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The Exposure Card

This was a cartoon I did just for fun and for my fellow freelancers, whether they’re photographers, designers, illustrators, or any of the myriad professionals out there who make their living doing piecework for clients.  Ask any freelancer that’s been in the business longer than five minutes and they’ll have a story (probably many of them) of clients who’ve tried to pay with exposure.  For the uninitiated, that simply means that instead of paying for the work, the client cries poverty, but offers to put a link to your website on their website (or Facebook page, or Twitter feed, or on their bathroom wall) so that others who do have money will find you and hire you.

Most of us have fallen for this at least once.  Some of us more than once.  A certain cartoonist painter type I know (who shall remain nameless) has fallen for this at least a few times, because I’m such a…I mean he’s such a nice guy.

Unless the exposure comes from a company that has a lot of clout and comes in the form of more than just a link, but an actual testimonial, blog entry, press release or genuine concerted effort on their part to let others know about you, then exposure isn’t worth the paper your bounced mortgage cheque is printed on.  If you do end up working for a big company whose reach with all of that press is genuine, it’s a safe bet that they’re already paying you or offering perks that really do benefit your business.

To really see the value of exposure, consider the average Joe searching for an accountant in the yellow pages or online.  Joe gets the website address, goes to the site, finds the contact info and just before he phones or emails the accountant, he stops and thinks, “well hot damn, who designed that logo?”  or “who took that photo?” or “who designed this website?” and instead of calling the accountant he desperately needs to ward off the tax man, Joe clicks on that tiny link at the bottom of the page with your name on it and not only hires you, but pays you well for the privilege.

Those stories usually begin with ‘Once upon a time…”

That’s the sales pitch that exposure clients are basically giving you.  The irony is that the freelancer works long hours on the project that ultimately isn’t appreciated by the client (because they didn’t pay for it) and when the exposure results in absolutely nothing, many freelancers blame the client.   Worst of all, even if the exposure does result in a referral, it’ll most like be for another client who doesn’t want to pay you anything for your work.  Cheapskates tend to associate with other cheapskates.

Freelancing is a tough profession, and not for the thin skinned.  Most people will not value your services as much as you need them to and you’ll have to say “No” to a lot of people who want something done for nothing.  At least once a week, I get kidded about not having a real job because I draw cartoons.  I have a sense of humor, so I’m used to it, and usually let it roll off my back.  Occasionally, if I’m caught on the wrong day, I may get defensive, however,  and tell them in no uncertain terms,  they have no idea what it takes to do my job.

But I love my work, and many of my freelancing friends feel the same about theirs.  Sure, we’ll complain about it sometimes, just like everybody does about their job, but for a certain personality type, working for somebody else from 9 to 5 is one of the seven circles of hell.  We still have our bosses, though, they’re just usually temporary.  The big difference, however, is that we hire our bosses just as much as they hire us and when one of them pulls the exposure card, the correct response is, “I’m sorry, you’re just not the right fit for this company.”

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