Ok, so the title of this may be misleading as I'm going to tell you that you should NEVER work for "free" in blogging.
I can't tell you how many brands always want something for free. This is so problematic, for many reasons. First, it is taking advantage of bloggers time and resources, but also its unethical. If you have been blogging for some time and have experience under your belt in working with brands, then I'm going to always tell you to pitch your rates, no matter what. However a number of times the brand may not have a budget for monetary payment, but can offer other exchanges. In the next entry of Roxanne and I's That's Money, Honey series, we are dishing our thoughts all about when to accept non-paid exchanges to work for "free" and when to walk (or run) away.
When to Work for "Free":
("Free" meaning a product exchange of some sorts)
When you genuinely love the brand or product. To this day, I still work with select brands on product exchange terms, but I only do so with select brands I've been working with for a long time, or brands that I genuinely love. If there is a brand you LOVE all around and you'd be buying their products anyways, I look at this type of exchange as a no brainer. Although maybe you aren't specifically being paid in cash money, they are gifting you product you'd be spending money on anyways. When working with brands on a product exchange basis, negotiate a product exchange amount that you feel is fair - for product exchanges, I tend to ask for a higher amount since it isn't actual cash. This will build a relationship with the brand that can lead to other amazing opportunities, and also it lets you create genuine, authentic content. It also helps if the retailer is on Like to Know It or an affiliate network, so you can possibly earn some cash from linking the gifted product in your posts.
Working with a brand I love, ELOQUII, on an ongoing collaborative exchange has led me to amazing experiences like meeting Reese Witherspoon!:
When you are new to blogging. Ok, so if you just started blogging and you have never worked with a brand before then you *should* accept gifted exchanges as a way to build content. If you can show you can produce great content, this will be positive for your brand and allow you to grow and earn money later down the road. It will also expose you to experiences and lessons learned that you can use in the future.
When you feel it will lead to future work. Say a new brand reaches out to you that is new or you haven't worked with before, and from researching them you like the brand. If they don't have budget at the time and its a brand that you haven't worked with before but want to explore a future partnership, then negotiate some sort of product exchange, a feature on their Instagram page, or other terms and create amazing content. Chances are, the brand will love it and want to work with you again if you knock it out of the park. I have actually gotten a lot of paid repeat business this way!
When the experience is awesome. A lot of times, brands may not necessarily pay you in cash money for an experience, but in exchange will sponsor your food, travel, etc, to come try their restaurant, property, attend their event in exchange for promo, and so on. If its an experience or restaurant you want to try out, then do it! The experience itself is worth it. I have done a number of trips like this- for example, over the summer and fall I worked with a few brands who didn't pay me monetarily, but they sponsored my travel arrangements for a weekend getaway and I had a blast. I also attended a Smithsonian party in exchange for social coverage, and it led me to meet Jeff Koons!
Examples of work in exchange for product I love or experiences:
When to Walk Away:
When the brand doesn't want to send you product. I like to tell this story to newer bloggers I talk to as an example of when to definitely walk away. About 2 years ago a very, very big name brand (ahem, Warby Parker), reached out to me. They wanted me to promote their new sunglass line and asked for a blog post as well as social posts. They sent imagery and key text to include. When I replied to them, asking for payment or at least product, they said no. They refused to even send me a pair of the sunglasses they wanted me to promote. This is so backwards in so many ways. Had I agreed to this, I'd be giving my time to write the blog post, giving free placement on all of my platforms that I work hard to manage and have put in my own money and time to build, and lastly- I'd be promoting a product I haven't even used myself! Bloggers- you should NEVER accept this type of exchange and be weary of brands who do not value your time or are willing to send you a product or an experience in exchange for promotion.
When the product they are giving isn't something you'd normally buy. If a brand reaches out to work together on a product exchange and its product you don't love or don't find interesting, walk away. It will be a waste of your time and resources and you will be mad at yourself after the fact the you did it. Trust me, I'm talking from experience here. It's not worth it in the end, and as a result you end up promoting a product you don't like, which is inauthentic and it will likely show.
When it seems like too much work. I can't tell you how many times brands will make something seem better than it is in their offers or treat their product like it is the most valuable thing on earth. When a brand contacts you asking for strict guidelines, a certain amount of posts, and wants to review your post before it goes live, all in exchange for some free product, walk away. The way I see it- when they are sending you a free product, the content creator should have the right to regulate the amount of posts, based on what the product is. For example, say a brand offers you their lotion which is valued at $50 and they want 1 blog post, 3 Instagram posts, and they want to review your content before going live... is that really worth your time? No. For me, I'd rather buy the $50 product myself and not be tied to having to post about it. Always look at the value of the items and what the brand is asking for. You can (and should) always counter a brand if you want to work with them, but if they decline your counter, then walk away.
When the brand does not value you or what you bring to the table. I recently had a big name brand that I was dying to work with approach me. After lots of back and forth on email and a 45 min phone call to discuss the potential of working together, they came back to me saying they couldn't provide me payment or any product because I don't have over 100k Instagram followers, but asked me "what it would take" for me to still post about their brand. I was appalled. SO.. they value my page enough to ask for a post because they know they will get visibility, but tried to make me feel lesser and brought in follower count, and refused to send me a pair of $100 jeans? HARD PASS. In this case, RUN away as no brand should be telling you that you don't have enough followers or reach when they approached you in the first place to work together.
See what Roxanne has to say about working for free in her That's Money, Honey post!
Blonde in the District