Freelancers, Don't Die of Exposure
“There is a bottomless supply of ambitious young artists in all media who believe the line about exposure, or who are simply so thrilled at the prospect of publication that they’re happy to do it free of charge.” - Tim Kreider, Slaves of the Internet, Unite!
Tim Kreider has an excellent opinion piece in the NY Times entitled “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” that has been making a lot of waves.
We hear you loud and clear, Tim, we really do. And we have one thing to say to the slaves of the internet: channel your inner Spartacus against those playing the exposure card attempting to get something for nothing.
It takes a lot of work to be successful as an independent creative; that work can (and should) come with a paycheck.
Now that the revolution is digitized, how can we make sure the it’s monetized? It takes 3 things: faith, love, and (digital) elbow grease. Here’s some advice for new freelancers on paying bills while you’re paying dues:
Vet your opportunities and build your network.
If your work was worthless, they wouldn’t be trying to get it for free. The only reason they can get away with it is because we let them. If you focus solely on exposure you will ignore the reason exposure is so important: it helps you to build up your credibility and rates.
In order to make the most of any opportunity, you have to know what you want from it. Ask yourself: What kind of audience does this “exposure” introduce me to? Is their readership who I’m targeting? Does this potential client have the prestige to attract agents and other professionals that will help me get higher paying work?
As Kreider points out, while there are instances where you can benefit from exposure, those opportunities come from reputable sources that usually pay at least a nominal fee. It’s not just about assessing the gigs you come across though; you won’t go far if you don’t present yourself professionally, and make strong connections.
A great network is essential for finding those sweet gigs that really do pay creatives (and steering clear of those content mills and unscrupulous clients).
Give away your love, not your work.
A closed hand and bitter heart won’t help you build the support group you need to be successful. There will always be those who will attempt to minimize your contributions and devalue your work, but there are many more who will appreciate a helping hand.
You can be a set of fresh (and skilled) eyes on someone’s overwhelming project. Maybe you’re a writer who’s come across a graphic design gig; don’t just ignore it, refer it to a colleague you think can handle the work.
You may be at the top of their list when they come across similar opportunities you might be right for.
Seek out your dream clients.
Don’t wait for the right gig to fall into your lap. It might seem like bad apples are the gatekeepers of creative gigs, but that’s far from the case. It’ll take lots of hard work, but you can definitely find great clients.
By building your client portfolio slowly, you can use your existing clients (who you love, because you took time to research them) to attract more prospects that you want to work with. A plan for prospecting clients will go a long way in the fight for freelancer-friendly gigs. It will also help you maintain that positive attitude we were talking about.
We are more than some kids with some talent who dream to be seen. We are professionals making a living off of our talent. And as recent statistics show, most freelancers are well-compensated. So the next time someone offers you a bad gig just for “exposure,” say thanks, but no thanks, and take your talents where the deal is worth it.