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Do you ever barter for exposure?Working for exposure. That thought is the bane of most designers. A client asks you to use your valuable time and skills to benefit them. And in exchange, they’ll tell everyone they know about the great services you offer. It’s a win-win for both of you. They promise you fame and fortune if only you do this project for them… for free, or at a vast discount.
It’s a crock full of s**t if you ask me or any other designer who’s ever been presented with a similar offer. Those clients don’t care about you. And they will never be advocates for your services. If they do tell someone about you, it will be in the context of “offer them exposure, and they’ll give you a great deal.” Is that really the reputation you want as a designer? of course it isn’t.
You should never agree to a request to exchange your services for exposure. But that’s not the same thing as you bartering for exposure.
Let me ask you a question. You’ve probably spent some if not a great deal of time stuck at home during the 2020 pandemic. During that time, did you ever order out for a meal?
How many times did you order from a restaurant you had never heard of before? I don’t mean a place you recently found out about through family, friends or colleagues. How many times did you order from a restaurant you’ve never heard of?
Of course, that’s a trick question. If you’ve never heard of a place, how are you supposed to order from them? The same applies to your design business. Nobody is going to hire you if they don’t know you exist.
Sure they can google designers in your area and stumble across your website. That might be all they need to reach out. But there has to be some intent for that to happen. The person needs to be seeking a designer.
But how can you let that person know about you and your services if they are not currently seeking a designer? The only way is through exposure.
What is exposure?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of exposure is:
the fact or condition of being exposed: such as the condition of being presented to view or made known.
In other words, getting exposure means making people aware of your design business. And once people are aware of you and what you can offer them. They are much more likely to think of you the next time they need a designer.
Think about it. If you wanted to order a pizza and, for some reason, your regular place is closed. Wouldn't you order from the next place you’re most aware of?
Would you order from a pizza joint you had never heard about and just found through a google search? Or would you choose the pizza place whose ads you’ve seen over and over, who’s commercials you’ve seen or heard, who’s delivery vehicles you’ve spotted around town?
Chances are you would choose the one you are most familiar with, even though that familiarity is only perceptual since you’ve never eaten one of their pizzas before. You would choose them because you’ve been exposed to them.
There’s a whole industry based upon this principle of exposure. It’s called advertising.
Needless to say, the more you get your name out there, so people become familiar with you and what you do, the more successful your design business will become.
But how do you get your name in front of people without spending a truckload of money on advertising? You barter for exposure.
I talked about bartering in episode 47 of the podcast. In that episode, I talked mostly about bartering for goods. For example, I acquired my custom-built desk through bartering. I designed a website for a woodworking client in exchange for him building my desk. As a result, I only had to pay for the wood. That’s bartering. Exchanging one good or service for another without the exchange of money.
Bartering for exposure works on the same principle, except instead of getting a physical product or service back, you are compensated for your time and effort through exposure. That exposure can come in many forms, but they all come down to a form of advertising.
Case study #1
Every year I design a T-Shirt, free of charge, for a local children’s dance studio. I make money by brokering the printed shirts, but I have never charged her for the design on the shirt. In exchange, I get a full-page ad in their yearly dance recital program. This gives me exposure to hundreds of people every year.
We’ve had this arrangement ever since I started my design business. Without fail, in the weeks following the dance recital, I’m almost guaranteed to get at least one and oftentimes several inquiries from parents of the dancers saying they saw my ad in the program.
Case study #2
Our city used to host one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in North America until it folded a few years ago. The festival was one of my biggest clients. I did all sorts of design work for them, and it paid very well.
One of the arrangements I made with them early on was that I would offer them a discount for being listed as one of the event sponsors.
As a sponsor of the event, my logo was prominent in all their marketing. It also appeared on the fence surrounding the festival grounds, and it appeared on the baskets of one of the hot air balloons. Every time that ballon went up, you could see my logo on the basket. It was giving me exposure.
Case study #3
Every year our local fire hall hosts a firefighter challenge. Firefighters from all over the region come to compete.
When they hired me to be their designer, I suggested a deal. I would max their bill at five hours of work, regardless of how much time I actually spent on their job. In exchange, I would be listed as a Bronze sponsor of the event, which meant my logo showed up on all their promotional material, giving me more exposure.
Case study #4
A few years ago, I was asked to design something for a charity Christmas fundraiser. They had a dozen or so fully decorated Christmas trees they were auctioning off.
They didn’t have a lot of money and were asking for a discount. However, it was a good cause, so I suggested that they place a sign in front of one of the trees listing me as the sponsor for that tree in exchange for my services.
They thought it was such a good idea that they found sponsors for all the trees. I have no idea how much they charged for the spots, but mine didn’t cost me anything but my time. And it gave me great exposure.
Case study #5
The last story I want to share with you is about a local theatre company. I built their website and designed the posters, ads, tickets and other marketing material for every play they put on.
I was brokering all the print material. When I noticed the theatre company's tickets were only printed on one side, I made them an offer. I asked them to allow me to put an ad for my design business on the back of the tickets In exchange for free website hosting. I agreed to pay the difference in print costs which worked out to nothing since I made money on the print brokering.
For every play they put on, every ticket holder saw my ad. Over the years, I gain many new clients through that exposure.
I think you get the point.
In each of these cases, I took advantage of a way to get my name in front of more people. The more people who saw it, the better the chance they would call me the next time they needed a designer or the better the chance they would pass my name along the next time they heard of someone needing a designer.
Just like for a restaurant to succeed, people have to know about it. So likewise, your design business cannot succeed if people aren’t aware of you. And one of the easiest ways to gain exposure is to take advantage of your current clients and barter a way to get your name out there.
Even if each method only brings in one or two clients, they are clients you wouldn’t have had otherwise. And the more you do it, the more it adds up. So whenever you have the opportunity, I suggest you barter for exposure.
Resource of the week MailChimp
A great way to gain exposure is through a newsletter.
Exposure isn’t just for people who don’t know about you. Exposure helps those familiar with you keep you top of mind for the next time they require your services.
My favourite tool for creating a newsletter is MailChimp. I won’t lie. I like them because their free plan lets you have up to 2000 contacts, which means you can go a long way into building your mailing list before it starts costing you anything.
Although many options are not available on MailChimp’s free plan, I think it’s a great way to start.
When you eventually outgrow the free plan, you can then decide if you want to upgrade to one of MailChimp’s paid plans. Or if you want to export your list and move to a different email marketing platform.
I would love to hear from you. You can send me questions and feedback using my feedback form.
I want to help you.
Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org