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Why (and when) you should be working for exposure
There was a word. And the word was good. However, as the word started being used more and more, the word started to rub people the wrong way. It started as a legitimate word to express a benefit and ended up being a vile insult. The word is EXPOSURE. When used in the content creation world in general and the blogging world in particular it is one of the quickest ways to get yourself on a blacklist. I’d like to talk about how exposure is not quite the hell-spawn that we have come to think of it as and if you will indulge me I will tell you why (and when) you, as a content creator, should be working for exposure.
I would be remiss to go any further without defining exposure. Exposure is best described as opportunities to further your craft, following, brand or notoriety whichever may apply. For those who are not fully in the know, this refers to situations where you are approached to create content for a platform that does not, in turn, pay you for the content but instead proposes that you will benefit greatly by being on their platform or working with them. This has the potential to work in your favour but it also has obvious pitfalls.
When exposure works
When exposure works you can look forward to an introduction to a larger audience, recognition within an area or sector and even proof of work that you can leverage when dealing with other offers in future. While that is the greater discourse about the exposure that I have come across the reality is exposure can be so much more. Using the example of a writer you can also gain exposure through editorial assistance on your writing, reader feedback and generally learning the ropes of writing for a certain type of audience. My biggest argument in favour of working for exposure is learning without having to go through every step of the building process. Somebody else has already built the platform which in all my experiences takes a lot more work than we know until we build our platforms.
When exposure doesn’t work
As you read the previous paragraph I’m sure you said “that’s the dream KG“! There are times and reasons why exposure doesn’t work. Firstly appearing on a platform, no matter how big, doesn’t guarantee a transfer of attention yourself, the attention is squarely on the platform. Secondly, big is such an ambiguous word in this day and age, a single person outfit with a tiny audience can appear big if that is what they so desire. Thirdly, not every platform offers you an opportunity to learn anything. It is great when you send in your writing work and get critical editorial feedback but sometimes (more often than not) you get those who just take your work, ghost you for two months only to find out they published your work a month ago. In addition, there is no guarantee that there is audience engagement on these platforms. Finally work is work and the cost of producing your creative work applies to both paid and unpaid work. My hourly rate (we should have an article on this, let me know in the comments if you would like to see it) does not change because the project is non-paying.
It is still an hour of my life that has a value attached to it.
Exposure is for YOU!
Many people will approach you and tell you that they will offer you exposure but the responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders to evaluate if the opportunity will result in exposure for you. Do not be quick to believe what people tell you because they are likely to tell you what they think you want to hear.
•Not everyone who says they can, can offer you exposure.
•Not everyone who can offer you exposure can offer you the exposure you want or deserve.
So the decision rests with us whether the opportunity amounts to exposure. I do take on non-paying engagements if they align with my goals but for written work, the most I will provide is one article per month unpaid. With some experience as a content creator, I have put together a few signs we should look out for to identify good non-paying opportunities from bad ones. The degree of experience you have creating content will influence how seriously you take these signs.
One of the first signs I look for and have come to value is the degree of detail in the brief or advert. In my experience, the more detail that is offered upfront the more likely the exposure is worth your time.
If you have to ask what comes next then it is likely you are dealing with what you will look back at as a bad experience. The degree to which the process is clearly explained will give you an idea of how well organised the platform is.
Proven track record
Ask around and see if anyone else has worked with them or who they have worked with. I would take my chances and go as far as asking people who have worked with them in the past how good the platform is as a partner. Nobody is as honest as a former employee/partner.
The audience you want
It’s great to be in front of an audience but if the audience does not match with your goals and desires then that will likely be a colossal waste of your precious time.
So ask about the audience.
I would rather for an audience of 50 people who are serious about investing than 50000 unknown quantities as a financial writer.
And I know you are thinking in a crowd of 50000 if you can get the attention of 1% that’s 500 people. True but I sincerely doubt that 50000 people who came to a platform to find out the latest gossip are interested in my financial writing.
This is the number one sign of a bad engagement, speculative work. Speculative work refers to work opportunities that have a “just submit your work” attitude. Sounds great but without knowing how your work will be used this is difficult. Made worse by the fact that there is no money on the table.
No detail or organisation
This is a particular feature of spec work and many bad engagements. The less detail you are provided with about the content the less likely you will enjoy the experience. For example being told to just send your content without guidance on word count, writing tone, writing style and other details is a really bad sign.
If there is little or no feedback in the beginning then you are unlikely to get any feedback going forward. And this isn’t just editorial feedback, you can expect little or no feedback from the audience as well. It has also been my experience that non-paying platforms tend to have very quiet audiences if they even exist.
Exposure is a worthwhile pursuit if we make sure it’s on terms that make sense to us. I would like to quote blogger come author of Atomic Habits, James Clear; You can earn from a job, you can learn from a job. Both are best, either is fine and neither is unacceptable.
About the author KG Chagunda
Accounting | Finance | Editor & Writer @ZimStartUpBiz | Non-practicing Blogger |