Exposure Doesn’t Pay the Bills. Stop Working for Free!

I am sure we have all been there. “We can’t pay you, but you will get a lot of exposure through the project.” Usually accompanied with such red flag terms as “exciting opportunity”, the demand that creative people work for free is everywhere. As tempting as it is to accept these no-pay jobs, you are actually doing yourself more harm than good.

Although I have written in the past about whether you should take a low-paying contract and the instances where it may be acceptable, I would never advocate working for free. Every profit-making organisation should be willing to pay for your work. After all, they expect to generate both exposure and revenue from your content – whether you are a writer or artist – and make a profit off of your skills.


Source: Clive Cheney Facebook Page

I was recently shocked to find that big web magazines such as Thought Catalog and Elite Daily don’t pay their writers. These webzines generate money through web clicks, adclicks, advertising and more. The more exposure they get, the more money they receive. Writers who pitch ideas to these sites know what they are getting themselves into, yes. However, in a race to the bottom and thinking that “exposure” is the be all and end all, they are enabling bad business practice elsewhere.

Exposure Doesn’t Pay the Bills

It would be great if it did, but those darned ISPs, utilities, supermarkets and others still expect us to pay them real money. They should get with the times. We should be allowed to trade any number of tweets for their services. HMRC should accept a certain number of blog mentions instead of expecting me to pay taxes in actual money. But it doesn’t work like that and we know it. Exposure is all well and good, but you will be living hand to mouth forever if you carry on like this.

The Web is Saturated With Competition

“Exposure” is held up as some sort of golden gateway to fame, fortune and riches. It promises the stars but fails to deliver every time. What makes you think that working for free will give you a leg up over the thousands of others who are working for free? Answer: It doesn’t and it won’t. You are just a number to these people, another in a very long line of businesses who put no value on you or your services. Put a value on yourself. Put a value on your skills and expect the proper compensation.

How many Get Paid Work After Working For Free?

I am genuinely interested to hear from you if you’ve actually got paid work from your free work “exposure”, no matter where that is. Did the company to whom you gave free work come back later asking for more but willing to pay you this time around? Did anybody cite your free work as motivation to contact you and ask for paid work? I would be willing to bet “no” in each of these cases. After all, when there are thousands of people willing to work for free, why would they chase up somebody else to offer to pay them?

These are Profit Making Businesses

The point of capitalism is that you pay people a wage or compensation for their skills. The most common form is wages, but when you are freelancing with a highly-sought skill such as illustration, web design, writing etc, they are hoping to increase their profit margin from your work – not for the sheer hell of it. To pay somebody for their work is on of the founding principles of capitalism. I can understand people volunteering themselves for charity – such as a soup kitchen, a charity shop or travelling abroad to help disaster victims. These people are doing so out of altruism. These are not profit making businesses. When a supermarket asks you to give up a week of your time to decorate their store and not get paid for it, your response should not be to see it as an “exciting opportunity”, but to treat it with the disdain it deserves.

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2 thoughts on “Exposure Doesn’t Pay the Bills. Stop Working for Free!

    1. I’ve always insisted on a nominal payment from Upwork clients on a small budget. This was back when I had so little work that I could be flexible. Now though? not a chance, unless I’m in a position where I have little work.

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