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‘Free For Exposure’? Is ‘Giving On Empty’ Killing Your Business? The Solopreneur’s Secret Curse [DTDB038]

‘Free For Exposure’? Is ‘Giving On Empty’ Killing Your Business? The Solopreneur’s Secret Curse [DTDB038]
Dare to Dream Bigger

00:00 / 00:23:10

Are you exhausted from ‘giving on empty’? Had enough of ‘free for exposure’?

Check out today’s Dare To Dream Bigger podcast to find out the real reason why we fall into that trap and how you could set yourself free, today:

Clare Josa's podcast - Dare To Dream Bigger - Is available on iTunes

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Thank you!

x Clare

Clare Josa, Author of Dare To Dream Bigger | ‘Inside Work’ Mentor For Entrepreneurs & Passionate World-Changers

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Going solo and setting up your own business felt like such a great idea. Escaping the rat race, having freedom, creating the lifestyle you had been dreaming of, being able to get to the kids’ sports’ days, as well as seeing clients at times to suit you. You were the envy of your colleagues, as you nervously walked away from that near-guaranteed pay cheque. But you felt excited.

Fast-forward a couple of years and reality has, most likely, hit.

You’re working so hard ‘in’ your business that you rarely have time to work ‘on’ it. You’re lucky if you make the school play by the skin of your frazzled teeth and that ‘freedom lifestyle’ has become an 80-hour week.

And everyone seems to want you to give everything away for free.

You used to have regular money coming in but now, if you don’t work, you end up eating your savings.

And you’re sick and tired of being asked to do stuff ‘free for exposure’.

And here’s where the difference between a solopreneur / freelancer and a small business comes in:

When you’re running a business with employees, the pressure to make sure there are funds for their salaries means we take a totally different approach to marketing and freebies. You won’t do anything that could jeopardise the business. And we need to find ways to generate income – to make money – rather than just to earn it from the paid-per-hour model.

But if you’re a coach or a freelancer or a yoga teacher or an interior designer, chances are you’re stuck on the money-for-time model. And you’re likely to feel under pressure to grow your platform – to establish your brand as the go-to-expert in your niche – so you’ll be much more likely to consider ‘free for exposure’ opportunities.

“I thought it would be good exposure for you.”

What has it looked like for you, in the past? I’m curious: what kinds of ‘free for exposure’ requests have you had? (Let me know, via the comments). Some I’ve come across recently (and sometimes done!) include:

  • Keynote at a conference – for free
    A conference organiser recently invited me to present and then told me it would be unpaid, with no travel expenses and would I mind buying my own conference ticket? (Didn’t do that one!)
  • Write professional articles – for free
    There are Big-Name websites that want you to write for free, minimum 1,000 words, but it has to be exclusive content (you can’t even use it on your website). They make it clear they will only accept the ‘best’ articles – which could take a full day to write and edit. And all you’re allowed to mention is your Twitter ID, which is hidden after an advert (for them) at the end – and they even make sure your article won’t be indexed by Google. How does that translate into ‘exposure’?
  • Coach – for free
    Coaches who do hour-long ‘discovery’ calls with potential clients, who accidentally help them enough to get the ‘sticky plaster’ they wanted from the session, so they’re no longer hungry enough to pay for the package.
  • Narrate audio books – for free
    Professional audio book narrators (with a Big-Name self-publishing site) are routinely paid a split of revenue, with no up-front fee. They are then entirely dependent on the amateur marketing talents of the author to get any return on the 30+ hours the narration took them – and they often only net £1 per sale.
  • Write for magazines – for free
    If you’re writing a column for a magazine, you might get to choose between being paid (a token amount) or being able to mention your business.
  • Co-create a programme for international radio – for free
    Even the BBC does it. I heard recently about them asking a small business owner to give up 4 days of her time (you read that right), without even offering travel expenses, to help with a new radio programme, yet with no detail on how this might help her business or what angle they might take. There’s no way the presenter, editor or producer are working unpaid.
  • Bake a hundred cakes – for free
    A baker was asked to provide free cakes to the production team of a multi-million-pound-budget TV show who happened to be filming in her city.
  • Deliver online masterclasses – for free
    It’s common for live online summits to charge attendees for tickets, but with none of the revenue flowing to the presenters. And you’re in with 30 other experts, so by the time people get to your session, they’ll be too overwhelmed to remember your name.
  • Designing services ‘on spec’
    I once did a 3-way pitch for a corporate training gig, only to find my best ideas have been used by their HR team to deliver the course in-house. I was paid nothing. And there was no exposure! And that’s crazily common.

Are you feeling exhausted yet?!

I’m not trying to sound negative about these. But none of them is reasonable. Yet we say yes to ‘free for exposure’ requests, every day.

[Tweet “Are you giving away too much for free? Here’s how it could be hurting your business. #entrepreneur #smallbiz”]

And we do it to ourselves, too, even without being asked.


Would You Stop ‘Moving The Free-Line’ Already?!

Biz-gurus advise us to give our best stuff away for free, promising us that the clients will flow.

No. They. Won’t.



Not unless you’ve been ploughing your mortgage payments into Facebook ads and you have a super-tight, crazily-high-converting funnel or you already have 10,000 hungry fish on your email list.

These guys are forgetting to mention that what works for them won’t work for you.

Why not?

Because they already have 5-figure coaching clients who fund their kids’ shoes!

They can afford to give everything else away for free, in the hope that you’ll be so hungry to be like them that you’ll sign up for their $2k ‘this-fixes-everything-about-your-business’ programme. And enough of us will, to mean they can afford to fund the free stuff.


There’s another problem with this:

They are training our potential clients to expect the world from us – for free.

And we’re playing along with the game.


Are You ‘Giving On Empty’?

We reach a point where we have given so much – be it the newsletter, the podcast, the free 5-day challenges, the mini-video-trainings, the ‘discovery calls’, the interviews, the guest posts, the cheat sheets, the magazine articles, the conferences – that we have emptied our batteries, as well as our bank accounts.

We are out of energy. Out of cash. Out of hope. Ready to give up on our dreams. Feeling like a failure because our business isn’t reflecting the effort we’re putting in.

But we’re not just emptying – we’re filling up.

We fill up on resentment that everyone seems to want everything for free, self-criticism of not being the abundant success we had dreamed of, and full of all the reasons why ‘it’s not fair’.


Seth Godin Has Some Advice For Us

This article was inspired by a super short post from Seth:

Don’t expect much from a drowning man. He’s not going to offer you a candy bar or ask how your day was.

He’s too busy not drowning.

Generosity takes effort.

It requires the space to take your mind off your own problems long enough to see someone else’s.

It requires the confidence to share when a big part of you wants to hoard.

And it requires the emotional labor of empathy.

Generosity begins by trusting ourselves enough to know that we’re not actually drowning.


How often do we pause to consider whether or not we’re drowning, before we give more away for free?

[Tweet “#FreeForExposure Are we pretending that this over-giving is ok, when secretly it’s killing us? #smallbiz #entrepreneur”]


What Drives Us To Give-Until-We’re-Empty?

15 years of mentoring small business owners and passionate world-changers on the ‘inside work’ that makes the difference to our success have shown me it comes down to one little word, with massive power over our business decisions:


We feel scared that:

  • if we say ‘no’, we’ll miss out on the one-last-thing that would have created a breakthrough
  • if we say ‘no’, we’ll get a reputation for being bolshy and no one will want to work with us
  • if we say ‘no’, someone won’t like us any more – we’ll offend them and we’ll feel guilty
  • if we say ‘no’, we’ll be a failure
  • if we say ‘no’, we’ll die in obscurity, eating crackers from supermarket dustbins, never having made the difference we are here to make

As our grandmothers used to say,

“If you don’t value yourself, no one else will.”

See page 122 of Dare To Dream Bigger for more on this.
Search for the quote above, if you have the Kindle version.

This fear has other effects, too:

  • We stop trusting our instincts and do what the ‘experts’ tell us we should be doing – free for exposure stuff
  • It feeds our inner critic, so we start to believe we’re not good enough to be running a business
  • We create a belief that no one wants to pay for anything any more, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – “that’s how it is in my industry!”
  • We give and give and then give some more, to over-compensate for Imposter Syndrome – feeling like a fraud

Like dogs can smell fear, ‘free-for-exposure’ requesters can smell desperation.


Q: Is ‘Free For Exposure’ Ever A Good Idea?

Yes! It can be.

If the opportunity will…

  • genuinely get you in front of your dream audience…
  • sharing your core message, with passion…
  • and there is a tangible way for you to convert that ‘exposure’ into leads…
  • and you have the time and energy to deliver it…
  • and it doesn’t force you to back-burner more important plans…
  • and it feels like a fair ‘energy exchange’…

… then by all means consider it.

[Tweet “Q: Is #FreeForExposure ever a good idea? #entrepreneur #smallbiz #solopreneur”]

Freebies come at a cost.

They take your time, they may even cost you hard cash, they distract you from other work and they may even cause you to change your plans and priorities, to fit them in. They use your energy. You can even end up neglecting your own customers – your Tribe – in order to serve someone else’s or to hopefully reach a new audience, by delivering the promised freebie.

You can end up neglecting your health, as you cram freebies into your ‘spare’ time – and you can even end up seeing less of your loved-ones. And for those of us who have a tendency to be addicted to giving, doing ‘free work for exposure’ is something we are brilliant at justifying, because it meets our need to serve.

Yet if we don’t see the bigger picture and make these yes/no decisions from the space of wearing our ‘Big Girl Boots’, we risk ending up as the doormat for someone else to wipe their own Big Girl Boots on, instead. Like dogs can smell fear, free-for-exposure requesters can smell desperation. So it’s essential to do the ‘inside work’ to get your confidence and congruence sky-high before you hit ‘reply’.

And, at a deeper level, too many freebies – whether for others or in your own business – can make it harder to get paid for your work. The more you do for free, the more people will expect for free. And the more you get a reputation for doing stuff unpaid, the harder it might become for you to justify your usual rates.

By doing what you do best for free – ‘for exposure’ – you are teaching those who could help you connect with your dream audience that you don’t value your own time – or the transformation that your work delivers. Unless you set clear boundaries, it’s really hard to transition from ‘freebies for exposure’ to ‘paid for the value I deliver’.

 How much does a person actually need, to know whether or not they’re a good fit to work with you?


Treat ‘Free For Exposure’ Like A Marketing Expense

Set yourself a ‘freebie marketing budget’. Then when a request comes in, you could treat it like a business transaction – which it is. Look at the genuine cost to you – of your time and any travel, plus any other indirect costs. Remember that you might not be turning away paid clients to do it (or you might), but your time still has a value.

Then, when you have done your homework (see “The Questions You Must Must Must Ask” below), you should be able to figure out what the energy exchange will be. What do you / your business get from this project. How many subscribers might it bring you? How many new clients and customers might you reach?

Then – and it’s a real ‘finger-in-the-air’ thing, I know – does it balance out? If you were going to have to pay someone else to fulfil this commitment for you, out of a hard cash marketing budget, would it make business sense?

And of course the decision doesn’t have to be made just on pennies – you can use your intuition, too. But this simple process can help you to make clearer, more positive, more constructive business decisions – and put an end to you trashing your business through a constant stream of freebies.


Some ‘exposure’ opportunities are genuine once-in-a-lifetime chances that shouldn’t be missed. Others literally suck – they will drain your energy and suck up time like you never imagined!

 So How Do You Spot The Difference?


You need to do your homework – and I’ve got a gorgeous bonus for you in a moment to help you with that. But in the meantime, here are some quick ‘sanity-check’ questions you can ask yourself:

  • Would I offer this opportunity to someone else and think it was genuinely fair, or would my gut tell me I was taking advantage of them?
  • Is this opportunity truly a great fit with where I want to take my business and where my dream customers are hanging out?
  • If I had to pay myself to deliver on this opportunity, would I feel the benefits it brings would be a good investment?
  • Does my Intuition believe that the other person can deliver what they’re promising, or is my sixth sense telling me that they’re bluffing – even a little bit?
  • Does this opportunity move me towards my 5-10 year business / life vision?
  • If I were an expert in my field, would I say ‘yes’ to this offer?
  • If your answer is ‘no’ to any of these, then you should think carefully, before saying ‘yes’.


So often we say ‘yes’ because we’re lacking clarity over our Big Vision, our Dream Audience, or we don’t have a strategic marketing and visibility action plan. Or maybe we’re just scared of saying ‘no’. But I want to let you in on a secret:

Those who complain about you giving less away for free would probably never have bought from you, anyway. So let them go.


Want To Know Why You’re Falling Into The ‘Free For Exposure’ Trap?

Awareness is the first key to change, as Carl Jung said.

Want to know the real reasons why you’re doing it?

How about thinking about a recent ‘free for exposure’ commitment you made, which doesn’t feel right, and then completing the statement below, with at least 7-10 answers:

I did it, because…

Are any of those ‘because’ answers fear-based?

If yes, you need to release those hidden fears, to set yourself free from working for nothing.

Stuck on how to do that? My online course “How To Ditch A Limiting Belief In Under 5 Minutes” is a great help.


And I’ve got a workbook for you on this.

It contains the must-ask questions that you need to get answers to, before you say ‘yes’ to working for free. I have collected these over the past 15 years of running my business and the mistakes I have made! I’d love to shortcut that learning curve for you.

The energy exchange for this (it’s not a freebie!) is joining my weekly-ish Dare To Dream Bigger newsletter. I hope you’ll love it, but you can opt out at any time, if you don’t.

Get Your Free Workbook:

Download Your Workbook Now

Click the image to read it online or right click this link and choose ‘save as’ or ‘download’ (or similar), so you have it with you, whenever you need it.

Want To Fix The Free-For-Exposure Habit?

If you’ve got my latest book – Dare To Dream Bigger: The ‘Inside Work’ Handbook For Entrepreneurs & Passionate World-Changers – then you can dive in and get started on key causes of ‘free for exposure’ in the following sections:

  • Imposter Syndrome – how to set yourself free from feeling like a fraud – hardback page 191 – Kindle: search ‘imposter syndrome’
  • Secondary Gain – the reason why making change can be so hard – hardback page 83 – Kindle: search ‘secondary gain’
  • Getting clarity over your Big Vision, your Dream Audience and the value you add – Step 1 – Kindle: search ‘Step 1’
  • Visibility Action Plan – how to establish yourself as the go-to-expert in your niche – hardback page 177 – Kindle: search ‘Step 3’
  • Connecting with your intuition – hardback page 213 – Kindle: search ‘Intuition’


Sick Of Sticky Plasters For This?

Join me for my up-coming mastermind:

“Free For Exposure?”
How to charge what you’re worth, without selling your soul.

It’s a 3-month programme with a one-day workshop in the middle, with only 10 places. You’ll get to deep-dive on the root causes of why you’ve been ‘giving on empty’, discover how to communicate the value you add in ways your dream audience will love, and set yourself free from running your business on fear.

To get on the waiting list for this programme, register here:

Tell Me More About The Mastermind:

And There’s More: Are You Blocking Your Business Abundance?

The more we give stuff away for free, especially if we resent it, the more we’re telling the Universe (engineer-approved woo-woo alert!) that we’re happy not to be paid – that we don’t value our work.

This causes us to block our business abundance.

If you’d like to find out whether you’re blocking your business abundance, I’ve got a quiz for you, below, with the option to join me for a 5-day mini-training, to help you spot and clear out those Business Abundance Blocks. Are you in? Click the button below to find out:

Take The Business Abundance Blocks Quiz


I’d Love To Hear From You

Have you been falling into the ‘freebie trap’?

What might you do differently now?

How could you set yourself free from the fear that drives us giving on empty?


Loved This – Could You Help Spread The Word?

Do you know anyone else who might find this article useful? Please share it with them, wherever passionate world-changers might be hanging out.

With love, Namaste,

Clare Josa, Author, Speaker, ‘Inside Work’ Mentor

P.S. Could you be an ‘introverted entrepreneur’? Take this quick quiz to find out whether you have the 3 hidden strengths that introverts bring to running a small business.


About the Author Clare Josa

Clare Josa sets Passionate World Changers free from Imposter Syndrome and their secret 3am fears, so they can make the difference they are really here to make in the world. She is the author of five life-changing books, including the much-loved Dare to Dream Bigger. Her sixth book and debut novel, You Take Yourself With You, has been described by readers as 'unputdownable'.

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