When To Say Yes: Working For Exposure

should you work for exposure instead of payment?

Merriam-Webster defines business as:

The activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money

So why is it that when you’re running a business, it seems as though everyone wants you to forget about that last bit, the ‘in exchange for money’ part, and just give away your work for free?

Sometimes it’s a well-meaning friend who asks for a favour.

Or a non-profit cause that has a piece of your heart.

And quite often it’s…another business asking you to do work ‘for exposure’.

I’ll pause while you either laugh or shake your fists at the sky.

The answer to the question “Is it ever ok to work for exposure?” is – it depends. And today’s post is going to outline some examples of when saying yes to that opportunity may be worth your while, even if there isn’t a payday attached.

3 Questions To Ask Before Saying ‘Yes!’


Will you be doing what you get paid for, or showcasing what you get paid for?

There’s a subtlety to this question for a lot of entrepreneurs, because exposure is an important part of running a business (how will people hire you if they don’t know you exist?). When the opportunity is a showcase, rather than a ‘work for free’ situation, I recommend saying yes. Here are some examples to illustrate:

Graphic Designer

Request 1: "Please design our logo for free. If we like it, we’ll tell all our friends."

Request 2: "Please write an article for our community to share tips on choosing a great font."

Negotiation Consultant

Request 1: "We’ll need you to revamp our entire 2016 pricing strategy pro bono, we just can’t afford you but would be sure to thank you in our email newsletter!"

Request 2: "We’d love it if you spoke about building confidence as a new negotiator at our small business conference in Dallas."

The 1st requests are asking you to do the work you’d normally be paid for (designing a logo, creating a strategy) for free, whereas the 2nd requests are asking you to showcase your expertise (selecting fonts, making an ask). It's a No to #1, and a Yes to #2.


Is the opportunity a potential relationship builder?

Will it give you access to an industry expert, a great network of fellow ‘for exposure’ folks, or a vibrant community of potential clients? While it’s true that you can’t pay your rent in social equity…it sure can help you put yourself into the position of having for-pay work come your way.


Does it move you towards cementing expert status?

Being able to put an ‘as seen on…’ logo on your site carries a lot of social weight and value for potential clients who are checking you out.  Some opportunities may be a no-brainer – we all know that if your ideal clients are other businesses, having a Forbes logo on your site is pretty sweet. But other times, you may need to do a bit of sleuthing to figure out where the publication or the company is on the food chain compared to your own business. That may seem cold, but when your compensation is exposure, you need to have standards in place.



Sometimes a request will let you answer one or more of these questions with great gusto – and you’ll dive into doing the work without carting along any feelings of resentment or anger. Other times, the answer will be a no. But it’s what you do next that has the potential to turn it into a yes. Grab your courage, and use one of these responses to turn exposure into something you can take to the bank.

Quote It.

It’s perfectly acceptable to let someone know that you’re not able to accept their request for pro bono work, but that you’d love to work with them as a client. Pull together a quick 1-page proposal for the work they’d inquired about and send it their way. You know they already love your work (or they wouldn’t have approached you) and this bit of courage could turn them into a paying client.

Ask a magic question

If it’s clear that there isn’t a pay check attached to the work, try asking ‘Is there any flexibility in form of compensation?’ and get creative with what that could mean. Are they able to offer you ad space? A travel stipend? A personal introduction to an influencer you’ve been keen to meet? There’s value in more than just the dollars and cents, and if you can tap into that, it’s a win-win.


I’d love to know – when was the last time you were approached to work for exposure? Did you end up accepting? Or negotiating another outcome? Share your stories, successes and hot tips in the comments below.