The Big Question: Should You Work For Exposure?
Whether to work for free, for exposure, or for any way of compensation might be a case by case decision, I am going to go through some options here and present you with some ideas along the way.
It might all come down to your business model, the clients you are after and the fields you decide to work in. At some point or another, you might be confronted with the decision to work for free or work for exposure.
Working For Free vs Working for Exposure
But is it really the same?
What does it mean to work for free and what does it mean to work for exposure? At first glance, it seems to be the same. One is working without compensation the other for a trade in other than money and quite vague in terms of its values. And that is the thing! When how valuable is this exposure thing?
Is Exposure A New Currency?
It has become quite common for companies wanting to pay creatives to be paid in this magical thing called “exposure”. But what can it mean to be paid in exposure? Is it at all comparable to the value of money? I am making a bold statement when I say: Yes, it can be as valuable as money. But hear me out, just and only just in a very few cases. While society is pretty much stable in evaluating the value of money, for exposure there is no way to easily measure or compare the benefits of the exposure-currency.
But what does that all mean for you as a retoucher? how can you make a decision on if a job for exposure could be worth it or if you rather should stay away from it?
A Retoucher’s Catch-22 Situation
What is a catch-22 situation? For us retouchers it means, we have to work for our advertising material and in order to get good material, we have to have good work. But let me explain:
First, let’s agree on the decision whether to work for exposure or not to be uniquely different from the decision a photographer has to make on this. While a photographer, who is working for free, on a TFP basis, or for exposure will always have the benefit of owning the copyrights to the images, a retoucher does not have such benefits. A retoucher can never own an image’s copyright or by default has any other rights on the images he or she is working on.
So, the issue for us retouchers still is that we need images to promote ourselves, our businesses and our abilities. See it how you want but knowing we do not have any rights on images we have not taken ourselves I think and know, we have to either spend money on advertising or work for the right to use images.
There is no way around making an investment if you want to have a killer portfolio and want to get hired for the right jobs. Take this into consideration when making a decision whether you might want to work for free and to what terms.
The Risk Of Not Working For Money
Before making a decision though, I’d like to point out why you might not work for free or for exposure.
While working for free usually means just that, for free, no compensations, no terms,…working for exposure is just working under specific terms and being compensated by using an advertising platform. The key phrase here will be ROI, aka. what are your returns on the investment you put into a project?
As it really is hard to measure and to tell what the right exposure might be, there will always be a certain fear of being used and not getting anything out of a job to benefit long term. As we have discussed before, for us retouchers it is crucial to get at least something out of a project we put our time in. If we cannot make an income out of the exposure we are getting, it is very likely to have put time, energy and money into the wrong places to sustain our business.
When It Might Be Worth Working For Exposure Or Trade Your Services
Let’s now get into some reason on when you might take on work in exchange for exposure. Again, this has always to be a very personal decision but I hope to give you some guidance and ideas here on how you can make this difficult decision.
I want to break down why you might actually want to work for exposure into four main categories.
#1 Reaching Potential Clients – The Right Exposure
The first viable option for you to work in exchange for exposure is the potential to reach new potential clients. As with every marketing campaign, it is vital to reach the right people who are in a position of potentially working with you.
So, you have to ask yourself the question: Do you get your work in front of the right people and is it a worthwhile investment in terms of the work and money you put in. Comparably you could think about investing the same amount of time to prospect and actively reach out to new contacts in your industry.
Another thing to consider is if you get all that promised exposure, do you have a system in place to make use of it? It comes back to what you want to achieve with your exposure. new possible clients? can they easily find you? can they contact you? Do you have a process to make the best use out of these leads / new contacts?
I will talk about this in a more detailed episode but as a professional, it is vital to have your communication systems set up the right way. We are working with the HubSpot CMS and some of their other services to keep track of all our client communications.
#2 Building Experience
Let’s talk about a completely different option. Could you imagine cases of putting in the work and neither care about the exposure nor monetary compensation? And yes, such cases might exist. Depending on how fresh your business is and how experienced you are it might be a good decision to not work for compensation just to gain the experience to work with an experienced team of professionals. It can be good practice to get into the flow of how creative teams work together. This might not always be the most rewarding jobs in terms of exposure but if you have made a decision for that factor to be less relevant than the experience you can gain from such a job, then I recommend to always go for it!
#3 Brand Building And Marketing
There, however, is something else I’d like touch on. Something you can get out of a job for your own business. With exposure, you might not reach a lot of people in the position to hire you. There will always be just a portion of all the people who are in such a position at that point in time. BUT! Consider the value of being top of mind with people! If you continuously pop up in front of the right people, you will be the first they contact if the time is right for them. Apart from that, you can make use of such projects to give more creative input and eventually use that to position your business as the retouching studio or freelancer to go for in niche cases, for a certain look, for the most natural-looking beauty images. Over time this will help to build your brand and if done right, people in the industry will start talking about you and your abilities. Having a brand is vital in today’s oversaturated market, I can’t stress this enough!
#4 Building Reputation With A Team Of Creatives
Tip number four ties in with the second I was mentioning before. And that is to use working for free or working for exposure as part or building your reputation with a creative team. In such a collaboration everyone can win on a long-term basis if that working relationship can be established and maintained over time. Becoming part of a working creative team not only gets you work but it streamlines all processes of every party involved. Which then will cut down on everyone’s time and as we all know time is money, too. So, if you get to chance to enter an already existing team, I would suggest to take this as a chance and go with it, no matter the exposure you might be promised if at all.
In conclusion, whether you make the decision to work for free or for exposure, you might not just blindly accept any offer coming your way. And as there is not one size fits all answer to this question I hope my suggestions when it is worth to work for exposure and when it might not be worth will help you to make a better evaluation of your very own situation.