Why You Shouldn’t Work For Exposure

If you think work for exposure is an opportunity-builder, you're mistaken.

To work for exposure isn’t a strategy to open opportunities for you.

It’s a ploy for people to get things from you for free.

The truth is free labor offers little, if any, reward for the people doing the work.

Try to rationalize it any way you want, but it never adds up. There’s a rebuttal for each argument you present.

So let’s knock out a few right now.

How about starting with a heavy-hitter for people who argue in favor of free labor:

“Even celebrities work for exposure.”

For example, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake all performed Super Bowl halftime shows, and they didn’t get paid.

True. But, their work-for-exposure isn’t comparable to your work-for-exposure.

For starters, the NFL pays for their expenses and production of their show., which 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 during one of the most watched events on U.S. 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.

And these people can get those benefits because they are known, and there’s already an appetite for their work.


They’re working to capitalize on success, not to try to succeed.

When you work for free, what do you get?

The client invests nothing. And in many cases, most of the readers, listeners, or viewers you’re exposed to aren’t the people who would buy your products and services.

If you write a free article for a personal finance site or contribute free photos to a travel magazine, most readers looking for financial and travel advice information aren’t in the market to hire a writer or photographer.

So, having them to see your name in some small font somewhere on the page isn’t valuable.

And, if you’re fresh blood, you probably don’t have the products or platform for mass sales.

So, for you, where’s the value in exposure?

“But, I don’t have any work to show. And 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 your work 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 and you have the opportunity to be seen.

If you have high hopes of converting people who get work for free into lucrative clients, you’re in for disappointments.

People who want work for free the first go-round are usually A) cheap skates, or B) unable to pay. In either case, most are going to keep looking for free sources.

If by chance, they can’t find anyone willing to work for free and they come back to you, surely, you don’t expect them to pay fair market rates.

So at best, your work-for-free strategy may advance you from unpaid to underpaid.


“At least I’ll have a body of work to show prospective clients.”

So, let me get this straight–You don’t have a body of work, so 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 now. And you hope to benefit from it later.

Is that correct?

Plus, to make this work, you’re going to direct prospective clients to the free work you did.

When you do that, the business that got the free work gets more benefits from you in the form of free marketing and advertising. 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 there are ads and/or affiliate links. Directing people to those sites to see your work creates traffic and potential commissions.

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 somewhere that the prospective client respects.

So, you’re gambling on someone else’s clout.

Otherwise, if your work speaks for itself, and 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, you may able to earn ad revenue and commissions or sell that work later.

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 think when it’s creative work and you’re trying to break ground it’s so different.

As long as what you’re doing  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-Employed Professional or Just A Laborer

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