Should freelancer developers work for “exposure”?

We’ve all been there when starting our freelance journey.

No portfolio. No connections. No guidance.

However, you’re still reaching out to people for work!

One day an email comes your way from a promising client.

They start to pitch the project, and you get excited.

Now it’s time to start the talk about the budget.

“I think this would be a good project for exposure and then we can talk compensation on after the first phase.”

Or

“We have a limited budget right now but… if you can consider this a sweat-equity. Just this one time. When our budget comes in you’ll be on the ground floor!.”

We can’t forget the famous equity play.

“Right now we’re only paying equity, but you get to be on the ground floor of something groundbreaking and ripe for disruption! We’re going to disrupt {insert bs here that they claim to “disrupt”}

Pro tip: Chuckle in your head when someone is trying to upsell you on working for them for free. For. Free.

When starting, I was a victim to all these excuses not to pay me (an many more), and I am here to say it never worked in my favor.

Developers have so many ways to get exposure on your terms.

Not sure how and where? No problem, let toss together a 7-day action plan.

We’ll start on Friday because it’s the best day of the week.

Friday – Decide on a small side project. Seriously, make it small. Something you can timebox for a few hours. Here is a perfect example http://ok-google.io/. It’s an improvement on Google Now docs, and the best part is that it’s just content presently differently.

Saturday – I know, you have a life. But find time actually to sit down and work on the project. Establish a hard stopping point for the basics. I tend to omit all styling from my project to focus the foundation and polish it later.

Sunday – Last day of working on the project. It’s time to polish followed up by sending it to a buddy or two to catch dumb mistakes like typos (I’m horrible at fineding typos). After you had a second pair of eyes, deploy!

Monday – Time to get our “exposure” and tour our new product around! First things first, share with your friends at dev.to

Tuesday – Make a trip to indiehackers.com and get some feedback from there (don’t just copy and paste your post, cater to that audience, same goes for everywhere else)

Wednesday – Jump on LinkedIn and show your more “professional” peers. I know it’s not the most exciting place, but it’s exposure. Last time I posted a small project on there some startup reached out for some freelance work, didn’t have the bandwidth at the time but still, a connection made.

Thursday – Write a small case study on Medium of why you did your project, how you did it and what you plan to do next.

Friday – Have a beer and celebrate. Maybe rinse and repeat?

Fun fact: Comments are not “exposure”. Eyes on the project are exposure. Please don’t base your project success on the amount of interaction, consider it a bonus.

I help developers get into freelance, and I usually tell them to do something like this every other week for three months. They typically stop towards the end of the second month. Usually too busy from the “paid” opportunity from “exposure” from the first month ;).

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