Is your goal to make money with your blog? Then why are you working for free? Is there any benefit to bloggers working for free? Or does all the benefit go to the brand they are working for? Here are 21 reasons why bloggers should stop working for free and start actually charging money!
21 reasons why bloggers should stop working for free
Blogging is a weird industry.
Most days, I will open up my inbox to find at least one email from a brand or PR asking me to promote their product or service: maybe a review, a recipe post, a giveaway or something else. Do you want to know what they all have in common? None of them mention money. Some of them mention ‘free product’, some of them mention ‘exposure’, some of them mention ‘the opportunity to host a giveaway’, but not one of them actually mentions cold hard cash.
Can you think of a single other industry where that would be the case? If I was or a photographer, or an electrician, or a website designer, or a plumber, or a gardener, or a cleaner? Of course not! I’d be asked for my fees, or a quote!!
I recently came across an article written by a blogger, who was also a photographer, talking about the difference in how she was treated, depending on whether potential clients were interested in her photography skills or her blogging skills. If they wanted to book her for a shoot they asked her for her fees. If they wanted her to write a blog post, they offered her ‘free product’ or ‘exposure’.
Sounds ludicrous when you put it like that.
Yet the weirdest thing of all is that these emails don’t get laughed at and deleted. They don’t get politely replied to with the very pointed question, ‘yes and what’s the budget?’, or replied to with a ‘here’s my standard fees’ email. It is common practice for bloggers up and down the country (and indeed around the world) to reply to these emails with ‘yes of course I’d love to work for free product/exposure/the opportunity to do a giveaway/nothing at all…’
I will admit, for the first year of my blogging career, I did this too.
Are we bloggers bonkers? Yes, I think we just might be!
How do brands and PR companies get away with this? Um…because we let them! Imagine you are a brand owner and want to get some bloggers to review your product. Which would you choose? Contacting bloggers and offering a decent fee for their services? Or contacting bloggers and not mentioning money, hoping that enough of them will come back happy to work for free? When you have a bunch of ‘mugs’ who are willing to work for free, why offer a fee?
So guys, let’s stop doing it!
Still not convinced? Here are 21 reasons why bloggers should stop working for free…
1. Because you are offering a service of real value
Think you are ’just a blogger’, think again. You are not ‘just a blogger’, you are a ‘digital influencer’. You are offering a form of advertising. And a form of advertising which is becoming more and more important and valuable in today’s modern world where people, especially millennials, often don’t trust (or even see) traditional advertising, but are incredibly influenced by ‘digital influencers’ such as bloggers, instagrammers and youtubers.
2. Because you offer something above and beyond traditional advertising
Traditional advertising is the brand saying, ‘look at our lovely product’. You as the consumer are savvy. You know the brand is going to say good things about the brand because they are trying to sell it. A sponsored post with a ‘digital influencer’ goes much deeper. It’s a personal recommendation for a start…to a large group of people who trust you. You are also giving all sorts of added value that is hard to replicate with traditional forms of advertising. You can get across key messages for the brand, dispel myths (such as the brand is poor quality, or only for a certain type of person, or difficult to use), you can explain how the product works, show yourself using it, give consumers ideas about what to do with the product, make the product seem aspirational… and so much more.
3. Because you are worth it
Pure and simple. You are worth it. One of the biggest issues for bloggers is we feel that we are not worth being paid. But as I have clearly explained above – you are offering a valuable service. A service that cannot be achieved by traditional advertising and a service that brands would be willing to pay good money for (if only we didn’t keep doing it for free!).
4. Because your time is valuable
I often hear bloggers saying that they did a certain campaign for free because ‘it only took me a couple of hours’.
Firstly, I doubt that! If you add up everything from nailing down the brief, to taking the photos, editing the photos, writing up, scheduling all the social media, reporting back to the brand, invoicing… The whole project in it’s entirety takes A LOT more than a couple of hours (heck I’ve had some campaigns where just the back and forth between me and the brand has been more than a couple of hours – or at least it felt like it!!)
And secondly, my question is what else could you have been doing with that ‘couple’ of hours? You could have been working on SEO and growing your page views, you could have been creating an opt-in that would grow your email list, you could have been doing some social media to grow your followers and engagement, you could have been working on a product or course to sell, you could have been writing a post that included an affiliate link… all of these things would either directly or indirectly lead to more money, either now or in the future, than doing a free post for a brand.
Which leads me on to…
5. Because there is always an opportunity cost
If you are using your time for one thing (a free sponsored post), you can’t be using it for another (working on SEO to grow your ad revenue, for example). So next time you are tempted to do a free post, ask yourself: ‘What is this going to cost me to do it?’ or ‘What could I do instead that would actually make me money?’
Let’s take an example. Let’s say you are asked to do a review post in return for some free products. And let’s say you decline and instead decide to write a post featuring your top 10 favourite books on the subject of your blog. You then make sure for every book there is an Amazon affiliate link. That post is likely to be a) quicker to write, b) more popular than your review post, and c) waaay more lucrative. And even if it only earns you a few pounds it’s more than a box of free products you didn’t really want in the first place!
6. Because did you even want the free stuff anyway?
Next time you are tempted to say yes to an email offering you freebies in return for your hard work, stop and think: ‘Do I even want these freebies?’. As humans we seem to be naturally inclined to get a little over excited by free stuff…even if it’s neither something we need nor want.
I can more or less see the logic in saying yes to free product if it was something you were going to buy anyway. Especially if it is an item that is worth several hundred pounds. Or if it’s a once in a life opportunity – like a brand is offering you and your family an all-expenses paid holiday in the Caribbean… But if it’s a free blog post in return for a few jars of sauce or packets of crisps…that you wouldn’t have otherwise even bought, it seems a bit mad!
7. Because that ‘free product’ isn’t really free
Of course it isn’t free! They might call it ‘free product’ but actually, it is compensation for your time and effort. In fact, that is also how the tax man views it. And guess what? The tax man definitely won’t accept being paid in ‘free product’ or ‘exposure’.
So just to take an extreme example – let’s say you were never paid for a single blog post but got loads of free product – enough to take you over the tax threshold. The tax man would want to tax you on the value of that product… and the tax man would want to be paid in cold hard cash!!
Think that’s a bit of an unlikely scenario? What if you have a full-time job which already takes you over the tax threshold and you blog on the side… the tax man would like 20% (or 40% or whatever tax bracket you are in) of all the free products you receive…in cold hard cash… suddenly that ‘free product is very un-free, isn’t it?
(obviously, I am not a tax expert, and this varies from country to country, so you’d need to check the rules and regulations in your country, but it’s likely to be a similar scenario and it’s a sobering thought!)
8. Because often there is a budget
Do you want to know the kicker? There IS often a budget IF YOU ASK! As I mentioned in my opening preamble, I get these emails nearly every day and do you want to know the very first thing I do? I either ask what the budget is or send them my fees. And do you know what? So often there IS a budget, if only you ask for it. And yes, sure some people come back and say, ‘sorry no budget’ and some just ignore my reply… but some do come back to me with budget and I’ve worked on some very well paid campaigns off the back of an original email that didn’t mention money at all.
9. Because who else would work for ‘exposure’ or ‘free product’?
I’ve got an electrician coming in this week. Imagine if I offered to pay him in exposure or free biscuits? Can you think of any other job where it would be acceptable to pay in ‘free product’ or ‘exposure’, because I can’t! Or to put it another way…
10. Because you wouldn’t work at McDonald’s for free hamburgers would you?
Imagine if you went for a job interview at McDonald’s and they said ‘Congratulations! You got the job… There’s just this one thing… We’ve had a slight change in company policy and we’ve decided that instead of paying our workers a decent wage, we’ve decided to give them free food instead – would that be OK?’
Laughable isn’t it? So why is it that we accept that as OK payment for blogging?
11. Because exposure doesn’t pay the mortgage
I’ve been tempted on more than one occasion to reply with ‘sorry but exposure doesn’t pay the mortgage’ to those emails I get that say ‘sorry the brand doesn’t have any budget for this, but we can make sure your blog is given lots of exposure’. No matter how much ‘exposure’ your blog gets, ‘exposure’ is not going to pay the bills.
12. Because what brand doesn’t have a budget for marketing?
I find this one crackers. If you have a brand, you have a marketing budget. Every legitimate business (even small ones) has a marketing budget. It’s just they realise that they can get away with not paying bloggers, so they use their marketing budget elsewhere.
I once got offered a campaign where there was apparently ‘no money’, that campaign was fronted by a very famous celebrity, who I am perfectly sure was charging a hefty fee for her services. The brand had clearly spent the whole marketing budget on her and were trying to get the bloggers to do their part for free.
13. Because if we all insisted on being paid, brands would find the money
Of course they would! As I mentioned above, getting ‘digital influencers’ to feature your project is becoming an increasingly important way marketing your product. Brands ask bloggers to work for free because they know they can (it’s us who are the mugs!). If we all just en masse said NO, guess what? Brands would find the money to pay bloggers.
14. Because you are a small local business too
I get this one a lot too. ‘We are just a small business/local business/startup and we don’t have the budget of larger businesses’. Well guess what, you the blogger are a small business too! Before you feel sorry for the small business, ask yourself: ‘can I as a small blogging business afford to give this blog post away for free?’. Also bear in mind that even small businesses ought to have a budget for marketing.
Obviously, there are going to be exceptions to this one. Perhaps if it’s a product that is made by a friend, for example. But recognise that for what it is – you are giving your friend a present. Would you give a complete stranger you’d never met a present just because they asked you for one? A present worth hundreds of pounds? No, I thought not.
15. Because flattery doesn’t pay the bills either
After you have received a ton of pitches from brands you notice they all start off the same way…with a lot of flattery. They are ‘big fans’ of your blog, they read it ‘all the time’, it’s their ‘favourite blog’ with ‘exceptional’ writing/photography etc. It’s amazing how much flattery can make you lose your mind and make you consider working for hours and hours for free! I know I fell for this hook, line and sinker the first few times. I felt special, I felt chosen, I felt like I somehow owed these nice people something.
But of course it’s just a technique. A very clever technique but a technique nonetheless. They know that if they flatter you first you are more likely to work for free. Just bear in mind next time you read one of these opening lines a) they’ve probably written the exact same thing to a whole bunch of bloggers, b) they may never have done more than glance at your blog.
16. Because free doesn’t generally lead to paid
It’s funny how this myth seems to be perpetuated in the blogging world… that if you do enough free posts you’ll eventually get paid. But this isn’t generally how it goes. More likely if you say no to enough requests for free posts, eventually you will get paid. Because if a brand knows you will write good content for free, why would they pay you? On the other hand, if a brand wants their content on your site and knows the only way they’ll get that is if they pay, guess what? They’ll find the cash.
And please don’t be hoodwinked by the PRs who say that the first one is free, but after that it will lead to paid posts…I fell for a few of these when I first started out. Have I ever heard back after that initial freebie? Of course not!!
17. Because exposure is not usually worth that much anyway
In my time blogging I have sent lots of traffic to brands. Have they sent much my way? Nope. Even the ones who promise lots of ‘exposure’. I’ve had maybe a handful of pageviews, if that, from the brands I’ve worked with. Not really worth a free blog post, is it?
18. Because your MUUs may well be higher than the circulation of some big magazines in your niche
I had a little look at the circulation figures for food magazines in the UK. Most had monthly circulation figures LOWER than my monthly unique users for Easy Peasy Foodie. Can you imagine what a major UK food magazine would say if a brand asked them to do a free 2 page advertorial in return for ‘free product’? (I’m imagining some kind of less polite version of ‘on your bike, mate!). For this kind of activity, a print magazine would charge thousands. Yet we as blogger are willing to do it for a few jars of jam…
19. Because your blog is your business not your hobby
If you want your blog to make money, you have to treat it like a business, not like a hobby. And businesses don’t do work for free.
20. Because even if you don’t want the money you are hurting your blogging colleagues
OK I’ve written this piece with the assumption that you do actually want to earn money from blogging. But what if you don’t? What if blogging is actually just a hobby and you are just in it for the freebies and don’t want to make money? Well, look, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life or how altruistic you should be. But do at least bear in mind that by working for free you are potentially hurting the incomes of those bloggers who blog for a living. It’s up to you what you do with that information, but I thought you should at least know.
21. Because everyone else is getting paid
Do you think the PR/Brand manager who contacts you is doing their job for free product/exposure? Do you think their boss is, or anyone else connected to the PR company or brand is? Of course not! So why should you be expected to work for free when no one else is?
I’d love to know your thoughts on this issue? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you think working for free is OK in some circumstances? If so, when?
Are you a Brand Manager or PR who hates asking bloggers to work for free, but has to do it as part of your job? I’d love to hear your side of the story too!
Find out more…
Find out more on the topic of making money with your blog from the following posts:
- How to make money on your blog with advertising
- How to make money on your blog with sponsored posts
- How to make money on your blog with products and services
And for a good overview to the subject of making money on your blog do check out this post: How do blogs make money?
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