November 10th, 2008
Despite the fact that I’ve gone from greenhorn to grizzled veteran in my 16 years as a freelancer, I receive calls and e-mails like the following at least once a month:
“We really love your work. And we have a great opportunity for you at our exciting new media venture.”
“We’re launching a new Web site/magazine/start-up and we’d love to have you do some consulting work for us. For free.”
My hopeful client will then explain that his or her company is poised to be the next Google or that some former “Apprentice” contestant who’s long since faded into oblivion is on the advisory board. All this is meant to butter me up for the next line, which happens to be the sentence in the self-employment lexicon that I hate the most:
“It will be great exposure for you.”
No one ever filled a gas tank or bought groceries with exposure. The 20.9 million Americans working as consultants, freelancers, small-business owners and independent contractors are not keeping a roof overhead by getting paid in exposure, or “PIE,” as I’ve taken to calling it.
But writers, illustrators and other creative types aren’t the only ones who routinely get asked to donate their time and talents to clients devoid of outsourcing budgets. Business consultants, virtual assistants, bookkeepers, programmers, publicists and all other manner of self-employed professionals get offered platefuls of PIE, too.
Sometimes the PIE — with all its promise of fame and fortune at some vague date on the horizon — will sound pretty delicious, especially if the economy’s in the gutter like it is now. Sometimes you’ll convince yourself that a little sliver of PIE couldn’t possibly hurt your bottom line. But usually these gigs are as empty as the calories at your favorite bakery counter.