Working for "exposure"

"Barely gettin' by, it's all takin and no givin'. They just use your mind and they never give you credit. It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it. "

- Dolly Parton 9 to 5

There's a dirty word in the business to business world.  It's so dirty that no one will actually say it, yet it doesn't dissuade those from asking for it. 

"Exposure", "Experience", "Resume Building", "Portfolio", "Internship".

No matter how you slice it, it's all the same.

That word is "Free".

The scariest thing about this word is not that no one will use it, but most will ask for it without being aware that they have done so. It's the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing of the business world. And it needs to stop.

When I had my bakery Auntie Loo's, we were constantly asked for freebies, especially for small business events, something I never understood. I had my suspicions about the amount of "exposure" I was actually getting from these events, but being new young and hungry, I always said yes.


That is, until I attended one of these events myself. There were my treats. Destroyed, messy and on a plate in a corner. (Handled roughly by a volunteer, no doubt)  No indication on where they came from, no "exposure". However, They looked so bad from their journey to the event I would have removed an identifying tags if they were on it. The coup de gras was when I saw a garbage can near the table contained my provided promotional materials. About $5 worth. I retrieved them and left, the lesson burned onto my mind.

So here's why you shouldn't work, provide product or promote for free as a small business.

It Sets a Precedent

One of the first things I tell my clients is that Ottawa is a very small place, and doing business here makes it even smaller. Folks around here love to talk and network- it's the best and worst thing about us as a community. If you start off your business cutting deals and handing out freebies, you'll become known as a business owner who is easy to break down. Potential customers and vendors will come to you knowing that's not your "real" price and they can get more out of you for less money, cutting into your much needed profit margins.

Why did you get into business?  

Probably so you could set your own hours and support yourself on your terms. When you set your prices, they are so you can profit and support yourself and your business. When you cut your prices, you're taking away from that.  Your time is valuable and you are a busy person!  If you don't value yourself and your time, nobody else will. Set a precedent and stick to it. 

What about charities? Don't want to be a Grinch?

I hear you. As a small business owner it is vital to give back. A happy medium I found was was by choosing charities and causes in the community I loved and stuck with. I included a section in the FAQ section of my website that outlined my charitable donation policy. Women's rights, LGBTQ and animal rights groups only, 90 days request minimum (I had a budget for each business quarter for charity), and a charitable donation receipt in the value of the goods/ or services for my books. The charities and causes I love got what they needed, and I got a write off. Win, win.

It Hurts Your Peers

It is vital that the small business community present a unified front and standard when it comes to pricing and integrity. By undercutting your peers in the industry, you're dragging the prices and profits down for everyone. Don't be that guy. Everyone's work has value.

They're Not Your Friend

As a quirky kid, I had my share of being teased and picked on by the cool kids. Arriving at home with tears in my eyes, my Mother would always remind me that anyone who was mean to me was not my friend. This lesson is applied here as well. Say it with me now–

Anyone who doesn't want to pay for your product or service is not your customer.

They're a mooch. If they are going to be upset with you for not providing discounted or free items, that's fine because you don't want them. Or anyone they will recommend for that matter. In the digital age, we're all so quick as entrepreneurs to be a people pleaser for fear of online retaliation. There's a huge difference between customer service and being a doormat. Know the difference. It could save your business.

Thank you for reading my first post! Stay tuned for next week when I'll talk about the do’s and do not’s of replying to customers on social media.

Xo, This Charming Mandi

Mandi Lunan