Recently I received my Nth email asking to write about Product X in exchange of said product.
At first, I wanted to do it. It was for a clothing company, and although I’m not a fashion blogger, I do have great taste and could start blogging about clothes more than I have in the past.
But some companies (the one above included) have a knack for asking TOO MUCH and giving TOO LITTLE in return. In every case that a clothing company has approached me to write about its clothes, I’ve been instructed to style, photograph, write about, and promote them. Not just review the service or the piece of clothing I picked out/received, but also do a significant amount of additional work for that company.
Then a furniture company also asked me recently to share holiday decoration ideas and offered absolutely nothing in return. (You know how some promise to merely share your content as compensation [which I never take them up on anyways]? This one didn’t even offer that.) The rep suggested I “can create a mood board, take your own pictures, or feel free to pull photos from our Instagram<…> or Pinterest<…> to show your ideal holiday décor. Feel free as well to check out our sectional sofas page<…> to get inspired!”
No joke, people. After years of showing ALL that we can do and have been able to do, good, experienced bloggers are STILL not taken seriously in this day and age.
(Notice the distinction I brought up above: I’m not talking about merely REVIEWING products: For that you don’t get “paid” because receiving any compensation in addition to the product you’re reviewing would be unethical [and borderline illegal]. In this post I’m referring to being asked to do additional work that promotes a product and getting nothing else [besides that product] in return.)
After the clothing company rep’s original email in which she asked if I was interested (and I replied I may be if compensation was involved), I received another follow-up message with more detailed instructions. (I’ve included it at the bottom of this post.**)
But after more consideration, I decided not only that this opportunity and I wouldn’t be right for each other, but also that no other opportunity like that would be right for me again. I’ve declined similar requests in the past but I finally wrote out a longer response to her that I expanded and turned into this post for you all.
Hopefully it inspires your own “I decline this mission” emails you sent to clients who want you to work for free.
Here’s more into what went into that, and it all has to do with finances and previous experience.
Blogging for free is a disservice to your Finances
Finances-wise, getting paid with just any product is not a model I follow anymore or that I have followed for years.
When I write about products, I tend to not only get the product for free (or paid what it costs me), but also get additional compensation for my time and effort. As you may imagine, a well thought-out and well-promoted post requires several hours of work. If I were to just count what I earn at my full-time job to account for the time I’d spend on such a post, I doubt most sponsors would want to pay that fee.
Well, I’ve gotten paid even more for particular posts I’ve written on behalf of some companies.
Previous experience is a good indicator of your worth
I don’t want to say I’m a big blogger who gets free trips, cars, or other high-ticket items (YET!) so I may not be able to require thousands per post at the moment.
But I have worked with clients such as Sears, Walmart, Walgreens, and Johnson & Johnson/Aveeno, among many others, who’ve always paid for my time and effort besides offering me free product. They see how good my posts are and how much time I invest, so they deem it necessary to pay bloggers like me for that.
On the flip side, I once worked with Macy’s and received only free product as my compensation. Honestly, that would’ve been fine had that product been a pair of designer shoes or a nice designer bag. But nope.
Once I did the math, turns out I was practically paid about $60 or less for a post that took me hours to write, photograph, and post. Needless to say, I felt ripped off and once I asked if there’d be additional compensation, the rep at that collective asked me back something along the lines of, “Besides the free product?” I then explained my dilemma and kindly implied to never consider me for that kind of “opportunity.”
(Truth be told, that Macy’s opportunity came from a collective that works with Hispanic bloggers like me. I wonder whether Macy’s decided we weren’t worth as much as non-Latina bloggers so it paid us a fraction of what we’re worth?)
Blogging is an industry. “Influencer marketing” … is an industry. It makes companies money. So: if you are expecting someone to do some “work” for you, then treat it like work. Pay the creative. Pay the writer. Pay the blogger. Pay the content creator.
Anyone creating content on behalf of a brand … [is] within their right to ask for money. –To Pay Or Not to Pay Bloggers, That Is The Question
Now what if you lack the experience?
Let’s say you JUST began blogging or have been blogging for a few years but have just started to want to work with brands. However, they want lots of posts about products and other companies…and you don’t have any. What do you do?
Back when I was studying Marketing, my classmates and I went through the same dilemma: How could we get internships if those companies wanted experience that we didn’t have?
The #1 tip I kept taking advantage of is FAKE IT TIL YOU MAKE IT. At the time, I’d make up marketing campaigns, design ads, tag lines, and business plans, and I’d talk about them in interviews. As I started getting more involved with web design, I was able to make my resume site and do free work for family businesses so I’d discuss that in my resume and interviews as well.
In light of this: Dear blogger, FAKE IT TIL YOU MAKE IT! Buy products (or wait and see what you get for Christmas) and review that; talk about restaurants you’ve visited and the food you’ve had there; blog about plays or activities you’ve been to. You can’t gain work without first having worked some. I can write more about this in particular, but for now, just WRITE, WRITE, and write SOME MORE for you.
Does this mean I’m stingy?
As much as I see how one may do a bit of initial work for free to see where the sponsor-blogger relationship goes, if there’s no guarantee of additional paid work, the incentive is definitely NOT there. And these days, I only blog and design sites for free for me.
This doesn’t make me stingy: I’ve been blogging for several years and have the work, experience, wherewithal, savviness, etc. to show it. Therefore, I know my worth and what I deserve. Just like with any other regular job–incl. the one I have outside of blogging and web design–WRITING is something that’s in high demand. I can do it very well and deserve to be compensated justly.
Besides, I DO write for free for other entities–mainly non-profit animal charities and causes. As an animal lover, I thoroughly enjoy working with these organizations and will happily spend hours promoting any new initiative or program they send my way.
If a sponsor doesn’t want to comply, no biggie. I’ll just wish them success and happily pass because, in the end, I’d rather blog for me for $0 than be a sellout who’ll write about a company who can afford the promotion…for $0.
How about you? Have YOU gotten emails about working for free? How do you decline?
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**Now to finalize, in case you were curious: Let’s go back to the email I received. It had very specific instructions so let me point out (in red) where the company got it wrong:
We’d love to have you style some awesome looks you can feature on your blog and social media. [Great, so a full-on campaign for free.]
Send us a list of your favorite 5 pieces on the site (see format below) in order of preference. [Oooh, I get five things? Awesome.]
Please choose at least two dresses from our blue or sweater dresses: Link 1 or Link 2. [All right, now it’s at least two things? Hm.]
*Be sure to check the measurements in the item description to ensure proper sizing; unfortunately, we do not do returns with collaborations! [Oh wonderful. So if it doesn’t fit, I’m screwed. The company is also screwed because I got free product without having to do anything in return.]
2. We’ll send you at least 2 of these items and ask that you post all items on your blog. [I did the Math and just TWO items from the site came to around $60 total. So yes, that’d the the minimum payment for writing about, styling, photographing, AND promoting. Hm no thanks]
Just a friendly reminder, that this can be a non-dedicated Brand post. Your items can be featured in one post or multiple posts. [So you’d like me to write about something else that strikes my fancy, while giving YOU the page views even though I’d have not received any other compensation?]