I admit the title of this post is a bit misleading. Because I don’t particularly advocate working for free. But it is a subject that Dani and I talk about often, and it is something we see discussed over and over again within the blogging community.
So for the third article in our blogging series, That’s Money, Honey, we’re diving into when we think it is okay to work for free, and when you need to put your foot down and say no.
When we say “work for free”, we mean creating content in exchange for a product or service. So it isn’t completely for free, but you aren’t getting paid money that could go towards your blog expenses, rent, and groceries.
In most instances I say stick to your guns. $100 worth of product isn’t going to pay your bills, and it certainly won’t help you gain followers. See the photo above, haha. Start with a rate that you think your time is worth, and always pitch that rate first to see if you can negotiate. But, when that fails, here are five instances when I think it is okay to work “for free”. And following that, five instances when you need to just say “no thank you”, and walk away.
When Is It Okay To Work For Free?
1.You’re just starting out. When I first started blogging in December 2015, I was working on building my portfolio. I wanted to have a solid repertoire of fashion and beauty posts under my belt so I could report to brands on what performs, and to gain a sense of what I really wanted to write about. Plus, the notion of getting skincare worth $200 or $100 worth of clothing was a godsend, because it helped me have more outfits to photograph and products to review for articles! So if you’ve been blogging for a year or less, or you think you still need to build some cred in a certain field, then I think it is okay to work in exchange for product. Creating content and gaining experience is where you need to start before you can expect to be paid.
2.You would buy the product/service anyway. I do this more frequently with clothing brands I already shop with, or with beauty services like hair or facials. There are beauty platforms that strictly organize posts in exchange for product (like Octoly) too. If there is an item that I already enjoy, like the Grande Lips liquid lipsticks or Esteé Lauder foundation, I’ll consider an exchange. But it is quite rare. I’ll typically pitch a story when a brand has no budget but still wants to collaborate. If it is a product or service that would be great content for an article, then that’s also a perfect opportunity to accept.
3.It is a very high ticket item. I’m talking like a $3,000 mattress, a skin treatment, a hotel stay, or a big trip. Things that cost thousands of dollars are worthy of your consideration, for obvious reasons.
4.You negotiated something worthy out of the partnership that isn’t money. Some brands and brand reps are really fun to work with, but perhaps they are just starting out or their budget is too low. You still have to make sure you’re getting something out of the relationship that is worth your time. For instance, I’ve negotiated a bigger gift card from the brand, or a guaranteed re-post on their Instagram channel.
5.It is your dream brand. If Gucci, Dior, or Cartier offered me some swag in exchange for a post, I’d accept in a heartbeat (well maybe 2 heartbeats because I’d have to wake up from passing out after I received a collab email from Gucci). That’s because these brands are iconic, and it would be an absolute dream to even be considered to represent them.
I didn’t include charities, because I think that’s a given. If a non-profit that you believe in comes to you, then absolutely use your reach to help them get the word out in exchange for nothing. Breast cancer, puppies, kitties, LGBTQ rights, homelessness, suicide prevention…the list goes on. Sometimes the blogging world can seem shallow, as we are always promoting “stuff”. It is our responsibility to spread the word on important topics, and we should not expect to be paid.
When To Say No And Politely Decline
There are some instances where no matter what, whether a new blogger or veteran, you need to walk away. It’s okay to say no! Always remember that if a product is not within your niche, then no matter how much they offer you, it would be irresponsible to accept. I’ve turned down countless collaborations (and lots of money) because a product doesn’t make sense on Glassofglam, or I simply don’t believe in the product. I can’t tell you guys to use a hairspray that truly sucks, because that completely blasts any trust you have in me to recommend quality products. Anyway, here’s when to say “thank you, next!”
1. The brand offers you a discount in exchange for posts. A brand emails you and said “here is a 30% off code! All you need to do is post the product 3 times!” Red flags should be waving! You should never spend your own money on a product for which you are providing publicity.
2.After negotiations, they still come back at a fraction of your rate. Let’s say you charge $100 for a post, and have consistently been paid that rate in the past. If a brand comes back and says “well we only have $10 for you” then it is time to walk away. Know your worth and stick to your guns. I recently had a HUGE brand (which shall not be named) counter-offer my rate at less than 1/5th of my original quote. I sadly had to decline.
3.The brand offers to send “high res photos” for a positive review, but will not send you a product sample. This is a downright scam. On the brand’s part, but also yours. How can one possibly promote a product they have not personally tried? Brands will try this tactic, promising “more posts in the future if this one goes well!” but it will never happen. I’ve stupidly taken the bait on this one, and am still banging my head on the wall.
4.You already worked for free, and now they want more free work. You were nice and decided to try and build a relationship with a brand, so you accepted free product for the first go around. The brand reappears in your inbox in 6 months, asking for a second collaboration since you did such a great job last time, but of course they have no budget. They came to you, right? They like your work, so they should be willing to compensate this time. And if they don’t value your work enough, then the relationship isn’t quite the relationship you were hoping for after all.
5.Rudeness and/or a general sense of disorganization. Blogging is a business of relationships. We are humans on either side of the table, and no one deserves to be put down or harassed. If a brand says something off-putting, makes unnecessary demands, or insults your brand, then the collaboration will not be enjoyable for you. Furthermore, if you start to get a general sense that the organization behind the brand is extremely disorganized (they ghost your emails for weeks, don’t pay on time, or consistently fail to approve your content in time for posting) then that’s another indicator that the waters may be too murky for a smooth campaign. Run away.
Hope these tips on choosing when to work for free help you guys navigate a somewhat controversial topic! And don’t forget to check out Dani’s tips.
Don’t forget to check out our last two topics:
I haven’t visited for a while, Roxanne, but girl, let me tell you, your site is fabulous! Loaded with helpful info and great fashion and beauty products. Keep up the great work!
Have a wonderful weekend!
Yes I learned that along the way! I think when you are just into blogging, you are proud of any collaborations. But as you are longer in the blogger world, you think, oh I am so not working with that brand. Great post love!
Oh yes! The types of collaborations certainly change the more experience you get! So glad you like the post.
Sincerely, Jennie says
Great post! I blog as a hobby so I’m always weighing what’s worth my time and whether free product/services are a good substitute if there’s not a campaign budget.
Thanks, Jennie! You’re spot on. Whether it is a hobby or not, it is still a good idea to consider whether the product exchange is worth your time! If a brand offers me a $20 lipstick for a blog post and a social post, I’d much rather just go buy that lipstick myself than put in hours of work photographing and writing. You totally get it!
Susan Rahamim says
That’s a lot of good advice that can also relate to other areas of work! That top photo is fantastic!
Thank you! The photos were so much fun to take!
I love this post! I’ve had most of these things happen to me too. I have turned down posts because sometimes it’s a to do list a mile long for a small product….They get great pics and exposure and I get what….I think that’s the biggest problem for us smaller bloggers. Finding people who want quality pictures with small followings that still need to get paid or at least compensated for it. Love your post about blogging!
Thank you so much, Ruth! Right? When I read “2 blog posts, 4 Instagram posts, 5 stories, and 5-8 high res images” all the red flags start to wave. Always know that if a brand is coming to you, then they already love your content and it is worth something! The brands will come (or you’ll pitch them) and it will be a slam dunk! You’re doing great.