If you’re at all familiar with Daymond’s early career and how he started FUBU, you’re probably scratching your head at the title of this article. You’re sitting there thinking, “FUBU got to be a huge success because Daymond gave his shirts and hats to rappers and dancers so they’d wear them on stage and in videos, right?”

That’s absolutely right, but here’s the thing. Daymond wasn’t giving away his products to customers, and he wasn’t working his fingers to the bone to give them away to just anyone who promised him “exposure.” He worked hard and started making money on his hats and shirts from day one, and he chose the people he gave FUBU merchandise to very carefully. Those were the people he knew were going to get him the exposure he needed to build his brand.

Daymond’s decision to give a few pieces of clothing from his line away to build the first really urban, hip-hop-centric apparel brand was very deliberate, and it’s a far cry from the things people will ask you to do today for “exposure.” So here’s why we tell entrepreneurs never to work for free, no matter what industry they’re in.

YOU CAN’T PAY RENT WITH “EXPOSURE”

Famed actor and sci-fi cultural icon Wil Wheaton just recently wrote a great piece titled ”You Can’t Pay Your Rent With ‘The Unique Platform and Reach Our Site Provides’”, and I love it. To summarize Wheaton’s post, The Huffington Post sent him a message asking if they could repost an article he wrote about how he rebooted his life. He was definitely interested, so he asked how much they would compensate him for publishing his work.

The answer? According to Wheaton, HuffPo wrote back and said, “Unfortunately, we’re unable to financially compensate our bloggers at this time. Most bloggers find value in the unique platform and reach our site provides.” You can guess what Wheaton’s response was to that, right? This man is an established actor and writer, and he’s paid for his intellectual property on a regular basis. Asking him to contribute his work for “exposure” or “reach” was a pretty big insult, and Wheaton took it that way.

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Exposure and reach won’t pay your rent, so taking on free work in exchange for some nebulous promise that “a lot of people will see it” is a bad idea. Not only will you have to continue working your day job to make ends meet, but you’ll also be working on paid projects and unpaid projects, too. That’s a triple workload that you don’t need.

IT’S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO GET OUT OF A FREE TRAP

Likewise, if you do free work for one customer and another finds out, they’re going to want a similar deal. Once you fall into the trap of working for exposure instead of working for money, you’re going to find out just how hard it is to start charging money for your work.

There are times and places for giving away limited supplies of your products at discounted prices or even for free, but don’t trust anyone who wants to barter “exposure” for your products. In my experience, those people almost never bring the value you’re looking for to the table, and it’s a losing proposition for you as an entrepreneur.

Instead, choose your marketing and advertising strategies wisely. Do limited-time offers and free trial periods. Select and approach people to be brand representatives for you. That’s how you get more exposure, not by doing work for free.

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