Good Opportunity? Or Great Waste of Time?

When is it ok to offer your creative services free in exchange for exposure. When does what you thought was a good opportunity become a great waste of time?

Hi Friends, good news! There are plenty of instances where it's appropriate to use your creative superpowers for free. That’s right, you heard me, F-R-E-E, free. But here’s the caveat, if you’re going to do free work I think it should actually be for free! Do it only with the aim of getting that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from doing something out of the goodness of your heart.

"Say what...?" you say. Hear me out, friends. I want to encourage you to support the causes you feel passionate about! If you want to make cookies for a bake sale to benefit your kid's school, then by all means do it. Do it because you want to support your son and not for the exposure you may or may not get. Maybe you want to donate your photography to a charitable gala you feel strongly about supporting…do it for that reason and not what future business or "exposure” you might attract. Perhaps you want to donate your hand-made jewelry to an organization that assists at-risk women in finding jobs that can help them support their families…yes, do that! And do it from the goodness of your heart and not from the potential business it could yield.

Creatives are often approached to offer services free-of-charge or heavily discounted in exchange for exposure. It usually goes something like this… “We don’t have any money left in the budget to pay you but this will be a great opportunity for a lot of people to see your work!" Let me ask you a question; Is this the way you want to build your career? Is this a pattern you want to start or set?

I’m here to remind you that opportunity alone does not pay bills. Exposure won’t offset the cost of the materials you’ll use. Prestige can’t be exchanged for your time invested.

When you provide your work deeply discounted in exchange for exposure, remember that you are taking an enormous risk that very often will not yield the payoff you hope for. If you’re doing work free-of-charge, well you’re the only one taking risk! It’s difficult to guarantee that unpaid work will lead to paid work, and unpaid work for creative industries can be damaging. It sets a tone that just because we run businesses that may have started from a hobby that our work isn’t real work. It sets a tone that just because we may enjoy our work more than most that our time isn’t as valuable as someone grinding it out for a bi-weekly paycheck. Many of us are prone to self doubt and insecurity. In turn, we question the value of what we have to offer.

You must value your work before others will. If you don’t value your time, your craftsmanship, and your labor, no one else will.

Bartering is an entirely different ball game. I bartered cookies and private classes for professional photos from a friend. It was a win/win and we both knew what we would be getting from our exchange.

Exchanging your work for exposure is risky business. It’s complicated with things like cold traffic, warm traffic and sales funnels. You must not only be aware of cut and dry social media numbers, but also traffic stats and engagement rates. Plus, we haven’t even touched on the fact that it may or may not be your target audience (people who might actually be future customers) !

In short, if you want to support a fellow business, charity or cause, do it and don’t expect anything in return. If someone dangles the elusive “exposure” carrot in front of you, take a hard pass. Be kind, gentle and direct in your response. You don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why this isn't the best fit for your business model.

Start how you mean to go on. Own your worth. Be generous.


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