It happens at least once a month. I’m scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I spot a post from a fellow blogger – a post criticizing PR reps who ask bloggers to work for free and (the horror) the bloggers who agree to do it.
The tone of these posts varies greatly. Some express frustration with PR reps who refuse to see bloggers as professionals. Others poke fun at pitches that imply that the honor of writing about a product should be compensation enough. And then others implore their fellow bloggers to stop working for free.
Those last ones are the posts that get to me. I’ve read posts saying that bloggers like me, who sometimes write in exchange for free products or (perish the thought) for no compensation at all, are responsible for delegitimizing the blogging industry. That we pander to companies just so we can get free chicken nuggets or a toothbrush. And that we’re ruining things for the bloggers who do want to get paid for their work.
Now, to some extent I agree with everything that’s said (except for the toothbrush thing – that was just mean). If you view your blog as a professional endeavor (which I do), then yes, of course you’re going to expect to be paid for your time and effort. You wouldn’t open a store and then give away your inventory, right?
So then why do I work for free?
I work for free because no one will pay me.
Let’s be clear. That’s not a poor-me-pity-party statement. That’s not it at all. I’m not diminishing my worth. I know what I have to offer, and I’m aware of my potential.
It’s really just simple economics:
Business X will pay a blogger $200 to write a post about their product. Blogger A has 2500 UMVs (Unique Monthly Visitors). Blogger B has 25,000 UMVs. Who will Business X hire to publicize their product?
Blogger B, obviously. And in case you’re too dazzled by my knowledge of economics to guess it, I’m Blogger A in this scenario.
So while Blogger B might feel that I’m making her job more difficult by accepting unpaid work, I’d have to ask her to remember that she’s making it difficult for me too – because she’s my competition for paid jobs – and because she’s going to get picked for the job over me just about every time. Trust me on this. Up until recently, I applied for every (applicable) sponsored opportunity that came my way. We’re talking dozens of them. Can you guess how many I got hired for? Did you guess ONE? Then you’re right.
Now, before you say anything, I know that Blogger B has busted her butt to get to where she is today. You don’t just buy a domain name and wake up the next morning to 10,000 pageviews. But that’s kind of my point. Before publicly criticizing your cohorts, maybe you can try to remember what it was like when you first started out. How long was your audience comprised entirely of your blood relatives and sorority sisters? How many paid jobs did you get hired for in your first year of blogging? How long did you have to pay your dues?
I also need to point out that your perspective on this subject will rely on how you define “free.” Do you “work for free” every time you accept any form of payment besides money? And if you only accept monetary payment, do you have a minimum that you’ll work for? I know bloggers who won’t even power on the laptop for anything less than $200 plus a full-size product. Is working for less than you’re worth the equivalent of “free labor?”
And what about receiving products as a form of payment? Is it still working for free if you receive items with a high retail value? Or products that you can give to your kids as birthday gifts? Or things that you would have purchased for yourself anyway? And, heck – what about that toothbrush? What if it’s actually a whole bunch of toothbrushes – enough to give to your child’s first grade class or to donate to the military? Or what if it’s a $200 electric toothbrush?
How do you decide when to say yes and when to decline?
I Work for “Free” Because…
Personally, I don’t necessarily consider it working for free when I’m compensated with products. But let’s be honest – free running shoes and boxes of snacks won’t pay the bills. With that said, here are some of the reasons why I might choose to work with a brand without being paid actual money:
- I’m writing in exchange for a great product – something that will be useful or fun for me or my family.
- I’m writing in exchange for a product that I think will appeal to (and help expand) my audience.
- I’m participating in a blogger event that will benefit my blog by increasing my UMVs and/or social media reach.
- I’m collaborating with a friend or a PR rep with whom I’ve worked before.
- I’m building a relationship with a brand that I admire and respect.
Learning by Trial and Error
But I’m also not one to sugarcoat my flaws. I’ll be the first to point out that I don’t always make the best choices about when to work for free and when to say no. (Or maybe the second to point it out. That’s what husbands are for, right?) Sometimes I’m just not very good at saying no. Sometimes I underestimate the amount of time that a post will take to write. Sometimes I take on too much. And, yes, sometimes I’m blinded by the excitement of FedEx boxes filled with goodies.
You see, I’m still new at this. I learn from you, Blogger B. Don’t chastise me. Encourage me. Show me by example. Let’s level the playing field so that someday neither one of us will be asked to work for free.
Unless it’s for a really, really nice toothbrush.
— Sharon (@mommyrunsit) June 11, 2014
Bloggers, do you work for free? I’d love to know why or why not.