A topic that has been coming up more and more, especially since the pandemic caused so many to be unemployed, is whether content creators should work for free or in exchange for product only. My short answer is NO! Never. Unless that product’s value is equivalent to your rate. Let’s discuss.
With websites such as Brands Behaving Badly popping up, it’s a great time to discuss all of the reasons that content creators need to stop saying yes to companies that want them to work without monetary compensation.
Your Time and Exposure are Valuable
Influencer marketing has grown to what is expected to be a 13.8 billion dollar industry this year. Why? Because companies see the value in everyday people building an audience and sharing things they love. It’s proven over the years to be one of the most effective advertising strategies.
For those who think that being a content creator is easy or is a way for entitled teens to get things for free, make sure you review Why Being a Successful Influencer is Not an Easy Job. Then come back. I’ll wait.
Now, with all that goes into being a content creator, you can see why it should be entirely unacceptable for a company to only provide product (which likely cost them pennies on the retail dollar to make) in exchange for the time it takes you to plan, photograph, edit, create content, share, engage with your audience, etc.
I’m not talking about a new appliance or a new bed; I’m talking about the hundreds of emails I get every year from toy companies or candy companies who want you to share in exchange for something that is less than $10. It’s unacceptable.
Big Brands Have the Money
Please don’t allow a big company to tell you that they don’t have the advertising budget. They are either lying, are trying to get free exposure, or are saving that money for their own pockets.
If they are a big brand, they have the money. And if they don’t want to pay you for your time, expertise and exposure, don’t be afraid to tell them NO!. The more we say no to these brands and explain why it’s unethical, the more they will likely stop taking advantage of us.
Don’t Work on a Trial Basis
When a brand tells you that they want you to post once for free, evaluate the results, and then they “might” pay you in the future, say no! Content Creators are not Netflix or iTunes Music. We don’t have billions in the bank and millions of customers. You are a small business and don’t have the luxury of giving out free trials to anyone.
99.9% of the time, those companies have no intention of ever paying you in the future. Those companies are getting you to work for free, getting free exposure for their brand, and you get nothing in return. I like to ask them if they worked for free for the first few months too.
Affiliate Relationships are More Work and Less Pay
No matter what a brand tells you, you will never make more money through an affiliate agreement than you will with a flat rate partnership. Why? Because you have to post multiple times, over a span of weeks, months, or even longer, to get anywhere near your rate. You are doing 20x the work for 1/20 of the pay.
For example, I signed on with a billion-dollar brand about a year ago on an affiliate basis. There were no required deliverables, and I went into it thinking that I would share the link on blog posts whenever it was relevant in hopes that I would pick up some extra cash.
Fast forward to today. I have sent this brand almost $5k in sales and have not seen a penny yet. That’s because many of these affiliate platforms require a 60-90 day verification process to ensure that the customer doesn’t return the item. Then, it’s another 30 days until they deposit it into your “affiliate account.” They don’t allow you to withdraw that money until it’s reached an amount that you mutually agree on (usually $50 or $100).
While I have sent them thousands of dollars in sales, I currently have $8 in my account because that’s all they’ve been able to verify up until this point. I have another $150 pending that I might not see until next year.
Imagine if I had been actively sharing that link? Sure, I may have made more sales, but all of that for a fraction of what I’m paid for one post. It makes zero sense.
Bragging Rights and Product Will Not Pay the Bills
It’s crazy to me that companies that make millions of dollars a year feel that it’s okay to ask content creators to work for free. Do you know why they do it? Because so many say yes. They want the bragging rights to say they’ve worked with these big brands. I don’t know about you, but I can’t go to my landlord and tell him, “I worked with [Enter Big Name Company Here]” instead of paying my rent.
Stop taking jobs because you feel “honored” that a big brand chose you. Instead, focus your energy on feeling “honored” because a brand recognizes your value and pays you for your time, service, and exposure. Your time is worth more than a digital frame or a story to tell your friends.
If You Love Something, Buy It Instead
I’ve heard so many content creators tell me that they said yes to the $12 product in exchange for a post because they thought the product was cute. Or their kids would love it. Or they probably would have bought it anyway.
Guess what? Spending $12 on an item and NOT having to work for it is better than getting a $12 item for free and working to produce content. What you are telling other brands is that you don’t value your own time. Believe it or not, they can tell when you have been gifted a product and were not paid. Why should they pay you when they know you work for free?
Their Competitor Might Have Paid You
You are shooting yourself in the foot every time you post for a brand that didn’t pay you. Let me give you an example. A cereal company reaches out and asks if they can send you a few cereal boxes in exchange for a post. You say yes because your kids love that cereal, and you probably would have bought it anyway.
You put just as much work into that photo and caption as you would have for a paid campaign, but you were paid in cereal, something you won’t have once it’s eaten.
Not long after, another cereal brand finds you and is about to email you to offer you a paid partnership, but they see that you posted a competitor in the last three months. They will likely not contact you. You just lost out on money from a brand that values you in exchange for a few boxes of cereal. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Your Feed Shouldn’t Be All Sponsored Posts Anyway
I’ve spoken to several PR companies who told me that the one thing they look for when searching for content creators is a feed with 25% or fewer sponsored posts. If you are taking product exchange campaigns because you need content, you should reevaluate your strategy.
Companies want to see that you are a real person, sharing real things like life, struggles, triumphs, and connecting with your audience. They don’t want to be one of 9,340 other ads. That doesn’t benefit them in any way because they are competing with all of the other brands.
Plus, does your audience want to see #sponsored #ad #gifted every single day? It probably comes off as inauthentic if you’ve been a content creator for years and are just sharing products every single day. It’s almost like turning on the TV to watch commercials all day long.
Companies Are Paying for Their Other Advertising
When you see a commercial on TV for one of these big brands, do you think the actor/actress was paid in cans of soda? What about the videographer? The director? The producer? Did they ask any of them for a free trial? No! They were ALL paid in money, as they should be.
As a content creator, you may be reaching a smaller audience than a television commercial, but you are still doing the work of many people to give that company exposure. You deserve to be paid for that, and not in bottles of shampoo either.
The best advice that I can give to you, whether you are just starting or you are an established content creator, is to understand your value and not let any company take advantage of that. Base your rates on more than just the number of followers you have. It’s also about an authentic relationship with your audience, and most importantly, the time it takes you to create the content.
Set an hourly rate, estimate the amount of time you’ll spend on each project, and negotiate until you feel comfortable with the final offer.
Continue to work with small brands as you see fit, but don’t offer the same options to big brands that have the means to pay.
Change Comes in Numbers
We can’t stop this madness without everyone’s help. If you say no, companies will likely find someone else who will say yes. We need to join together to make brands understand that what we do is a job and one that we work very hard at, or this will never get better.
Remember, your actions affect an entire industry. So whether you have 5k followers or 500k followers, know that your time is valuable, and you deserve compensation for your hard work. Period.