How to Dissuade Low-ball Offers of “Exposure” for Creative Work

Online dealings have introduced independent contractors to the barrier that being promised “exposure” presents. 

Particularly for creative pursuits, a client’s promise of market exposure is consistently being positioned as a replacement for monetary compensation. The promise of exposure never seems to just be a bonus of doing good business, but a bargaining tool to lower the contractor’s asking price. 

This article aims to help you in navigating a business negotiation in which a client attempts to substitute monetary compensation with the promise of exposure. 

Setting the Expectation of Getting Paid for Your Work From the Get Go

Notwithstanding whether you reach out to a potential client or they reach out to you for a service, you need to disclose your requirements to be paid for your work early. 

In hoping to set a good first impression, independent contractors such as yourself often wait too long prior to laying down their expectations in a clear and concise manner. Building too much rapport prior to unveiling compensation requirements commonly goes on to hurt the contractors attempting to build a good business relationship. 

Do not shy away from being straightforward in a business interaction. Whether your pitch gets accepted or not, being early, clear, and direct with your expectations surrounding your work is the right move to make. 

There are simple ways to bring up your expectations of being compensated for your work early in an interaction. If you’re the one reaching out to a potential client, your compensation expectation needs to be tagged onto the description of the services you provide. 

For example, if providing web design services: 

“Thanks for your response. I wanted to reach out to you after visiting your site and being a fan of your work. I see opportunities to further improve the aesthetic of your project and will be delighted to put my skills to use for you. My hourly rate is $44 USD. Please see my portfolio on my personal blog (link).” 

If the client reached out for the web design service themselves: 

“I appreciate your interest in my work. I can definitely put my skills to good use on your site. Just so you know, the service will be paid, and charged at $44 USD / hour. Does that sound good to you?” 

The early mention of your expectation to be paid for your work can be performed whilst still remaining cordial and professional. Never hesitate to mention the topic of money being exchanged for services you provide. 

The Easy Route: Don’t Use Integrity or Self Respect As Negotiation Tools

A go to pillar of reasoning you’ll be motivated to rely on while addressing requests for free work is one which cites the integrity you have in your work. You’d feel a need to explain the lack of self respect you’d exhibit if you were to accept an offer to work for nothing. 

The integrity you have in your work will seem like a good swayer of opinion. It would be a simple attempt at expressing your feelings about the offer, and will constitute a plea for compassion from the prospective client. 

Negotiating to charge a monetary fee by citing your integrity not allowing you to accept an offer to work for “exposure,” will introduce an unnecessary point to the process of negotiation. Your integrity pushing you to be paid for your work would have previously had nothing to do with the interaction. As soon as you mention your feelings about integrity and self respect, you rely on your listener/client to acknowledge that notion. 

By citing your integrity not allowing you to accept such an offer, you place your integrity up for judgment by the other party. You unknowingly set yourself up to be vulnerable. Your client’s rejection would no longer signify their simple lack of desire to pay for your service, but would also communicate your perceived integrity to be worthless to them. You’d come out of the interaction without a deal as well as having your integrity disrespected.  

The elements you introduce to your negotiations with others will be placed on a vulnerable pedestal. You’d hope that your integrity, self respect, and any other variable you use will be respected by prospective clients. You’ll not only place your client in an uncomfortable position to potentially reject your self worth, but will also cause yourself unneeded pain during any of those potential rejections. 


Segment, Then Make a Quantitative Case 

The habit of not resorting to your feelings about pride and self worth in negotiations with potential clients will build a useful skill. In disciplining yourself in such a way, you’ll find the need to make claims which are grounded in quantitative fact. Without having your feelings and vague, unverifiable experience guide your negotiation with a client who seeks to underpay; quantifying your work will be an only out. 

Take a look at the service you provide and attempt to segment it into portions which can be assigned an individual dollar amount to. You can segment a project into hours, pages, words, or even letters. Segment it into parts, phases, or stages. Retrace the steps you’ll have to take in providing a potential service or solution as granularly as you can manage. Then, begin assigning monetary amounts to work required in each of the segments you end up with. 

Segmenting your work will provide several advantages in your price negotiations. Your total prices will be difficult to poke holes in as you’d have a documented, quantifiable, series of steps which amount to that total. You’d be able to show your prospective clients a breakdown of the work they seek to be completed, and their worries about being cheated at a price will be easier to tame. 

In addition, you’ll be held accountable for any gouges in pricing from your end. The habit of segmenting your work into as granular of a series of steps as you can will rid you of any tendencies to inflate prices. You’ll keep yourself honest and would be able to walk into negotiations confident that you don’t have anything to hide. Don’t consider this as an advocacy to charge less than you deserve for your work. Rather, consider this step as a confidence builder for sticking to the price you’ve come up with for your services. 

Be Quick to Walk, but Always in a Respectful Manner 

The individual for whom it is easier to walk away from a negotiation, more often gets what they want from it. 

Especially early on in your career, you’ll find it difficult to walk away from projects in which you’d be underpaid. You’d weigh the option of not having work against working for an embarrassingly low rate, and will often decide to be underpaid. 

That decision is entirely yours to make based on the circumstances around you. 

However, be careful in building a habit of settling for being consecutively underpaid. Like anything else in life, after you settle a few times, it’ll become the new normal. It’ll become less painful for you to be underpaid the more you are. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself stuck in a cyclical trap of being underpaid for your work going forward. You’ll begin questioning whether your work isn’t deserving of the price which is optimal in your opinion, and may even go on to question your skill in the specific field which you provide services in. 

Consider whether it makes sense to walk away from deals in which you’d be underpaid simply for the sake of not building a habit of accepting unsatisfactory deals. Though it may seem to be a trivial worry when you have nothing better coming in, understand the power that being willing to walk away carries in negotiations. 

When you arm yourself with the solid belief that you’d walk away from a deal which doesn’t meet your standards, you’ll start coming out of negotiations with more success. The clients you negotiate with will not be able to capitalize on a tone of desperation eminiting from your proposals. Your perspective will be rock solid in its expectation of coming out of the negotiation on your terms, and your presentation will seem to be backed by years of experience being paid what you deserve. 

When you don’t get a deal you’re happy with and decide to walk away from it, don’t do it in a flamboyant manner. It was not personal. 

Simply state that the offer presented doesn’t meet your standards at this time and that you look forward to possibly working together in the future. Frame the situation in which you walk away from as simply two people’s expectations not aligning at this moment in time, but always leave space for them to align in the future. Thank the individual you negotiated with for their time, and never take a low-ball offer personally. 


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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.