Actually, maybe I WILL work for exposure…

Newsletter #25

Waddup friend? Last week was really busy as became far more popular than I possibly expected. If you had a hand in it, thank you. You’re awesome. And I really appreciate your support!

A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook. Someone’s been going around asking his friends about working for exposure (aka for free) and he got sick of it.

On a whim, I responded that I actually don’t mind working for exposure.

Before reading my full comment, you should know that it was written ironically and in jest. And I’ll share what I actually think about all this below.

Here’s what I wrote:

And here it is in text form:

Actually, I don't mind working for exposure if it can be tied down to fixed metrics. Might actually be an incredibly refreshing way to turn the tables.
Here goes:
Yes, I will work for exposure. My rate for this project would otherwise be $10k.
I am assuming we are in agreement that your exposure will give me $10k in revenue. In an effort to help you, I have broken down exactly how much and what type of exposure I will need so that you can pay me in exposure.
Tying exposure to $10k:
Typically the conversion rate of "Exposure" is about 0.02% (show studies to back this up) if we are talking about display advertising. Or about 2-5% for direct marketing channels (emails). I am willing to push this to 10% for direct face-to-face introductions.
For now, here are the calculations based on exposure via display advertising where I get a credit on the side of an ad campaign that you are running. I chose this as I assume this is the most likely kind of exposure you are talking about. Please note that I much prefer exposure in the form of direct face-to-face introductions.
Assuming the average project cost for a new client is $10k (just keeping it simple here). I will need 5 new projects that pay me $12k for the usual $10k work to cover the cost of me doing work for you. ($2k*5 new projects = $10k the amount you owe me).
Now, if 0.02% = 5 new clients, this means (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong), that you will need to give me exposure to 25,000 prospective clients.
Fortunately for you, I have over a decade of experience, so I am very clear on who my prospective clients are and what they look like. They are people who work in medium to large organisations. Decision makers who are director-level or higher. They have worked on similar projects to mine for the aforementioned budget of $12k. And are currently in the market for similar work done right now. (Note: I obviously just made this stuff up, you can add more specifics depending on your own background)
As you have requested to pay me in exposure, I presume you have exposure to this set of people, and in the correct quantity.
Before we move forward with this arrangement, please provide me with your plan for guaranteeing this exposure. Please also show me a sample report of your metrics, and let's work out a schedule for how long it will take for you to give me this exposure.
In addition, please share your fallback plans should this exposure not be successfully acquired.
Lastly, please also give me some case studies showing me examples of when you have successfully delivered on exposure with other agencies along with their testimonials.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes,

My tongue-in-cheek comment explores what should be considered in order to take a request to work for exposure seriously.

Obviously, no freelancer will ever actually dare say this, and no client will ever have to hear this. But sometimes hard truths are best spoken in parody, and this was a fun (albeit slightly obnoxious) way to break it down for peeps and hopefully get people thinking.

All jokes aside, it’s time for the real talk.

Realistically, too many of us simply complain about bad clients, then continue to stay in a shitty situation. We use money or the constraints of our jobs as the reason for inaction.

Complaining is a salve for the hurt and frustration we feel. After complaining, we feel better despite not actually solving the problem, and the bad situation remains.

Instead, here are some constructive things we can do in lieu of or after complaining:

  1. Start practising equanimity for the things you can’t change.
  2. Realise you can influence more than you think. Then take action.
  3. Educate fellow freelancers and agencies on their worth when you get the chance.
  4. When you are in a privileged position, treat those below you with the respect you wish to be treated with by those above you.
  5. Understand the principle of the tragedy of the commons and try not to ruin things for yourself and your counterparts by undercutting the industry.
  6. Educate your clients on how your relationship ought to work. Be competent, kind and clear. And expect the same of them. Bending over backwards to ingratiate yourself actually devalues your services and makes clients respect you less.
  7. Don’t be afraid to breakup with clients. I’ve called it quits with a handful of clients over the years, and I’ve never missed them or their money.
  8. If you have great clients, tell them they’re great. Positive reenforcement is the most powerful motivator there is.
  9. Spend more time uncovering motivations, rather than assuming bad intent. When people seem like they’re undervaluing you, it’s more likely that they’re misvaluing the entire industry. They don’t know how the industry works, and have unwittingly put their foot in their mouths. Be gracious and kind about it. This is also likely to help them be a better client in the future.

These are principles I’ve tried to live by in my decade-long career in marketing and advertising. I don’t always succeed, but I sure as hell try.

I think many of the people reading this have been exposed to agencies and freelancers (either you’ve walked in these shoes before, or have had to work with some). If so, let me know if you have a different experience to mine. I’d love to hear it.

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