Working for Free is Bullsh*t!

“Don’t work for free”,

“Free doesn’t pay my mortgage”,

Are all phrases you’ll often heard spouted on a fairly regular basis by many in the blogging world.

It seems that it pays (literally) to position yourself as someone who doesn’t do any work for free and demands payment for everything… even when it isn’t actually always the case. You see, it gives the person stating it a position of authority, as if they never work unless they are being paid well.  It holds them up high as someone who is doing extremely well, needs to be paid the big bucks… even if in reality, at times they are working for free.

It’s not that dissimilar to those money making gurus who rent a sports car for the day and get a ton of photos done to ensure they look like they actually do make a shed load of cash. It gives them an audience of people who want to be in their position and gives the impression that they are pretty sought after. For some it’s harmless posturing, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t really that helpful.

Here’s why.

There are a large number of impressionable new bloggers looking up to those who tell them that they shouldn’t work for free and that they should demand payment for anything and everything. What the new bloggers don’t know (or aren’t told) is that sometimes these bloggers do work for free and aren’t as demanding as they may tell you they are.

“It teaches people to mistrust brands and agencies rather than to build solid relationships on which both parties can create value.”

It’s often a way of trying to create a different market for themselves above others in the industry by portraying that you’re in demand and only work for the exclusive few at the right price. This marketing ploy doesn’t only have an impact on those looking to work with bloggers but also others who look up to them, hear them speak at conferences, listen to their podcasts or read their articles. Whilst there are some bloggers that are truly in demand and don’t need to use “smoke and mirrors” tactics, those that do can have a negative impact on the bloggers that follow them. It teaches people to mistrust brands and agencies rather than to build solid relationships on which both parties can create value.

It’s Business Time!

But there’s another well uttered phrase that also does the rounds in the blogging world… “You need to treat your blog as a business…”.

If you’re treating your blog as a business, then who are your competitors? Other bloggers? If so, you might want to think about how they are getting clients and how they are nurturing relationships with potential clients. We are in a people business and relationships are everything.

High Demands

Far too often I’ve experienced, heard stories from PR’s and brands about bloggers who have been difficult, demanding or just plain rude. Although this can often be overlooked and put down to miscommunication by email, it can often sour the relationship early on. Being overly hard nosed and defensive can leave people wondering if it’s worth the hassle working with you, after all it’s a two way relationship that needs to work for both parties.

“we’ve found ourselves in an echo chamber… telling each other the same thing, “Don’t work for free”, “Know your value”, “Free doesn’t pay my rent”.”

Brands and agencies tend to like to work with people they trust, are reliable, professional and who they get along with. They’ll come back to these same bloggers because they know that in the past they’ve delivered for them as well as being a pleasure to work with. If you’ve been overly difficult or demanding from day one, you’re already putting yourself in a position where you may not work with that client again.

What I don’t quite understand is… where does this attitude come from?

Is it from speakers at conferences, Facebook groups, online discussions telling the audience not to work for free? Perhaps, maybe as bloggers we’ve found ourselves in an echo chamber… telling each other the same thing, “Don’t work for free”, “Know your value”, “Free doesn’t pay my rent”.

There seems to be a mistrust of agencies, brands and PR’s that may not be justified. Yes, sometimes there are bad clients, who don’t pay on time or want you to produce content for very little reward, but there are also many excellent clients out there that you may be missing out on.

Both Sides of the Fence

Having had chance over the years to experience the communication between blogger, brands and agencies on both sides of the fence, I think it’s time for us to rid ourselves of the soundbites and get the discussion out in the open. It’s increasingly important that we hear from all sides of the industry, not just the blogger side. At the next Traverse conference we’ll be doing our best to ensure both sides are represented (as we have at previous conferences) so that we can better understand this relationship in our industry.

The Travel Industry

As a content creator and blogger it’s useful to delve into different niches and industries to get new ideas, find innovation and to see what the best practices are. There are differences in many niches and although the “don’t work for free” mantra may not have originally surfaced in the travel industry it is certainly uttered on a fairly regular basis.

“the cost of sending bloggers products is insignificant compared to sending a blogger on an all expenses trip to a far flung destination with flights included”

Whilst I do agree you shouldn’t be working hard to promote brands with very little in return (including just the price of the product) I do think there are differences in the travel industry to say, the fashion industry. For example, for a brand the cost of sending bloggers beauty products or clothing is insignificant compared to sending a blogger on an all expenses five star trip to Tahiti with flights included. You can’t compare the two with the blanket statement, “don’t work for free” as the costs involved are so different.

Dream Trip Hypocrisy

Which brings me to another point, if those who “don’t work for free” are offered an all expenses covered trip to their dream destination… would they take it without getting paid? The answer is, probably… but they just wouldn’t mention that it wasn’t paid, but they’ll technically be working for free… or would they? Well, it “won’t pay the mortgage” but the cost to the client certainly wasn’t free. This highlights the total hypocrisy that exists.

Perhaps the problem originates from somewhere else? The freelance community perhaps? Where freelancers are can often feel like they are taken advantage of by their clients. Many bloggers feel like they are freelancers or maybe even do some freelance work on the side. The difference being, anyone with the tiniest bit of skill can start a blog… there are pretty much zero barriers to entry in getting started. You don’t have to have a portfolio of past clients, CV of skills to start or years of experience, you could have started a few month ago. Do these bloggers work for free or are they more flexible with fees? It seems totally unrealistic to tell them to not do any work with clients without payment.

“It’s certainly possible to make a great living doing what you love, but realistically it takes a lot of time, effort and patience.”

Sure, know your value. If you’re experienced, have a big reach, expertise and quality content then know how much that is worth…  but it’s unlikely someone who is relatively new or hasn’t got a huge reach has that to offer. It’s certainly possible to make a great living doing what you love, but realistically it takes a lot of time, effort and patience. Despite what people say it’s also fine to have a 9 to 5 job whilst you work on your side projects you don’t have to try and escape it unless you really want to, there really are no rules.

There are occasions in business when you have to offer something for free or at a cheaper price to build trust before the customer commits their money to a bigger purchase. You’ll see those very bloggers who say “don’t work for free” creating free products, free video webinars, free courses, free advice via Facebook groups… essentially working for free to build trust and sell you their latest course, pdf or product. Is that so different? They’re working for a potential customer for free in the hope that they’ll win their business in the long run. If they didn’t offer this free material would people buy their products or services?

Also, how did these bloggers get their own opportunities when they first started out? Were they all paid opportunities? Somehow I doubt it.

So kids, don’t work for free… well unless it’s your dream destination, then well… pack your bags, you’ve got a flight to catch!



Paul is co-founder/director at Traverse and also a long term travel blogger at www.travmonkey.com. His new project is all about learning to surf and leave the stresses of the city behind at www.surfandunwind.com.

TRAVERSE TEAM

20 Comments

  • This is a great article and a nice balanced argument. Coming from the brand side of things, I absolutely agree that relationship building is the number 1 most important thing. If you don't have trust going both ways early on, you can't expect to build up to bigger and better things. Early on, working for free/receiving smaller compensation may be necessary for both sides to gain that trust. Usually once you have that and have delivered a quality product for the client, the only way is up! Super interested to hear other opinions on the subject.
    • Yes! Totally agree, I think it's often forgotten by bloggers that the relationship is so important. Of course sometime you may have a bad experience with a client but on the whole most people want the relationship to benefit both sides.
  • This is very interesting, I agree on so many points. I think too that a long term sane and mutually beneficial relationship is the most important side of brand / blogger interactions!
    • Yes, definitely important to know your value and communicate that in the right way I think. The relationship is so important.
  • I think free is a word disliked in the blogging industry but as you mention far too many people feel that being a blogger means they have the right to demand payment. When I started out as a blogger I was told by another blogger, who I really look up to, that sometimes doing something for free will be more rewarding in the future. I don't know any travel blogger who would turn down writing for someone like National Geographic or any other number of large publications for free to begin with if it came with the expose you were after. I have actually been embarrassed by the demanding nature of many travel bloggers in recent years. Suddenly they think they are the dog's b#@!?/$s and therefore they should get everything and anything they want. And for what in return? A photo on instagram, perhaps a mention in an article but only if they are paid. Forget the fact that it has probably cost a fortune to send them on this trip. A trip they consequently don't have to pay out for themselves. I am not saying I work for free but I look at each assignment in silo and figure out costings, time and savings on my part before accepting or declining anything.
    • Yeh I think there are always going to be some people who just don't deliver or are demanding, it happens in many industries. There are plenty of freelancers around who have bad reputations for that sort of thing. I also do think some bloggers have heard that the have to be aggressive when dealing with brands/PR's, but it definitely the wrong way to go in my opinion.
  • Yes, I love this, Paul! Most bloggers I know worked for free for years before earning anything. Yes, I rarely work for free now (although I wouldn't turn down a trip to the Maldives!) but I did work for free for about 7-8 years and I encourage all bloggers to start out working for free to build a network of contacts, build an audience and build reports that prove they have influence and justifies them being paid. A lot of people seem to forget that the bloggers being paid have thousands and thousands of readers and genuinely influence buying decisions. Until you can honestly say you influence people's decisions when it comes to booking holidays, you can't really justify being paid.
    • Thanks! Yes, it takes time and I think sometimes people just want it now, or want a shortcut. I have no problem with bloggers getting paid properly for the value they bring... I just don't think it makes sense to say everyone should be paid X amount.
  • There's a massive difference between "working for free" and "working for no reward". It's true that some companies seem to want something for nothing, but equally there seem to be some bloggers with unrealistic expectations. If a brand wants me to write a blog post for them, or to post their content on my blog, I expect some monetary compensation. But if they give me something of value, like a trip or even a meal, I might well not expect any further reward. There might also be occasions where the reward is less tangible - great content for my blog, building up a relationship or reaching a new audience. Whether that is a fair return for the work depends on the circumstances... (As an aside, we all "work for free" when we take a trip at our own expense and then write about it on our blogs. It's all part of building up our brand and - hopefully - it pays off in the end.)
    • I love the "working for free" and "working for no reward" comparison. I guess some companies that do want something for nothing give the rest a bad reputation amongst bloggers.
  • Also, I don't like the word Free which I'll replace with. I'm working for Value. Why ? Somewhere down the road I’m going to want something from you — a video view, a book purchase, a like, a share, etc — and when that time comes, you’re likely to do what I’m looking for. Why? Because I’ve done something for you in the past, and in a weird way, I’m almost guilting you to do what I need 🙂
    • I like the "working for value", I also agree that people or bloggers don't often see the value in doing something and asking for nothing in return... to later than ask for a favour. Too often it's a take take take mentality even between bloggers, when helping each other out would benefit all in the long run.
  • Steve Biggs
    Different bloggers different agendas too? I have a FT salaried 9-5 career job that pays the mortgage. I travel blog for the sheer pleasure of it and don’t need it to make any income. My thought is (everything else being equal) if I get approached by a company and am happy to do something for free, am I taking the “food off the plate” of another blogger who was asking for a fee (as blogging is their only income) and subsequently doesn’t get chosen?
    • If you are taking food of the plate of another blogger then the blog they have isn't strong or unique enough (there aren't enough barriers to replicate their value) to be a business in itself.
  • I think it all comes down to value - for both sides. If both the blogger and the brand feel it's a fair exchange, where they're getting something of value in exchange for providing something of value to the other party, then great. That could be money, but I don't think it always has to be. Since every trip/opportunity/etc varies so much from the next, it's completely situational. It's just a case of weighing up the cost (time and/or money) and whether the reward (money/content/experience) is worth it.
    • It's great to hear all these sensible points of view... you don't often hear them but I totally agree. Working for reward/value" are probably much better terms to use than "working for free".
  • I think it all depends on what the arrangement is between both parties. If both parties are happy with the arrangement and the outcome, then does it matter what the value is? Everyone has their own agenda and even within that some things just fall into place even if the monetary value is minimal. We are still in the early days of our blog and building contacts, trust and experiences is as valuable to us as hard cash. We will assess whether the value of the experience (be it a stay, activity or meal) and what we will provide in return seems a fair deal. If it is, then we will accept. If we look at it and decide they are taking the p@£s then we will decline and move on. Every blog is different, every bloggers situation is different and every opportunity is different. So long as you feel that your time and effort is not being taken for granted and in some way you are being rewarded then the terms are insignificant.
    • Great common sense approach Suz! I totally agree with your approach too and agree that every blog is different as well as the bloggers situation too.
  • If the exchange is mutually beneficial, there is nothing wrong with a travel blogger working for free, especially if it involves going to a destination that they have not previously visited and it would appeal to their audience. The destination gets the desired coverage on the blogger's website and/or social media channels, and the blogger gets to visit a new destination and partake in an experience that they can use to engage and grow their audience. That said, when the destination begins to request a certain level of coverage and wants to have the final approval of content distributed or even images/video to use on their own channels, then that turns into a campaign and should be paid. After all, no one else (destination employees, PR agency, blogger agency, etc.) in the chain is likely working for free. So why should the blogger be expected to do so? Especially if they have a large, engaged audience. Granted they could miss out on a unique experience if they say no, but they could also be off doing something else earning money. So it's not an automatic yes or no with regards to a travel blogger working for free. It really all comes down to the individual opportunity and what it means for the travel blogger and their growing business.
    • True, some great points! I definitely think that if there are issues control and demands for content then bloggers should be fairly paid for their value.

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