How to Not Die From Exposure

Hopefully, by now you know that working for “exposure” is fool’s work. People die from exposure! You should only work for free if it involves your mother or a debt that is the result of a life saving organ donation (see Jessica Hische’s awesome flow chart for specifics).

But just because you know you shouldn’t work for free doesn’t mean that people will stop asking you to work for free. When you respond to these inevitable offers of blood, sweat and tears in exchange for exposure you have two basic choices:

–> Say “No” and walk away pissed that people don’t appreciate how valuable your services are; or

–> Say “No” and have it lead to paying work and that person never asking you to work for free again.

I figure you know how to do the first; this post will teach you how to do the second.

By I Am Nikon D40 via

Why do people ask for free work?

Well, usually they need something that they can’t do for themselves. Because they can’t do it themselves, they don’t know what doing This Thing entails. They don’t know the hours of work that go into making such A Thing, nor do they appreciate the effort, skill and talent that is required, even for the quickest jobs.

If you would like to get this person to pay you for they work they’re after, or if you’d like them to not ask you to work for free again, you need to help them appreciate what it is they’ve asked for. Help them realize that if they want the job done right, they need to pay for it.

You need to explain the amount of work that’s involved, why you won’t compromise the quality of your work, and the cost of that work to you if you don’t get paid.

When you say “no” explain how much time and effort is involved in the work they’ve asked for.

When requesting work from someone else, most of us have a mental estimate of how much time we think it should take. When we come up with that estimate, we try to be fair about the time the person will need to create whatever it is we’re asking for but we give short shrift to the amount of “other” time  that’s involved — the preparation, research, and brainstorming. And we rarely give any thought to the time that won’t be wasted because of that person’s experience and professionalism.

By jpverkamp via

So let the client know how many hours of work are involved in what they’ve requested from you — the research, preparation and execution. Explain why all of those steps are important to produce a good quality piece of work.  An easy way of doing this can be to explain a bad experience you’ve had where one of the steps wasn’t done or was rushed through and how it hurt the project in the end.

Gaining experience is collecting mistakes you’ll never have to make again. Collecting those mistakes means you learn how to do your job better and faster. I want a professional with a lot of mistakes under her belt; if she’s already made them, she doesn’t have to make them on my project! The time that isn’t lost to mistakes and “learning opportunities” is valuable to a client. Tell them how much more time a project like theirs can take for a less experienced professional; let them know how valuable your experience is!

When you say “no” explain the shortcuts you’re not willing to take. 

Different levels of effort produce different qualities of work. People who are asking for free work are usually asking for a higher level of quality than they think they are. They underestimate the effort necessary to do the work or don’t realize there can be a variation in quality for they thing they need.

Help them understand what they’ve asked for by explaining what you aren’t willing to do to make the project doable. Explain the corners you’d have to cut and how it will impact the quality of the work. Show them examples of different levels of quality and identify where their request would end up on that spectrum (hint: the low end).

Be sure to tell them if they’d not be able to use the work in a particular way if quality is sacrificed. It might be a no-brainer to you that a vector image is far superior to a WordArt image for a logo design, but don’t assume your client knows that. Make sure your client understands what they can (and can’t!) do with the quality of work they’ve requested.

Saying “no” in this way shows off your professionalism. It lets the client know that you have standards for your work that you aren’t willing to compromise.

When you say “no” let them know how much money you’d usually charge for work like this.

By Ranger Gord via

Asking for a quick poster for the neighborhood church raffle is a lot easier than asking for a $1,000. But if that’s how much you’d normally charge for a poster like that, you need to respectfully let the client know that they’ve just asked you for $1,000.

When educating a client about “free” work, talk about money last. Saving the money talk until the end helps make sure they’re listening to your first two explanations.  If you talk about money first they might see your explanations of effort and quality as excuses rather than reasons.

But don’t avoid talking about money. Don’t feel bad for bringing up the topic; they brought it up in the first place by saying they needed the work for free. If you really don’t want them to take you for granted, you need to let them know the monetary value of what they’ve asked for.

This can also be a good time to talk about how your rate structure works, particularly if you use sliding scales or offer different flat rates based on a “package” of work.  Now that they understand the effort involved in your work and the variations in quality that are possible, they’re in a better position to appreciate how your fee structure is beneficial to them.

By etagwerker via

Most people aren’t jerks, they’re just uninformed. If you want to take an offer of exposure and turn it into paying work, educate the client about what it is you do, the quality of your work and the value of your services.

Featured image by lovine via

Categories: Dealing with People

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