Should You Work for Free in Exchange for Exposure?

As an entrepreneur, it's easy to walk the line between I'm-fine-and-everything-is-successfully-running-smoothly and Oh-my-god-I'm-on-the-brink-of-failure. I debated admitting this because I fear I'm the only person who struggles with this. Almost nine years as a business owner and there are mornings I wake up and worry my career was a cosmic joke and I'll end up working in a cubicle again. On days such as this, I'm vulnerable and susceptible to pretty much anything. Want to sell me Magic Business Beans? I'd likely buy and plant them. Or eat them if they were pink.

A few weeks ago–on a day I woke up and worried I wasn't hustling enough–I received an email from an event producer asking me to shoot an event for free, but promised it would be “amazing exposure”. Whenever someone uses these words, I immediately cringe. While exposure can be a beautiful thing, let's not fake the funk: I'm being asked to work for free.

If you're just starting out in business, I'd highly suggest accepting projects for exposure (as I did), because it's an effective way to build a portfolio and increase demand. But there comes a time in a business when you've set yourself up to not depend on those types of jobs. Many of us have spent years developing our craft, trying to stay afloat…we have invested time, energy, and money learning how to be professionals in a competitive industry. So it's time to own our hard work.

I'm not entirely against working for free (if it's a unique project, allows me to be autonomously creative, gets my work in a desirable market, or connects me with a quantifiably larger platform, I'll consider it), but I need to find solace in knowing I've proven myself as an entrepreneur and photographer. I want to work with individuals who value my work and time…I wish the same for us all. Without the need of Magic Business Beans.