Last Updated on December 28, 2017 by Ellen
If you’re a blogger or online influencer, you’ve probably seen the question “Is working for free ever worth it?” discussed many times. What bloggers make, who earns what, what company paid (or didn’t) pay who what, and any number of other topics are commonly discussed behind the scenes. One of the most commonly debated questions is whether or not working for free is ever worth it. Depending on who you talk to, the answer will vary greatly. I’m sharing my thoughts here and they may or may not be the same as other bloggers. Really, the most important thing is what YOU think.
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Is Working for Free Ever Worth it?
I have been blogging for eight years and have six blogs of varying topics and sizes. Each blog has a different goal, and I use a variety of monetization strategies for each site. What works for me on one site, may not work on another. Before we begin, I want to explain what I mean by working for free.
Free – With no payment or product for you at all.
That means, that if the brand is offering you a product in exchange for your work, they are not asking you to work for free. They may be asking you to work for a low value, but it’s not free since you get something from it. It’s up to you to decide if that something is worth your time or not.
Are they offering you affiliate income in exchange for your work? I work with a variety of companies as an affiliate. That means that if I create a post and someone makes a purchase using a link in my post, I earn money from that purchase. Again, the brand is not asking you to work for free. Depending on the type of website you have and whether or not they are “buyers,” you may or may not earn from this type of post. I have, on my pet site and fashion site earned more with an affiliate post than I normally charge for a sponsored post. On my other sites, not so much.
I often get sent press releases where brands & PR companies want me to write about their client much the way a journalist would. “Cindy Celebrity was seen wearing ABC Brand dress at the Gala award ceremony last night. We can send high res images if you’d like to write about it.” Brands often treat bloggers the way they treat journalists. This doesn’t work for most bloggers because we don’t earn the same way. Journalists get paid by the publications they work for. Bloggers get paid by brands. This request is called editorial coverage which to most bloggers translates to “Please promote this for free.” While this type of request doesn’t typically work for me, I know bloggers that are quite successful with it because it draws traffic that allows them to earn from ads.
Now, here are a few models that get a bit trickier.
There are some brands that will offer you a giveaway for your readers if you write about their product, but they offer nothing to you directly. Depending on the blog, I may or may not accept requests like this. If I think the giveaway will draw a lot of traffic AND I have no interest in the product for myself, I may accept simply for the traffic boost and the potential new readers. While this happens rarely, there are times I will accept it if it’s an easy post. If they are looking for a lot of work, I pass.
Causes and charities often pitch me to post about their cause for free or a drastically reduced rate. When it’s a cause that really speaks to me or really fits my site, I often say yes. I like giving back and have no problems donating my time to help a real cause. However, if it’s a big brand name, I am less likely to do this than if it’s direct for the cause itself. So, I am more likely to do a post for the American Heart Association than I am for Brand ABC selling vitamins to benefit the American Heart Association.
Blogging for exposure is another common request. It generally means that the brand is offering to share your blog post (that you write for no compensation) with their followers. Most of these I delete, however, there are times that it might work for you. My pet site is still very new, and I was asked to post about a brand for exposure. After posting about the brand (that was a great fit), the brand shared my post and I got a huge increase in page views. For that site, and the ease of the post, it made sense. For a larger site, it would not work for me.
Ultimately, only you can decide if a post is worth your time or not. Be realistic about what the benefits will be, and don’t worry about what others say you should be doing. Do be aware of what your time is worth. There is a great difference between a 15-minute cut and paste giveaway post and a 2 hour Twitter party that you spend an hour promoting.
Whichever model works best for you, be certain that you’re OK with your decision before you accept. There is always the potential risk that what you have just accepted will be offered to another blogger for a higher rate. Be sure you’re OK with that before you decide.
What are your thoughts about working for free?
Ellen is a serial entrepreneur who owns 9 profitable blogs, two printable stores, an online vintage jewelry business, and a variety of other work at home endeavors. She shares tips for working at home successfully.