I received this email Avdi Grimm, author of several books and the creator of Ruby Tapas. He received a request for an on-camera interview while attending a conference. Given his limited time and a need to meet up with colleagues, opportunity cost was high.
It's a common question so I thought I'd share my framework for whether an opportunity to share your expertise for free is really worth it.
Everyone loves to talk about exposure.
Let me be a bit more precise. People who are trying to entice you to give them more page views tout exposure or bolster their program, over-emphasize it. But will more exposure really help? Should you ignore opportunity cost or forgo short-term income for the promise of long-term gain?
The answer is…it depends. The lure of exposure can absolutely just be bait to lure you in. But the right exposure, at the right place, at the right moment can give much needed momentum. That’s what makes it so tricky.
How do you know when an opportunity is simply bait vs a career changer?
My framework has two parts. The first part, Why Exposure Might Be Worth It, focuses your internal motivations. The second, the Exposure Checklist, focuses on the external aspects of an opportunity.
Why Exposure Might Be Worth It
Other exposure opportunities are a bit murkier. While you may not get new clients as a result, guest blogging, speaking and being interviewed on a podcast can all be fantastic ways of making new audience aware of you.
I’m not suggesting you take every opportunity. When just getting started, you might decide to take just about any outlet that offers. Once you’ve gained a bigger foothold with your intended audience, be more selective about the invitations you accept.
Before agreeing to do something for exposure only, you need to carefully consider what you want to get out of it. Knowing what you want out of an interview, guest blog post, speaking gig or podcast can mean the difference between an aimless waste of time and one that helps you achieve important business goals.
Expanding your audience is critical when you’re launching a business or product. This might be a good reason you’d be open to exposure. Posting on your Twitter feed, Facebook page or on your blog often reaches the same audience over and over again. If you want to sell more products, you’re going to need reach new people.
This is especially good for speaking or podcast opportunities. If you have a new book coming out but you haven’t talked about the material publicly much yet, you may want to take an interview at a smaller outlet to give you a chance to practice your talking points. This will help you figure out the pull quotes (i.e. phrases or quotes that can be used in articles, or on social media). It can also help you understand what most resonates with your audience.
Partnering with like-minded people and companies can be great for your brand — and your business. A few hours of your time is worth it for a company that’s a perfect fit, sending leads your way.
A real life example.
I’m in the midst of writing a series of books so I’m open to new audiences. When asked to be on personal profitability podcast for people who have side projects, I said yes to practice and because it was a new audience. I also wrote an article for Fast Company which ended up being shared 5,000 times. The opportunity cost for writing that piece was well worth it.
Whatever your reasons are for speaking, taking an interview, doing a podcast or writing a guest post, make sure you're clear about why you're doing it. If you don’t have a good reason, question why you accepted the opportunity. It might be an ego thing or an inability to say no.
Taking every opportunity willy nilly can also indicate a lack of understanding about who you serve, how you solve their problem and how you're different. This is known as positioning. When you're clear about your position, it's easy to name prospects, podcasts, publications or conferences that are a good fit. If you're not clear about your positioning, all the exposure in the world isn't going to make a difference. When it comes to opportunities for exposure, alignment is everything.
Here are 7 things to look at when considering an opportunity.
Even if an outlet has a reach of a million, if the audience isn’t a good fit, don’t waste your time. If they don’t mention their audience in their invitation, be sure to ask before accepting unless you already know the outlet. You might accept an opportunity if you're looking to expand and the outlet is adjacent to your core audience. For example, if you work primarily with rubyists but would like to branch out to agile development, going on a polyglot podcast might be worthwhile. Going after adjacent audiences is a bit trickier so be sure can articulate why it's a good fit.
What is the topic? Does it align well with your work?
If not, those new eyeballs aren’t going to do a thing for you. Instead, spend your time writing an article for someone else or find another conference to speak on a topic aligned with your audience. If going on a podcast or asked to be interviewed on video, be sure to find out what questions are they planning to ask. This last question is critical to 1) ensure the interview is a good fit 2) help you prepare your thoughts.
Reach simply means how many eyeballs (or ears) you might expect to get from the opportunity. If it doesn’t pass the reach test, it means that they’re likely to get more from the interaction that you will. Generally, you’ll likely want to turn it down in favor of something that has a broader reach. You may also consider smaller sites with a more niched audience that aligns with your own. Again, this goes back to your strategy.
When you appear on a podcast, promotional video or on a blog, you become associated with that brand. It takes a long time and bunch of hard work to change your online reputation once it's been sullied so be sure that the outlet has a good reputation. Reputation is often subjective so base your reputation guidelines on your values and comfort with things like sensationalistic sites or provocative ones where clickbait is the rule. When it comes to conferences, things like a Code of Conduct and past speakers may fall under consideration.
"Editors will tell you anything to get you to give them to give you something for free. Even if their audience is 2 million, if the editor is lazy in their promotion, only 2,000 people might actually see your piece." says Kathryn Brown, a former editor of a high volume publication.
When considering an outlet Brown suggests asking the editor about their plan to promote you. Will they tweet about you once? Multiple times? Will you be in their newsletter? Will they link to you? Will they promote you at all? A site with a million views will do you no good if they’re stingy with their promotion.
6. Review Rights
Ideally you want approval over what they publish (video, audio or writing) to make sure your thoughts are in proper context. Having a review may also be important if you tend to talk off the cuff or are worried they’ll distort your meaning in the editing process. When speaking, be sure to know if your talk will be recorded. Having the ability to approve your content might be important in some cases but less important for others. This is something you need to decide for yourself.
7. Opportunity Cost
Time is your most important commodity. For everything you say yes to, you’re saying no to something else. An hour may not seem like a lot of time to give but it might mean you say no to talking with a prospect or putting that time towards creating your product. Opportunity costs also include intangibles like energy. When so many opportunities seem ripe with potential, it can be really hard to say no. However, saying yes too often can lead to an overcrowded schedule, slipping deadlines or even burnout with little to show for your effort.
A Final Check.
Your gut. After you've thought through everything, doing a final gut check provides balance to the analytical checklist. Never say yes to an opportunity in exchange for wider acclaim when your heart says no. Ignoring your gut can set you on the path to resentment. Save yourself the pain and just say no.
Quick Exposure Checklist:
- What do I want to get from this?
- Is this my audience?
- Is the topic something my audience cares about?
- How big a reach does the outlet have?
- Does associating with this outlet enhance or bring my brand down?
- Will I have a chance to review the content?
- What does my gut say?
If you can't answer the questions in the checklist, you have a bigger problem. You don't understand who, what and why well enough. Clarity on your positioning is paramount. I plan to go into more depth about this in the future. But if you want to dig in now, check out Philip Morgan's Positioning Crash Course.
If you have a book, app or services to sell, chances are you need this kind exposure speaking, podcasts, and guest blogging offers. Have a list of dreams publications, podcasts and conferences. Don't wait for them to come to you--approach them. That way you're in charge of your exposure -- and how you promote yourself.