALLY love them, and you’ll tag them on instagram? Um… no.
Here’s why it’s different with bloggers: Bloggers are influencers, they’re sought after because of their audience, they are reaching the people that the company wants to get in front of. They’re getting paid in product for simply sharing the information. If you choose to send something to a blogger WITHOUT discussing the “collaboration” they owe you nothing… and don’t you DARE go expecting them to rave about this random thing they got in the mail, unless they fully believe in it, it fits their aesthetic, and they really want to share it. Again, I like to believe they share things they actually like, they’re giving you real recommendations, because if they didn’t, who would want to follow them!? They’re cultivating a community. Bloggers are appealing to larger companies because their small yet influential impact is HUMAN, where large companies can often feel corporate, lacking that personalized experience. Followers of bloggers feel like they know the bloggers, from watching their instagram stories, reading and commenting on posts, to taking advice from their blog.
I think styled shoots deserve their own paragraph. I’ve contributed paper goods to multiple styled shoots, and have very rarely gotten paid. I once traded for product, and the product was so cool, I was happy to do it. I LOVE the opportunity to have beautiful photos of my work, and to me, that is enough payment. Not to mention, a styled shoot is usually made for a feature on a major site, which has the potential to get my work in front of some of my dream clients, and has led to plenty of jobs in the past. However, depending on your craft, you might be donating a lot more than my services. I however, feel like I get to collaborate with some amazing friends, and have incredible pictures of my work! I like to make sure I have a conversation with the organizers, so I know how much is being asked – if it’s 10 chalkboards, and invitations, menus, and place cards – it’s going to be quite a bit more work than just a simple suite (which I may be able to reuse/recycle). I like to be honest about how much time and resources I have for the shoot, but I’ve found having those conversations to be exciting, and the opportunity to work together is the best part.
Interviews, features, and the like are 100% different. If you’re getting interviewed, the company is sharing your story, your talent, and they WANT you to be there. They’re doing you a favor, even if it takes time to answer the questions, and their network isn’t huge.
Working with family is another subject – check back next week for that post!
The bottom line, is that you have to value yourself, and your comfort zone. Have you been in a situation like this before? How did you work through it, and what did you learn?