Katie Barnes
Katie Barnes

‘Free exposure’ doesn’t pay the bills… or does it?

By Katie Barnes | 23 August 2022 | Business, Expert Advice, Feature

Nails Money Exposure

If you’re a creative of some kind, whether a nail tech, educator or content creator, then you’ve probably come across the offer of exposure for free work. More often than not, this request comes from a successful, well established individual or business. The paradox is, if they are so successful, then why can’t and won’t they pay you?

Now there are times of course, where this can be beneficial, and we will weigh those up later in this post.

Why you shouldn’t work for free

The first step is to value yourself, your skills, and your time. And remember, even if you don’t think you’re the best, it is a profession not a hobby. I get it, it’s flattering when a big company or well-known individual notices your work and wants to work with you – but that does not mean they should expect it for free. They liked your work enough to notice you and want to work with you so that should be valued.

The concept that exposure is some sort of commodity that has a monetary value is nonsense and it doesn’t exist, and we as an industry need to stand up to this.

Certainly, in circumstances where you are involved in a project that is creating something to be sold or charged to a customer by that brand or individual, you should be paid for your work. And not a small fee that they set, but for your time and expertise at their full value – and not a commission where they stand to gain more than you for your skills.

If that niggling voice in the back of your head is making you feel resentful about the work you’re carrying out, or you’re spending too much time on the task, then it’s probably time to say no.

When is it beneficial to work for free?

On the flip side, there is a time when giving something for free does have value to you, but you need to pick this wisely. And to determine this may be a case of trial and error.

Now, I have and still do a lot of work in this industry without payment out of choice because it benefits my business model, but I have also been taken advantage of on numerous occasions at the profit of someone else, and I have learned the hard way.

Are you giving up your weekend to work on stands at trade shows? Creating nail video lessons for other companies – yet only they profit from it? Are you advertising someone else’s products at their request and getting nothing but exposure or an unpaid title out of it? Or are you doing someone’s nails or giving away a product for a social media shout out?

If you are doing these, consider and who it is truly benefiting.

Full transparency. Do I get paid for these posts? No. Is it beneficial to me and my business model? Yes. And this is where you need to choose what truly will benefit you and your business and how what might benefit one tech, may not benefit another.

Another example is that I am a competition judge, and this is unpaid. Should this be paid? Absolutely! But I coach techs to enter nail competitions so being a judge is beneficial to me to coach others.

I once got asked to do Rihanna’s nails. Exciting, right? With a few hours’ notice, I was expected to cancel my loyal paying clients for the evening, drive an hour to the venue and do her nails. What did I get for that? Nothing. No payment, no exposure and was forbidden from taking any photos or posting about it but I was expected to be grateful for the opportunity of doing a celebrity’s nails. When I turned this down, the shock in her manager’s voice was apparent. Not so exciting at all! I valued my skills and customers.

It is important to weigh up what is beneficial to your nail business and understand when you are unfortunately just being exploited and taken advantage of for the profit of others. It is OK to say no!

Working with influencers and giveaways

I am sure you have come across those who ask for free products from the promise of exposure – some with hundreds of thousands of followers, others with just 100. My personal experience of these seeking freebies? That is all they are after. They may only do one post about it and that’s it – and they have a free product. If you want to work with influencers, I recommend selecting those that have the same values as you, your same target audience and putting together guidelines and expectations of what they are expected to post and achieve in return for their free product. Get to know them first and build a relationship, to gauge how they post and if they are someone you want to work with.

When doing giveaways, exposure is nice and followers are flattering but if those followers are not your target audience, they are pointless.

You always want to offer value and encourage your target audience as followers. These are the people who will engage, create relationships, and buy from you.

Now, I am not perfect, but I am getting better at saying no, because while I love helping techs achieve success, at the end of the day I am running a business and bills aren’t getting any cheaper. I think it’s time this industry and more so, larger companies stepped up and paid for work that has been done and they are requesting. If we work together and value ourselves, we can help set a precedent.

Love Katie B x