Why I Don’t Work for “Freebies” (And really wish people would stop asking me to…)
A hand puppet.
A bottle of gin.
A pair of socks.
A selection of bottled water.
A discount code.
These are just a few of the things I’ve been offered lately in exchange for blog posts, Instagram promotion, and various other types of content creation, and I have to admit, it’s starting to grate a little. Or, OK, a lot. Really quite a lot, actually, especially given that the vast majority of these requests now come with a laundry list of tasks which I’d be expected to complete in exchange for the so-called “gifted” item.
It would be one thing if these offers were made on a “no obligation” basis, reflecting the fact that the items in question are rarely worth very much (And, in some cases, nothing at all: I mean, it could be the best damn hand puppet in all the land, but if you’re not in the market for a hand puppet…), but, increasingly these days, that just isn’t the case: in fact, the most recent offer I received came with a very detailed list of requirements, plus a bunch of deadlines, and the stipulation that the content I produced would then be handed over to the brand in question, to use however they liked.
I won’t say which of the above items I was being offered in exchange for all of this, but it doesn’t really matter, because the fact is, I don’t work for free: or for “freebies”, either, as is so often the case. Here’s why…
I can’t pay my bills with free products.
I mean, it would be fantastic if my mortgage provider would let me pay them in hand puppets and fluffy socks, or if the supermarkets accepted cheap skincare products in lieu of actual cash, but they don’t, do they? Which means I don’t, either: I just can’t afford to.
I know a lot of people think it sounds amazing to be given “free” products all the time, but the truth is that absolutely nothing bloggers / influencers get from brands is truly free, is it? No, we have to work for those “freebies”, by creating content – often to tight deadlines, and exact specifications – which means they frequently end up costing us far, far more than they’re actually worth. Because here’s the thing:
My time is valuable: just like everyone else’s.
It’s even more valuable now that I have so little of it (Parenting + a pandemic hasn’t exactly been a relaxing experience, let’s put it that way…), but even before 2020 came along, my time was far too precious for me to want to (Or be able to…) spend it working for nothing: or for something that holds little to no real value for me. I bet yours is, too.
As with any commercial enterprise, everything I choose to spend my time on as a blogger has an opportunity cost: and, in this case, the cost to me of spending my time working for a “free” product is the money I could have earned instead. And that’s really important to understand, because…
Most products aren’t worth the effort that goes into promoting them.
A “freebie” is only worth having if you gain more from it than you spent in getting it: i.e. if it’s either something you’d have bought anyway, but would’ve had to save up for, or if it’s something you couldn’t have afforded to buy, but which will significantly benefit you in some way, making it worth working for. (Or, of course, if it’s genuinely free, in the sense that it’s sent to you without any expectations or requirements…)
Most freebies, however, don’t fall into either of those categories.
Absolutely none of the “freebies” bloggers receive from brands are actually free…
No, most of the freebies I’m offered as a blogger have a small monetary value, AND very little actual value, in terms of what they’ll add to my life. So, they’re typically the kind of products I could probably afford to buy for myself if I wanted them, but which I DIDN’T buy, because, while they might be nice to have, they just weren’t nice enough for me to want to spend money on them. Or simply because there were other things I wanted/needed more.
By accepting them – and bartering my time in exchange for them – though, I end up essentially working in order to pay for a bunch of stuff I didn’t actually want in the first place, instead of the things I DO want, and/or need. Which makes no sense at all, really.
Even high value items, meanwhile, are only worth the effort that goes into working for them if they’re something that will really benefit me in some way. I’ve lost count of the number of times brands have said to me, “Oh, sorry, we can’t pay for the coverage, but the product is worth £200!” Which is all well and good, until you realise it’s a £200 product I don’t need and probably won’t use much, and, no matter how nice and/or expensive it is, it’s not actually helping me pay my bills, or buy the things I DO need and want.
Even high value items, meanwhile, are only worth the effort that goes into working for them if they’re something that will really benefit me in some way.
The other thing to note here, of course, is that content creation takes time: sometimes LOTS of time. People tend to roll their eyes at that statement, because there’s a popular belief that “influencers” just snap a quick photo with their phone, upload it to Instagram, then laugh all the way to the bank, but that’s very far from the truth: or, at least, it is for most of us.
I’m not going to sit here and list all of the things that bloggers have to do in order to create content people will actually want to consume but suffice it to say that blogging at a professional level – or growing an Instagram account to the point where you can start earning an income from it – takes considerably more time and effort than most people realise: and WAY more time and effort than I for one am willing to spend working in exchange for a pair of socks, say. Even REALLY nice ones.
Which brings me to my next point:
Most unpaid collaborations don’t benefit the blogger at all – only the brand.
When a blogger agrees to create content for a brand, the brand benefits in a number of different ways. They benefit, not only from the blogger’s writing, editing and photography skills, but also from the exposure to their audience, plus the blogger’s ability to drive traffic to the post they’ve created – or directly to the product/brand. In many cases, brands will also now want the rights to the content, which they’ll then use on their own social media channels or websites, to make even more money from it.
The blogger, meanwhile, gets a bottle of shampoo, say, or some other low-value item which they may or may not even use. Not exactly a fair exchange, is it: especially when you consider the very negative effects which posting about “free” products can have for a blogger.
Posting an advert on my Instagram grid, for instance, (And bear in mind that it doesn’t matter whether or not I got paid for it: if I receive any incentive at all to post about something, it’s an advert, and must be labelled as such…) doesn’t help my account in any way: in fact, it’s pretty much guaranteed to lose me some followers – and that’s the case regardless of how good the photo is, or how closely it matches my usual content.
So, I’ve got my free bottle of gin or whatever… but I’ve now lost a bunch of followers, AND I still have bills to pay, which can’t unfortunately, be settled in gin, more’s the pity. As I said, it’s not exactly the “amazing opportunity” brands try to present it as. Which, in turn, brings me to my final point:
Working for free rarely leads to working for cash.
Of course, one of the reasons brands continue to ask bloggers and influencers to work in exchange for products is because there are many, many bloggers out there who are happy to do it. (And I cast no shade on those who do: in fact, I’ve done it myself in the past, so I’m in no position to judge…)
Why, though? Well, I guess everyone has their reasons, but one of the ones I hear most often is the idea that working for free will eventually lead to working for cash : or that content creators – especially new ones – have to in some way “prove” themselves to brands by declining to charge for the work they do until such a time as they’re deemed “worthy” of payment.
The truth is, though, that when a brand approaches you for a “collaboration” (Which I’m putting in inverted commas here, because there’s rarely any actual “collaborating” involved: the word is just shorthand for, ‘You do all the work, we’ll take all the money…”), they’ve AREADY deemed you “worthy”. By asking me to create content for them, the brand in question is telling me my work has value to them: but by telling them I’ll hand it over in exchange for a blueberry muffin, or a tube of lipstick, I’m essentially saying that it doesn’t have value to ME – and if I don’t value my own work, well, why would I expect anyone else to?
when a brand approaches you for a “collaboration”, they’ve AREADY deemed you “worthy”.
Instead, then, I take the view that if a brand is going to be profiting from my work, then I expect to profit from it, too. If it’s good enough to use on their website, or in their marketing material, after all, it’s surely good enough for me to be paid for it: that seems only fair, after all…