Working For 'Exposure' = Working For Free
Many times in an entrepreneur’s journey, you will be asked to provide your services in exchange for ‘exposure’ to that person’s network.
As a photographer (which I still do on occasion), I have been asked many times to work for free. It ranged from someone volunteering to be my ‘ambassador’ and model for me (obviously to help my business) to travelling to a massive corporate event and photographing the entire event for ‘exposure’ (i.e. for free)
I received an invitation to photograph a large corporate event, attended by around 100 6 and 7 figure entrepreneurs. I was told I could use the images for my portfolio, and also set up a booth for professional headshots. I enquired about their budget for my services.
They replied that I would be the official sponsor of the event, an opportunity that they would provide for free. In addition, I’d be able to make connections and sell the corporate headshots.
If I were in the very early stages of my career, that may have been a great option. But as someone who routinely charged (and was paid) over £1000 for packages such as these, it was not an option for me.
Sometimes it’s an enquiry which neglects to mention fee, but mentions the benefits to you: ‘You’ll get to work with XYZ, some of the biggest names in their field’.
Sometimes it’s pitched as an opportunity;
‘We’re looking for some talented people who want to show off their skills, you get to do XYZ and with our team, and you’ll get full credit for your work! We’re looking for amazing people!’
Full credit for my work?!
I OWN MY FUCKING WORK!
That’s a warning sign of its own – anyone offering credit for something that you have produced, is unlikely to pay you for that same work.
Let me get this straight, artists, photographers, creators – you own the stuff your create, and when someone buys it, you still own it.
Working For Free is Bullshit - 5 Reasons Why
1. Working For Free Devalues Your Work and Industry
Working for free when you need to build a portfolio of some kind, is normal and needed. However YOU should decide when you work for free.
As a photographer this might be offering mini-sessions or model calls, but on your terms.
Working for free in any capacity, completely undermines what you do as a paid freelancer, artist or producer. Moreover, it devalues the work of other professionals in the field, who do charge and who don’t take free ‘opportunities’.
I have spoken at events and given my time (often actually costing me money) for organisations which have then cast me aside, or worse, defamed me.
I often wish I hadn’t bothered.
2. Their 'Network' is Unlikely To Pay
If someone is approaching you (or offering a blanket opportunity to their audience), you can be almost guaranteed that their audience is also full of bargain-hunters and free-loaders.
Exposure to that kind of network? Hmmmmm.
The only time you should work for free in exchange for exposure to a network is when you are certain that that network is full of your ideal clients.
Like full of your ideal clients. People that you couldn’t access normally, and who wouldn’t normally consider your services.
3. You'll Never Be Able To Charge Them
Once you work for someone for free, well it’s very difficult to charge them after that.
You may find that they approach you again, or you become their ‘professional of choice’ for certain things.
If they don’t mention pay or a budget in their request, bring it up first. You’re not a charity!
4. If They Credit You, You'll Be Tied To Them
Once you’ve been credited as someone’s graphic designer, video editor or personal photographer etc, you and your work will be tied to them. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you must be mindful of the people you work with.
5. Exposure Doesn't Pay The Bills
Maybe you’re turning clients away and have an amazing business. In that case, work that you do for free is likely to be for a specific cause, a charity or even mentoring other professionals. But in the early days of your career, exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Networking doesn’t pay the bills. Being paid pays the bills.
Work For Free - Portfolio Building, Internships etc
Now obviously, there will be times throughout your life and career that an opportunity comes up where you know you will gain more than it will cost you.
If you’re a service provider building a portfolio for example, or there’s an internship for an amazing company that you really want to get into, then here are some top tips for working for free:
1. Set a time or a service limit. Make sure you specify exactly what you will and won’t be providing.
2. If it’s an internship (or billed as such), then make sure there is a time limit on the internship itself. 3 months should be the absolute maximum and you must ask if there’s a paid opportunity at the end of the internship.
3. Communicate as if they were paying clients. If you’re working for free, then hopefully you’ve read this and have chosen an incredible opportunity. Don’t blow it by being unprofessional.
4. Remember that you retain all rights to the work you have created. Communicate this to your clients – you must be clear on this.
Want To Find Out More?
Well, we are Nic and Lesley and we met in the summer of 2019. With almost a thousand years of digital and business experience (well it feels like it haha!), we joined forces to create a community and a bank of resources for businesses and entrepreneurs who, for one reason or another, want to do the tech stuff themselves.
We believe that budget should not be a barrier to business online.
Check out our other small business blog posts here.