Over Exposed: Working for Exposure

I’ve just realised I’m a 5-year veteran of having my own business. For almost 2000 days, I’ve been working as a freelance writer and content specialist, expressing myself through the written word.

I’ve also been reasonably successful over the years, with amazing clients and many stories. I’ve learned a lot of lessons, both as a business owner and lessons on how to improve my skills, which directly help my clients. I also have invested time and money into learning new skills, gathering resources, and new software and trade tools.

I like to think of my skills as an investment for my clients. You can recoup what you spend by giving your absolute best.

But now and then, I get approached about working with someone, and a phrase pops up when discussing payment. “We can’t offer money, but we can offer exposure!”

Working for Exposure

Being asked to share your experience online or present is common in my chosen fields. Usually, your costs are covered, or you get paid for an article. But sometimes, someone has the audacity to suggest that you work for exposure. They can’t offer money, but they can give you a shout-out or a social media post.

If you’re unaware of the concept of working for exposure – it’s as simple as this. Instead of being paid cash for your work, you get paid in the form of things like a mention on social media, a link in a newsletter, or being interviewed for a blog – the idea is to expose you to the audience of others – without the exchange of cash.

likes working for exposure

Now this isn’t always bad – exposure to new networks, new clients, and even new experiences can be beneficial. But you must consider the time you spend preparing, writing, etc. The time it takes you to get to a venue. The cost of parking – even the cost of the stay if you need to travel any distance!

Exposure doesn’t pay the bills in most cases. It’s not a guaranteed success either; my experience working within social media and content marketing says that each post is only as good as the algorithms and engagement will let it be.

Indecent Exposure

If someone leads with “I can’t pay you, but…”, it indicates that the exposure conversation is looming. Don’t get me wrong; collaborations can benefit, and in some cases, reach and promotion can be incredible assets. But you’re working for free, without guaranteeing that these promises will deliver new leads or jobs.

The reality is it’s a hollow promise. Your talents and skills are used for free based on something that isn’t guaranteed.

In the world of freelancing, I think sometimes people take the “free” part a little too literally. When working with a freelancer, you’re working with a specialist who has invested time in self-development, training, and refining their skills. Their experience is valuable, and when they’re contacted, it’s because someone sees the value in their expertise.

So why do we ask them to work for free, or for an empty promise of exposure? And for people like me – why are we ok with working for essentially free? It doesn’t pay our bills.

Over Exposed

Have I been a victim of exposure? Yes. Even with 5 years of experience as a freelancer now under my belt, I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit that even recently, I’ve been a little too enthusiastic and have allowed myself to fall victim to the exposure card.

It’s humbling, it’s embarrassing, and it’s a learning curve. It’s also a blow to your self-esteem – after all, it’s undervaluing a vital and valuable commodity – your time.

Please don’t undervalue yourself or your skills. By all means, I don’t mean that you should say no to every opportunity, but instead, use your spidey-senses/gut instinct/moral judgement, and work out if there are benefits for you in the experience. 

I don’t work for exposure.

Instead, I work with the strategy to be transparent about what I offer, my costs, and the benefits of hiring me. We talk about your budget and how we can work together.

Does this mean that I won’t work for exposure? That all depends. 

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. I do a lot of charity work and will do consultancy for a smile and a thank you for causes I believe in, and feel passionate about. However, this is a gift, and should never be expected!

Secondly, I will always respect your budget. While my rates are fixed, there’s always room for how we can adapt things to fit your needs and finances.

Yes, I do do some unpaid self-promotional work. I will often write articles, or a blog article and cross-post it to different platforms. But that’s for my benefit. It’s promoting me, or my beliefs, or my work. Noone else is benefitting. This is a labor of love.

But I won’t work for you for free. Working for exposure undermines my talents, my skills and my time.

It really boils down to this. Working for exposure can be just another form of exploitation.  You don’t get anything out of it, your bills don’t get paid, and you’re really not guaranteed of anything.

(This doesn’t apply if you’re doing it within your own personal morals and that, of course)

Working for exposure sucks. Don’t undersell yourself or your talents – you deserve so much more.

PS. Want to know if you should work for free? This handy flowchart could help 😉 Credit to Jessica Hische.