@BlackFreelance1 I’m just not a fan of disorganization, unethical behavior, and the “exposure” trap. Nope…exposure doesn’t pay bills lol
— Tai Gooden (@taigooden) May 21, 2015
OK…so this one applies to all freelancers, but bloggers, photographers, musicians, and designers especially, I’m gonna need you to read this whole post.
“Exposure” is a rook.
Well…except when it isn’t.
If you’ve created content for more than 5 minutes, someone has probably asked you to churn out your hard-developed work for the sake of some additional attention. They probably called it “exposure”. These “offers” come from magazines, TV stations, celebrities, even academic institutions…generally anyone with a platform or status they think you will (or should) find impressive.
It’s always tempting to jump at these requests since actual exposure can make or break a freelance worker’s career, and, especially in those early days, it can be a (an important) big boost to your professional self esteem…but be warned. It’s not always worth it. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s seldom worth it. So to help you suss out when it is and isn’t, here are 5 signs an offer of “exposure” isn’t worth your time.
1) Their platform is smaller than yours.
This one is downright humorous.
If your Tumblr account is averaging 1K+ notes per post and some publication who can’t even manage to get 100 in a day contacts you about work with only an offer of “exposure”…walk away. I don’t care if you do see their print publication standing in line at the grocery store, you’re probably being played (unless of course the bragging rights alone are that important to you. I know that they are for some people.)
2) They use the word “exposure”.
Always a red flag. If they have to tell you why contributing will benefit you, it’s a problem. If the only word they can come up with is “exposure” (or “learning experience” for that matter), think twice…maybe thrice.
3) They have a bad reputation.
So a while back I volunteered to write for a site that focused on Black Women’s issues. I was pretty excited since it was relatively well known in the circles I was trying to reach.
Well that excitement died quickly. One of my pieces was published without my consent and because of some issues around context, it resulted in a flurry of Facebook anger that, if I weren’t thicker-skinned, could have killed a lot of my aspirations as a professional writer.
I should have asked around. Apparently this site (who I still consider naming and shaming) has less-than-stellar reputation within the community. Stuff like this is especially easy to find out around Black publications and sites since we’re all still pretty closely connected. Do some research, search Twitter, even consider asking them for referrals from other writers…you’re likely to find something.
Don’t get me wrong…there are some publications and platforms that really can help in launching your career. It isn’t likely though, that they’ll have left a trail of bitter writers and photographers in their wake.
4) They approach you.
When my parents hit 65, they started getting all kinds of weird offers. Older people are a vulnerable and lucrative target (kind of like freelancers). I gave them both one piece of advice — that was to turn down anything that they didn’t solicit, no matter how attractive.
No matter how good it looks, treat anyone who contacts you asking you for work without pay (or with very low pay) with suspicion. If they’re hitting you up, they’re probably not too invested in your career’s well being.
5) They have a functioning revenue model but don’t offer to pay
This one? Is flat out insulting. It’s never happened to me, but I’ve heard of it quite a bit.
I’m talking about websites and publications…entities with full-on, functioning revenue models…asking people to write for free.
If they’re making money, they should be paying for the work they post. Articles, video, and audio are what generate revenue online and if you’re contributing, you should be reimbursed. Site ownersknow how much they bring in, and likely know exactly how much your work would add to their bottom line. They can, and should reimburse you accordingly.
Those five points aside, there are rare cases where exposure is actually worth your consideration. Here are 3 I’ve run into…
1) You get something in exchange.
When I was first laid off and decided I was going to give it a go as a professional writer, I took on a simple job (found through Odesk, now UpWork) cranking out 350 word articles for a business publication. They only paid $25 each, but I could do them quickly.
To this day I still write those articles…articles that pay well below what I generally charge now…and that’s for a few reasons.
- I can finish an article and still make my bare minimum per-hour rate for production (as long as I’m being efficient)
- It keeps me connected to my industry and forces me to read up on topics that my clients care about (I’ve been able to repurpose article research for client work).
- They give me full credit with my name, photo, and link to my website. (I’ve gotten cold contacts from clients this way.)
- They let me republish everything I write on LinkedIn posts. HUGE time saver on my marketing days.
- It builds my resume since I can use the fact that I’m featured regularly in a B2B publication to sell other, more expensive services.
So while I’m only making $25 an article, I see it as paid content marketing and industry research all mixed-up together. Since I work in content strategy consulting (on top of freelancing), the pieces I’m writing are articles I should be writing anyway. It’s a win-win and worth it to me.
2) It’s about a cause you care about furthering
I just finished a post on racism in the church. I wrote it for free. It’s a concept I care about that needs more exposure. I know that the site author maintains her site as a side project and not her full-time income. She also gave me warrant to write about what I liked.
That was worth it to me.
There are a few other causes I’ll write about for free, and that’s when I feel like my words have something valuable to contribute around issues I know are extremely important. Not all your work has to be paid, and pro-bono pieces can be a great exercise and even possible networking opportunities. Just choose wisely.
**I say this with the caveat that some not-for-profits and passion-projects do bring in money, and a lot of it. If that’s the case, this doesn’t really apply.
3) You learn/get experiences you genuinely want.
And I don’t mean the kind of latent education you get from doing the work you do. I mean you get to spend time with people or subjects you care about in ways that would have been very difficult to access on your own.
So for example, if a company is willing to pay for you to fly to Samoa to write on local cuisine there…personally…I’d consider doing the writing for free, because the trip is one I’ve always wanted to take. If it were to some backwoods town in Indiana, I’d probably turn it down or ask for $90@564987%293843 to do the project.
Of course, if it were a Conde Nast off-shoot who I know pays writers, I’d still be wary to make sure I’m getting the same package other writers have.
The Key To Knowing The Difference
The best way to handle all this though, is to know your worth…and I don’t mean that in a vague sense.
I mean literally know what your time is worth per hour (this is something every freelancer needs to know anyway). Then calculate what it would take you to complete the project…creation, revision, re-revision and all, look at that number, and see how the idea of giving away that much money makes you feel. If you feel taken advantage of, move on and use that unpaid time to market yourself, upgrade your online presence, or just give yourself some downtime.