Is “exposure” worth the work?

For graphic designers/media producers/web developers/web marketers/videographers/etc., especially those who are new to freelancing, it is not uncommon to find yourself offered “exposure” in exchange for your services. It typically sounds like this:

“We don’t have much of a budget for this, but it would be great exposure!”

Ah, exposure. Word-of-mouth is key for freelancers in the design and marketing fields, so the promise of exposure is always tempting. However, not all exposure is worth it. I think Seth Godin’s response to this offer is good, but perhaps a bit non-committal (tl;dr – it depends on the situation).

I do agree with Seth Godin; it is situational, but I think a bit more detail on the subject my be helpful. Here’s my suggestions for addressing this request:

  1. Think about the business making the request. Would work for this business look good on your resume or reel? Maybe it’s a successful local pizza joint that has a good reputation, but lacks a marketing budget. It might be worth it to identify them as a client. Maybe it’s an NPO that asks for pretty much everything to be donated. If it’s a recognized group, it might be worth it to have their design in your portfolio, and you could write some of the work off, possibly. In general, if it’s a start-up business that has no name or reputation, it’s probably not worth the effort. If they have money to get their company going, they should have money to pay for marketing/creative services. If not, they may not be around long. No exposure for you, and little help for your portfolio.
  2. Offer to barter. If the cost of your product for the business is going to be $1,500, ask if they would exchange $1,500 worth of service or product for you. This works great for services you need, such as accounting or telecomm. You both get something concrete out of it, which can be a lot better than this amorphous idea of “exposure.”
  3. Try to convert the idea of promised exposure into a real, practical set of promises. I’ll admit, this may seem like a stretch, but if a business is promising exposure as payment for your hard work and resources, I don’t think it would be inappropriate to ask for details concerning exactly what that looks like. Let’s say they offer to put a link to your business on their website. Great. Ask them about their average web traffic. Ask them about how much business has been generated for other vendors who got the same deal. If they promise to introduce you to people, ask for a concrete number of introductions, letting them know about how many introductions it will take for you to make a deal. Get it in writing. I know, it seems like a stretch, but if they want your labor, they should be willing to provide some sort of concrete solution regarding how this will benefit you, since they can’t provide cash.

Your time, experience, education, resources are worth the price set. When you work for something other than cash, you need to make sure what you’re getting in exchange matches your price. Exposure is great, but make sure you’re getting value equal to your work.

Photo Credit: Tatyana Zabanova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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