5 Reasons to Never Work for Exposure

Holly Riddle
2 min readAug 11, 2021
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Recently, I told a publication that I just couldn’t work at their rates. With how much work each article needed for this national magazine, I was making near minimum wage. After taxes, I was definitely making below it.

The publication’s response? Do it for your portfolio.

Here’s where their argument fell short and why (or when) you should never do work for your portfolio’s sake.

1. You have more work than you know what to do with.

This is where I currently find myself. I’m admittedly a workaholic and I’m constantly pitching and taking on new clients. It’s a problem. I currently have way too much work on my plate and I’m working way more than I want to. If you’re in the same position, why do something that’s not going to make you the rate you deserve for all that effort?

2. You need to pay your bills.

You could, though, be in the other camp. You could have too little work and you’re struggling to make ends meet. In those cases, why not focus your energy on what’s going to pay you top dollar for your time, versus devoting a large chunk of time to something that’s not paying you well? While you may want that exposure, it’ll never pay your bills.

3. You may not actually need help improving your portfolio.

When a client tells you to do work to improve your portfolio, that assumes they know your goals for your portfolio. Maybe you do some food writing on the side, but what you really want to do is work on marketing copy for tech startups. A byline from Food & Wine isn’t going to help your portfolio.

4. Most of the time, the client is bluffing.

This is the oldest trick in the book. It’s how companies get interns to work for free. “Experience.”

Please. Value yourself more, because the client isn’t doing it. If they did value you, they’d pay you more.

5. A robust portfolio isn’t everything.

It’s true! This all ties into your freelancer goals. Is your goal to become a renowned journalist with your name in all the top pubs in your niche? Then, by all means, do something for exposure.

If, however, your goal is to make more money, in less time, while working for yourself (as it is mine), who cares about your portfolio? You can make more writing for the little guys than you can the NYT (and that’s a promise).

Holly Riddle is a freelance travel, lifestyle and food journalist and copywriter who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her Twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.



Holly Riddle

Content creator, full-time freelancer. Passionate about non-traditional careers. Published thousands of articles for hundreds of clients.