Should we always get paid by brands? Is it ever okay to work for free?
I will start this post off by explaining that you should not start a blog purely to make money off it. Blogging is a creative outlet that you start because you have a passion for something and want to write about it, and this post is not about blogging purely for money. Having said that, there's nothing wrong with owning it and wanting to turn something you love doing into a business, which is exactly what I did. So never feel ashamed that you want to grow your little section of the internet into something more. This post is basically going to explain the do's and the dont's when it comes to working with brands.
As bloggers, we tend to get inundated with emails every week from people expecting free advertising. Whether you have 10 followers or 10,000, how is it beneficial for you to produce content for a brand for nothing in return? Content that you produce off your own back (like all bloggers do) isn't what I class as work. If you're a full time blogger then obviously you have to keep the content rolling to keep your readers interested so I guess anything you produce for your blog becomes work, but in this post we're going to be talking about when you are asked to produce a specific piece of content for a company and asked to do x, y & z - usually in return for a product or payment. Depending on your definition of it, there are actually times in the blogging world where working for "free" can *shock* benefit you in some shape or form, so lets get into the good and the bad.
If you have just started out in the blogging world and your following is low, it can benefit you to create content for brands who offer you exposure in return. I don't really advocate this as exposure just doesn't cut it for me in return for work, however if it's a brand with a decent following it may help you grow and if it's a piece of content you'll enjoy doing then why not I guess? As a newbie, your DA is likely to be non-existent so if a brand is linking your website on their own, that can help to boost your DA which will also help lead to more opportunities. I realise this isn't for everyone, I don't think I ever worked for exposure when I started out in the blogging world, I built myself up all on my own through social media and working my arse off, but a bit of a boost for my DA would have been nice to be fair... had I known about DA at the time. Which I most definitely didn't. DA, DA, DA, who? Unless you have less than 100 followers I wouldn't recommend this really, but if you feel like the opportunity could benefit you and you do feel like it's worth spending your time on then don't feel like you can't take it. However if you are already receiving views and have engagement then you are already worth far more than just exposure so never let brands take advantage.
Once you've built up your following and your blog is getting a decent amount of engagement, you might want to be a bit more careful about the "free" work that you do. As soon as you have engaged readers, your blog has advertising potential and the hard work that attracts these people to your blog is worth something. In reality, all work should be worth something but in business it just doesn't work that way. For brands to pay you, whether that be in cash or products, they need to see potential in their investment. You are advertising something to your audience and whilst you should be paid to advertise, the brand also needs to know that the collaboration will be beneficial to them too. If your following and engagement are low, you aren't going to get as much money as someone with a higher following as their reach is far wider than yours and therefore the advertising benefits are much larger for the brand and they're more likely to see sales.
If you're not getting paid for work and you are only being offered products, this isn't really free work either. Products are worth money, and whilst they don't pay the bills, sometimes if they're products you'd buy anyway or products that you are going to enjoy, then they are worth producing content for. If a brand tells you that they have no budget, but it's one you'd really love to work with, then it's totally fine to accept with no payment. I work with so many brands that don't pay me to promote their products, but I quite often get amazing PR packages full of products that mean I've ultimately stopped spending as much money on makeup, skincare, baby and all kinds of other products that I'd usually spend a fortune on. I think you'll find that most bloggers only receive payment for 20-30% of their content overall, because unless you're zoella then there's no way you're constantly going to be offered budget for every piece of work you do.
There does come a time in blogging, especially if you've got to the stage where it can become a source of income, when gifting isn't always enough. As a full time blogger, I now require payment for the majority of my collaborations with brands as I don't have the time to constantly produce content just for products when I'm trying to make a living from it. A lot of brands have different requirements for which bloggers they have budget for. Some quite happily pay 'smaller' bloggers but others save their pennies for the ones with a larger following. Thankfully more and more are realising the potential these days from working with smaller influencers, therefore making it possible for people like me to earn an income from blogging. You also have to bear in mind that you will have expenses - insurance, hosting fees, accounting costs and so on. No one bats an eyelid at, say, going to a hairdresser and paying the going rate to cover hair and beauty insurance and for them to make a profit. Why is it different for a blogger?
It's really important to build relationships with brands too, most of the brands that I work with on sponsored content have worked with me on gifting campaigns previously. It's good to build up your blogging 'CV' too by working with big brands even if they don't offer you payment. Would you ever dream of trying to charge Charlotte Tilbury to send you products to promote? Would you heck! Don't ever let payment get in the way of letting you work with big and exciting brands, especially your favourites. Sometimes certain brands will gift you products at random times of the year, and then alongside that they will also run specific advertising campaigns where they will have budget. I've worked with quite a few brands where they've sent me products now and again to review, and then I've also participated in their sponsored campaigns.
Content doesn't necessarily have to be sponsored for it to be part of your income either, say you get sent a new foundation from Too Faced that you absolutely love and you want to do a raving review on your blog. Not only does that review give you more content to produce for your readers, but you can earn money through things like affiliate links and ads you place on your blog as the views come in. Admittedly I don't earn a huge amount of money through aff links but when you put the effort in during sales and gifting seasons (think Christmas & Black Friday) then you definitely see a huge increase and you have the potential to earn a lot.
Another important factor is how much work you get asked to do. If a brand contacts you and asks for x, y and z in return for one product, you have to think about whether that one product is worth all the work you're going to do. If a brand asked me for an entire blog post plus social coverage, I would be charging them for that as generally gifting only campaigns shouldn't really have any requirements at all. I personally don't think a brand or PR has the right to be strict with requirements if they're not paying you to promote. Gifting only generally means you have the freedom to review it however you please, whether that be in an Instagram post or thrown in a blog post alongside some other products. If you're going to spend all day taking photographs and writing up a review that a brand has asked for then it's perfectly reasonable to expect payment for your time as that's a lot of work you know? You just have to weigh it up.
I think at the end of the day, you just need to make sure that whatever collaboration you participate in with a brand is beneficial to both of you. There has to be a mutual benefit for both parties when it comes to business so if a brand gets in touch with you asking you to pop a link on your blog in exchange for nada, you say no immediately. Just know your worth in the industry and have faith in your abilities. I quite happily promote brands I love for free all the time on this little blog of mine. Because I enjoy the products I use and I enjoy writing up reviews and creating content for you guys. PR's can see when you blog because you're passionate about it and they will favour that over someone just out for the ££.
What are your thoughts on working with brands for free?