My friend Robert D. Smith is one of the smartest marketers I’ve ever met. He’s absolutely brilliant.

One day I was telling him that often people ask me to do things for free but they promise it will be “great exposure.” The idea is that speaking at a conference, writing for a magazine, posting on someone else’s blog, etc. will expose my writing to more people. I told Robert about that and his answer was perfect. He told me, “Exposure is great Jon! The problem for me is that my bank doesn’t accept checks of exposure.”

He’s right. It’s hard to pay a water bill with exposure. The power company doesn’t care about exposure either. But are there times when exposure can be very valuable? There are and I do free stuff quite often when it makes sense. So when does it make sense? Here are a few times:

1. When you’re just getting started.
At the beginning of a new dream, you need exposure more than you might 5 years into a career.

2. When it’s a whole new tribe.
I love writing for blogs that are outside my circle. When a career site I’ve never worked with gives me an opportunity to write that’s awesome because 99% of their readers have never heard of me.

3. When the numbers are real.
I recently connected with someone that has over 25 million twitter followers. If he asked me to write something for free you better believe I’d do that.

4. When it’s fun.
That might sound silly, but there are things I like to do for free just because they’re fun. Why do we always have to try to monetize everything?

Robert D. Smith is right. Most times exposure is a fake carrot someone waves in your face instead of paying you what they should. Sometimes though, it’s a great opportunity and you should jump.

Have you ever done something for free in the hopes of getting some exposure?