There’s been a lot of conversation in the blogging world, it’s always happened but I’ve seen it far more lately, about how you should never work for free. That is, write about a brand, a product, or a place, without being paid to do so. This seems to have extended out to social media coverage too, with a lot of bloggers thinking there’s no photo going on their grid unless they’ve seen the quids (if you’re not in the UK, quid is slang for pound-I don’t want my non UK readers being really confused by that!) I’ve done a lot of sponsored posts, like my recent dating posts, and that’s great-but I wanted to talk about my thoughts around knowing when you should work for free in this post.
I, respectfully, disagree that you should NEVER work for free. I think there’s a (small) number of occasions when, in fact, you should-or at least should consider it. I’ll add a little disclaimer here and say that this post is also referring to work you choose to do, not always work you’re asked to do. I’ve definitely done free shoots with Laura Haley Photography when it’s benefited me-but not when people just want a free shoot.
Knowing when you should work for free:
When you’re brand new
As a brand new blogger, you’d be unrealistic to think that a brand is going to send you products to review, or pay you to write a post, when you have five followers on Twitter, two posts on your blog, and one Instagram photo. It’s just not going to happen. So, if you’re wanting to earn money from your blog in the future, or if working with your favourite brands is your goal, you first need to show them what you can do.
In this context, it’s not so much ‘working for free’, it’s about writing content that shows brands what you can do for them. If you’re a beauty blogger, work on creating really great review posts on your blog, of products you already own/choose to buy. Make sure you’re proud of your photography, make sure you describe the products well, make sure your readers gain some information from reading your post. And then promote it, and when you do, make sure you tag the brand in the tweet, or the Instagram post.
This isn’t going to make brands approach you overnight. If you’re lucky, someone in their PR team may like your tweet, or even retweet it. But the more you do this, the more likely they are to notice you. This also helps you in the future-when you’re in a position to want to send a pitch to a brand, you have lots of relevant content to link them to-think of it as sending your blog CV, you want that to be full of examples of how great you are.
When you want to branch out
I contacted a travel brand at the end of 2017, asking them if I could write some articles for them for their website. Now, they’re not able to pay me for this, which I knew before I e-mailed. They will link back to relevant content on my blog from my posts for them, which is helpful-but most importantly, it’s a chance for me to write in a slightly different tone than I do here, and to build my portfolio of work up. Three and a half years content on Inside Laura’s Head is great, but it doesn’t show the different things I can do.
Working for free (I mean, ask for payment by all means, but consider whether it’s worth you doing something anyway if no budget) can really, really benefit you. When I started Laura Haley Photography I did some free shoots to build my portfolio (well, I actually charged just enough to cover my travel expenses, but it’s the same principle) and I’ll be doing the same in 2018-doing shoots that add to my portfolio, on my own terms, for free, as well as accepting paid shoots from clients who are wanting a ‘normal’ shoot. Sometimes you need to look longer term, and don’t turn down something that could really help you get to where you’re aiming to be.
When it’s great content
I want to start this by making it clear that, just because a PR e-mails you asking you to discuss X, and there’s no budget but they’d like you to post about it anyway, I’ve always said sorry, no. But if I’ve been somewhere for tea and I feel that my readers will enjoy reading a review of that place-do I contact them and ask to come in on another occasion and review the place? Well, no (although I could, and some may even say yes to that request) No, I just write a review post and post it. The added bonus of writing posts like this when I want to, is it’s building my food review portfolio, which will make it more likely I’ll be asked to do other food reviews for other places. Win, win.
When there’s a DA benefit
If you own your own domain, chances are you’re ultimately trying to improve your domain authority. We all know that one of the ways to help that to happen is for your link to be shared on other people’s sites-those backlinks are so useful to all of us. Often the easiest way to get those is to guest post on other bloggers’ sites. So, could you argue that if you’re writing a post for them, they should pay you? I guess so. But is your average blogger in a position to pay someone to write for them? Nope.
The benefits to you in writing a post for someone else are easy to see. You get that DA boosting link back. You get the chance to cover something, potentially, that you wouldn’t usually cover on your own blog. And, you are showing your work to a whole bunch of people who may not already read your blog. Write a great post, and that will hopefully get some of those readers over to have a look around your blog. Hi, pageviews.
When you’re helping out a (great) contact
Another thing I’ve done, which I consider on a case by case basis, is amend a post I’ve already posted to link out to relevant content from a brand, upon request. This is mostly something I charge a small fee for, as should everyone. But a few months ago I was contacted by a lovely girl I’ve worked with earlier in the year, who’s now moved to a new company, asking if there’s any way I could amend my travel post about a destination to link back to their post on the destination. She made it clear from the outset that she didn’t have a budget for this (if she’d been someone who built up this amazing opportunity in her first e-mail, only to come back to me when I replied saying there was no budget, then I would have simply walked away-those people are the worst) and she told me she was hoping to be able to do future, paid work with bloggers if she could show how amazing our work is. Because I knew her, and had worked with her before on a fantastic project, and because the article she was asking me to link to was both relevant and full of great information about the destination, I added the link.
Have you worked for free? I’d love to hear about when you said yes and why, or even when you said no and why, in the comments.