Starting your own creative business and working for yourself is a tough road to navigate. In the beginning, it can be especially hard if a big brand comes to you and offers “exposure” for your work as compensation and for you to NOT accept it because, well, it is a big brand.
But, uh, how do I pay my bills in exposure?
Here’s the thing though: that brand, more than likely, can afford to hire you.
For some reason, creative jobs are often undervalued. Maybe that’s because creativity is subjective. Or, people seem to think we just have all these ideas and have nothing but fun all day—which is definitely not the case.
Either way, you’ll find companies wanting you to work for free. But there’s better ways to gain exposure for yourself without working for free.
Here’s some of my favorite ways to gain exposure for my work.
1. Create work for yourself
Start personal projects of the work that you want to make. Creating passion work is a great way to show your skills. You don’t have to worry about any limitations of a creative brief and can direct what kind of work comes your way.
Do you have a corporate portfolio and want to work with more fun clients? Create whimsical work that reflects those brands’ aesthetic. Do you want to create illustrations for children’s books? Make your own book mockup. Are you a newborn photographer looking to get into weddings instead? Network with someone that will allow you to gain experience as a second shooter and start filling your portfolio with that work instead.
You get the idea—show off what you can do! Build those skills you need by creating work that makes your soul sing.
This is actually how I kickstarted my business. Even to this day, I continually create new work to keep the momentum going and to help me stay creative.
2. Show off your work
No one’s going to know about your work if you don’t share it, so get out there on social media and spread the word!
Some of the platforms I have the most success with, personally, are Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Depending on your type of work, it may be different for you. Experiment and see which ones bring you the most work.
But don’t just post your work and call it a day—actively engage with others who are interested in your work. You never know, they could very well become your next client!
3. Share your knowledge
Start a blog to build your brand awareness and share your expertise. Just because you’re starting out doesn’t mean you don’t know anything! 😜
If you’re a letterer, maybe you could share some insight to your process. If you’re a designer, post about basic design elements or picking out color schemes. See what kind of content resonates with your audience and produce more content in that direction.
Utilize search engine optimization (SEO) so you have greater chances showing up in a Google search. If you find it difficult to dedicate yourself to writing a blog, take it in small chunks at a time. Write for 30 minutes everyday, and by the end of the week you’ll have a fresh article to share!
Once you’re published your article, share it on your social networks (Pinterest is fantastic for this).
4. Donate your skills
Choose a non-profit organization you like and create a little work for them! I love this option because not only are you doing a good service to your community, but also getting experience working with clients. What’s also great about donating your skills is that, most of the time, non-profits tend to be very open to your creativity.
Before getting to work, however, it’s important that you list out the exact objectives and deliverables of the project. When there’s no money involved, it’s easy for a project to get out of hand. This will protect both you and the client and ensure that doesn’t happen.
You can reach out to your favorite non-profit via email, or you could make an online form that allows non-profits to apply to work with you. It’s up to you!
5. Collaborate with similar artists
Partnering up with other artists is a great way to introduce yourself to their audience and vice-versa. It can be as simple as sending them a message on social media or emailing them.
You don’t have to be in-person to collaborate with an artist, you can do it remotely too! Here’s a great example of a collaboration that does just that.
Find other creatives that have a similar (but not same) audience to yours. If your work is too different, then their audience may not take interest.
6. Reach out to brands you’d like to work with
When you’re first starting out, more than likely you’ll have to make the first move before brands start coming to you.
Start by creating a list of ideal brands or clients you’d like to work with. Then, narrow that list down and put them in order from the least to the most important.
Begin pitching to the least important contacts—this will help you gain a little confidence and refine your pitching process. By the time you get to those more important contacts, you’ll have your pitching process nailed down!
It’s very important to ensure you’re directly emailing the correct contact—doing so shows that you’ve done your homework and are serious. Remember to keep your email short and concise; the quicker you can get your ideas across, the better. Check out this article for more details on crafting that perfect pitch!
7. Get those referrals!
When you finish a job, don’t be afraid to check in with them a month later to see how they’re doing and ask for a referral—this is by far the easiest way to get your name out there!
This is why it’s important to put your heart and soul into every project that you do—even if it’s not the highest paying job ever. The better results you can provide for your clients, the more likely they are to refer you and keep coming back for more.
The best way to gain exposure, without working for free, is to consistently create new work for yourself and share it. Connect with other artists and collaborate with them so you can get your work in front of a new audience. And don’t forget to get personal, too! Craft up that perfect email to your favorite non-profit, dream clients, or even past clients. Getting your name out there is not an overnight task, but with some consistency, pro-activity, and patience you’ll be surprised how much you can do with so little—and without working for free!
Do you have any other tips and methods for gaining exposure? I’d love to know in the comments below!