Why You Shouldn’t Work For Exposure

If you think working for free is an opportunity-builder, you're mistaken.

Working for exposure isn’t a sound strategy to open doors of opportunity. It’s a ploy for people to get things for free.

Free labor offers little if any reward for the people doing the work. You can try to rationalize it any way you want, but it never adds up.

There’s a rebuttal for each argument you try to present. We can knock out a few right now.  How about starting with a heavy-hitter for many of the people argue in favor of free labor?

Even celebrities work for free

Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake have all performed Super Bowl half-time shows and they didn’t get paid.

Yes, I know.

But, their work-for-free is not comparable to your work-for-free.

For starters, the NFL pays for their expenses and production of their show. That means the NFL is making an investment in the service they’re receiving.

In return for that service, the performers get a free, televised commercial for their work that runs during one of the most watched events on television.

That televised commercial is something of substantial monetary value because it drives business to a platform where the artists sell the things they are exposing. And there are numbers to show that this process works.

Take Justin Timberlake’s 2018 performance. Sales of the songs he performed jumped 534% on the day of the Super Bowl compared to the day before, according to billboard.

Carrie Underwood’s video performance of The Champion, which opened the game, was followed by 16,000 downloads on Super Bowl day compared to 3,000 downloads one day earlier.

Those are measurable benefits.


When you work for free, what do you get?

The client invests nothing. And in many cases, most of the readers or viewers you’re exposed to aren’t the people who would buy your products and services. So for them to see your name in some dull, fine font somewhere isn’t worth anything.

And, if you’re fresh blood, you probably don’t have anything to sell to anybody anyway. So where’s the value in the exposure?

I don’t have any Work to show. if I do a good job, the client may hire me In the future

Rarely do people ask you to work for exposure because they’re concerned about whether you’re capable of doing the job. If so, that would be resolved when you submit the finished product.

They could either approve it and pay you for it or say, no thanks, and tell you to keep it. But instead, they take your work, use it, and try to convince you that’s reasonable because you’re new.

If you have high hopes of converting that type of person into a lucrative client, you’re in for disappointment.

People who ask you to work for free the first go-round are usually A) cheap skates or B) individuals who can’t afford to pay. In either case, they’re going to keep looking for free sources when they need work done.

If by chance, they can’t find anyone willing to work for free and they come back to you, surely, you don’t expect decent rates. Surely, you don’t believe that someone who doesn’t pay anything today is going to pay fair market value next week.

So at best, if your work-for-free strategy works, it will advance you from unpaid to underpaid.

at least I’ll have a body of work to show other prospective clients.

Since you don’t have a body of work, you’re going to work for free to create it. Then, you’re going to give it away and allow someone else to benefit from it. In the end, you hope that you’ll benefit from it too.

That’s the breakdown of your strategy.

In order for that to work, you’re going to direct prospective clients to this free work you did. And when you do that, the person who got that free work gets more benefits from you. And most likely, they have a structure in place to take advantage of it.

Say you shoot a YouTube video for someone’s channel. Or say the writing, photography, or a logo you designed is displayed on someone’s website and they have ads and/or affiliate links. Directing people to those sites to see your work creates traffic and potential commissions for the people who got the free work.

The best possible outcome for you is that you may get an opportunity to do more work. And that’s only if your free work is in a location that the perspective client respects.

Otherwise, if the reputation of the people you’ve worked for doesn’t matter, then you may as well create a body of work and showcase it online yourself.

Why not keep all the rights and maintain control of your material. That way, depending on where you display it, you may able to earn ad revenue and commissions yourself or sell that work later.

Any way you look at it:

Free labor for the opportunity to provide more labor doesn’t make sense. It’s exploitation.

And that’s the reason it’s illegal in employment settings. Can you imagine the manager of a grocery store saying, Hey, come run this cash register for a week or so. Show the world you can count. Then, you can go get yourself a paying job somewhere.

I know you may be shaking your head, saying, But, when it’s creative work and you’re trying to break ground it’s different.

As long as what you’re doing is spelled W-O-R-K, it’s the same damn thing. The only difference is when you’re in charge of your own affairs, you have endless leeway to make bad decisions. Working for free is a prime example.

If you’re going to work for someone, get paid for it.

Related: Are You A Self-Employer Professional or Just A Laborer