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Working for exposure vs a skills swap
Here's what I've learned about working for 'free'
There is always a lot of discussion in self-employed groups and circles about working for 'exposure'. It’s come to mind again after the news story about a bakery asked to provide cake(s) in return for exposure.
I’ve talked about this before, after an audio went round with the line 'Exposure doesn't pay the bills'. And it doesn't. But there is something to say for skills swaps and working with other people with your business future in mind.
I've also been honest about this in the past - I have written blog posts for free, as I do believe there are times that it can benefit you. That's when it's about a skills swap rather than just a 'can you do this, we'll tell people you did it' scenario.
The sites I've written them for have large readerships and the posts help establish me and my writing to a new audience when I was moving away from lifestyle journalism and towards writing about careers and business.
There's also the thing a lot of journalists forget - that we always ask experts for quotes in return for a link or mention!
All of my podcast guests – from the very celebby to the ‘ordinary’ have given their time and expertise for ‘free’ in return for a big shout out from me. I’ve been so grateful to them all. It’s expanded my knowledge, experience, and laughter lines as well as helping those out there who have listened to the pod, too.
I was, as a journalist, so closed off to anything other than being paid for my work. Entering the world of coaching, and I began to see how skills swaps worked. As a trainee, I exchanged my coaching sessions (where I was still learning my craft) with everything from some handmade knitted socks and an embroidered purse, to coaching from other trainees all the way through to design services.
Delving into skills swaps in particular, of course, it's not OK to be asked to provide what you offer just in return for social media likes and posts. That's not a swap. That's 'do your thing for us, and we'll tell people'. That should be a given, right?
But the skills swap is a key part of the freelance world, and one I am often approached about as a coach.
There are three key things I think small businesses need to ask themselves if they're asked to skill swap (which can feel like being asked to work for free):
1) Is the swap a like-for-like financially? Does what they're offering cost the same as what you offer? If not, negotiate on what you're getting.
2) Does what you're being offered work for you? It might be fab to be offered something in return for your skills, but do you want the thing? Is it something you'll enjoy, and that will help you? If not, say politely that you're not really in the market for that and you'd prefer to offer your services at your rates to them.
3) What leverage does it give? This brings us back to that 'exposure' word. Some exposure can be good (I think, anyway!). It's about how you leverage that, too. Is it a collaboration or swap that will open doors for you and your business?
Finally, ask yourself if there is learning in the swap. It might be that you're offered a chance to learn something from someone else - eg swapping your skill for their training. That can be something that pays back over and over.
I guess it’s about whether you’re prepared to give a slice of your cake in return for a slice of theirs…