I debated even writing this, but it’s a topic that was hanging over my head for honestly the last 4 months.
This Sunday morning, literally as I was pumping gas thinking about this topic again, I’m scrolling through my podcasts, and I see from Gary Vee podcast episode saying the EXACT thing I was thinking.
And I took that as a sign from the universe that this message needed to be a thing.
I think bloggers should (sometimes) work for free.
Now, I know there’s a lot of uproar in the blogging community when anyone dares say that bloggers should work for free.
Even with all the disclaimers and nuances I’m about to throw at you, there’s going to be bloggers flip the f out because I’m suggesting blogger should work for free…sometimes.
Sooo, what brought this on in my head?
Over the last few months, I’ve been working with a lot of new bloggers and influencers…not “new” as in like “small followings,” but “new” as in I’ve never worked with them before professionally.
And it’s gotten a little bit discouraging when I see so many of them either straight up turning stuff down because the money isn’t 100% perfect or nickel-and-diming opportunities that I know could be amazing for them long-term.
It’s like saying no and turning down a million dollar check…because you wanted the money in cash.
It just doesn’t make sense, right??
And the side of me that runs Slightly Savvy and LOVES peeling back the curtain to the PR world to share insider tips with you guys is internally screaming at these girls to snatch these opportunities up!!
Because I see how they could turn into thousands and thousands of dollars worth of new business and brand collaborations down the road.
And yet, the bloggers turn the opportunities down.
And then, they wonder why they aren’t growing.
And before someone wants to “expose” me for maybe how I make money?
I’m not a trust fund baby.
I don’t have any secrets sources of income that magically allow me to work for free sometimes.
I have student loans, and a mortgage and an IRA to think about.
It’s all very boring and normal.
I write this from a perspective of wanting bloggers to think more strategically about who they are partnering with.
And sometimes, strategic means free.
So when should bloggers work for free?
When it SIGNIFICANTLY moves the needle in your business.
It’s kind of an old-school PR term called “moving the needle.”
And basically, every time you go to do something for free or at a lower cost or with more time dedicated to it than you would like, ask yourself “Does this significantly move the needle in my business?”
I like to break it into 3 main litmus tests for when a blogger should think about working for free.
CREDIBILITY: Will this partnership help establish you as an authority in your field?
For example, you’re a beauty blogger and Clinique approaches you for a collaboration – but they’re not going to pay you.
Is this a partnership you would PAY to put their logo on your media kit?
For me, yeah I would pay to put the celebrities names’ I work with on my resumé, so yes, I’ll do some work for free.
LEVERAGE: Do you see the opportunity to spin this into new contacts, a long-term relationship? Can you capitalize on this free work to bring in money down the road?
For example, it’s a PR firm that also works with Nordstrom, Sugarfina, Lauren Conrad, other brands you love. But they only want you to do an unpaid partnership with a smaller brand.
If you get approached for an unpaid partnership, and it significantly moves the needle in your business through one of those above categories…then I’d do it.
Practical Ways to Tweak Your Business Plan to Allow You to Work For Free (Sometimes)
It’s easy to say, “Oh just work for free sometimes! It’ll turn out great.”
But that’s not practical and it’s also not the point.
Budget for free work
Every month, I know I’m going to do some kind of PR work for free.
So I make sure I have enough work coming in to allow me to pay my bills, stay on track with savings, and still throw in that unpaid work.
In my business, I KNOW I’m going to do free work sometimes and believe me, I don’t do it out of charity.
I do it because it helps me move the needle in my business to get to where I want to go.
Raise your standard rates
Even if you bump up your partnership rates by $50, a few new collaborations could easily cover your “loss” of doing free work.
Negotiate some add-ons for that free work
If you’re doing unpaid work for someone, I think the sky is the limit when you want to ask for favors.
Maybe you want to be connected to another similar PR firm – ask.
Maybe you want to be added to a PR list for upcoming product releases – ask.
Maybe you need a testimonial for your media kit – ask.
Not that I want you to be so transactional, but be aware that just because you’re doing something for free doesn’t mean you get NOTHING out of it.
Follow up consistently
Great, you did them a huge favor by creating a beautiful blog post or Instagram post for free.
Now, you can follow up with them probably once a month asking if they have any paid opportunities.
Ball is in your court to stay on top of your contact.
Influencer marketing is so powerful, and I will argue that to my grave.
But the way that you get brand collaborations sometimes HAS NOTHING to do with how amazing your content is or how killer your engagement looks…it’s about your reputation.
And your reputation is in part built on making connections, working with legitimate brands, and building your virtual resumé.
- Is working with this brand for free worth the connections you make?
- Is putting this logo on your media kit something you would pay for?
- Is this partnership a stepping stone in building yourself as an authority and legitimate figure in a niche?
Do you know how much PR work I’ve done for free? And do you know how much PR work I still do for under my normal rate?
Most recently, I started working with a celebrity for a little less money than I would like.
But do you know why I took that client on and swallowed the loss?
Because when I’m in talks to work with someone new on a publicity campaign, I get to say, “Oh btw, I’ve worked with a XYZ celebrity.”
A little resumé boost like that helps me command exactly the rates that I want to command.
And you can use those unpaid partnerships as the resumé booster YOU need to command the rates and collaborations you dream of.
If a tiny brand reaches out to you and maybe you don’t automatically love the product, no, absolutely don’t work for free.
If a brand who already works with every single influencer under the sun reaches out (you know who I’m talking about)…absolutely don’t do it for free.
But when a household name brand or a big-time company approaches you but either 1) won’t pay you at all or 2) the offer doesn’t perfectly match your rate…if it’s going to move the needle in your business, then I would say yes.
So I hope that my thoughts came across clearly in this post where you can see that I’m saying that bloggers should work for free…sometimes and strategically.
All this to say…bloggers should SOMETIMES and STRATEGICALLY work for free
Really, I hope this is just a new way of thinking for you.
A new way of looking at unpaid work and looking at it through the lens of long-term benefits and payouts.
And some of you might say, “She’s just writing about this for the page views,”…
Guys, I’ve pulled enough publicity stunts in my day to not be into pulling one on a casual Sunday night where I’m just trying to catch up on The Walking Dead and break out the Williams-Sonoma peppermint hot chocolate.
Thoughts?? I’m curious if you guys not necessarily agree with this but maybe get what I’m saying.