Working for exposure gets a lot of hate in the online and creative space. And for good reason. Some should-be employers use work for exposure tactics to get free work from fresh creatives. The kind of people who can easily be exploited. But there’s another side to the story that doesn’t often get talked about. I’m going to cover that story, as well as how you can successfully use work for exposure jobs to build your own business.
So why do I think “work for exposure” jobs are not that bad?
Many people who are in the creative space enter in to competitive industry. They find themselves under-positioned compared to other people in the industry, leaving it near impossible to find work. Building a portfolio of quality and success is key, but without the chance to build this in real world situations, you are often going to be looked over by potential clients and employers.
“The key to success when working for exposure is to approach it as a branding promotion tactic for your business.”
Work for exposure gigs are a possible way to get around this in some situations. It gives you a chance to build that portfolio, get noticed, and have a happy client bragging about you. But the truth is, that if this was an internship it would be illegal. You are producing actual work and as an intern it would legally have to be a paid gig. Unfortunately you’re probably building your own business and personal brand here. When you do this… You’re on your own.
The issues with work for exposure gigs come up on the Internet all the time. Many of the people who take on work for exposure gigs complain hard because they got no benefit from it. Truth is, this is often their fault because they didn’t capitalize on what they did. Their opinions are nearly unanimously re-inforced by the rest of the Internet. No-one ever seems to say “Hey, maybe try doing this”. No one ever asks what the worker could have done differently.
So here’s some things you can do to make work for exposure, work for you.
Make Work for Exposure Jobs Work for You
Contracts are Key
Make sure you have a contract in place. Some of the things you will want your freeloading client to do for your work need a little legal backing behind them; if you want to make sure they get done. Promises and goodwill are all well and good, but after even after a year of running your own business, you’ll quickly realize that even paying customers out there will try and shortchange you.
In the clauses of your contract make sure there is a monetary penalty for not complying with the terms of your exposure.
Client doesn’t want to pay you? Fine. Ask them to find some people who will pay you. Offer to give them a contract where your work will be done for free if they bring you in three new paying clients within a year.
Exposure Takes Work on Their Part
Plenty of business and charities will offer you exposure. But when the contracts complete, what did they really do to get you that exposure?
Make sure your client fully understand what “exposure” means, and make sure they know beforehand what exposure means to you. In a contract get them to agree to exposure terms. This could include:
- Three social media posts on their business social accounts spaced one week apart
- Two social media posts on their personal social accounts spaced two weeks apart saying thank you for the awesome work
- A blog post on their company blog promoting your company, with a backlink. This post will not be removed without written authorization and/or payment.
- Credit given on all photos/websites/images/copy created
- Agree to mention what you did for them with the next ten clients they meet with
- Anytime they mention work you did for them publicly, make sure they credit you
- Provide one full reference and a quote you can use to promote your business
- You retain the right to use the work in your own portfolio and for promotional purposes
Some people asking for you to work for exposure may back away from a contract with these terms. This generally means they didn’t want you to work for exposure, they wanted you to work for free. They may have been lying to you, they may simply not have realized that this required work on their end. Some others will renege on the contract, if you followed my earlier advice and got a contract this is the point where you can send them an invoice (and still put it in your portfolio).
Talking about portfolios… Make sure that you capitalize on every piece of “for exposure” work you do. Build a portfolio and detail everything about your project, what it achieved, how it benefited the company (you don’t need to mention you did it “for exposure”).
Talk in-depth about what you did and more importantly, why you did it, and the results.
Capitalize on What You Create
In the same vein as making sure you keep your portfolio up to date, capitalize on any work for exposure assignments you complete. Build a portfolio site and throw it up there as an example of your work. Add it to sites like LinkedIn and About.me, and detail publicly what this achieved for your customer, beyond what you created.
But I Did Work for Exposure and I Never Made Anything From It!
Working for exposure doesn’t guarantee you paying jobs in the future. It doesn’t even guarantee you exposure. It is often up to you to make the exposure happen. Do this through pressuring the client to do their part, and capitalizing on the work you did yourself when selling to new clients.
Work for exposure gigs are also not the easiest route to take to get new customers. Remember, it is taking up time where you could be getting paid. Make sure you ask yourself if exposure is what’s really going to start getting you new customers. Would your time be better spent cold calling potentials, or building something of your own?
In this article I’m not suggesting that work for exposure is something you should do. In fact I would recommend against it in many cases. But I do see people do it, and then fail to capitalize on it. If you do work for exposure always make sure that at the end of the project you will have that exposure. Make sure you know beforehand how much exposure you should be getting for the work you put in to it. Make sure that exposure will benefit your business.
Simply put, if you can’t plan out the expected future business you will receive from that exposure, it’s probably a bad move.