She Works Hard for the Money! On Blogging for Free….
I want to take a moment here to talk about the business side of blogging. Specifically, blogging for free and women. This is a topic that bloggers discuss among ourselves all the time. I have had countless conversations at conferences, in private Facebook groups, and over coffee with other bloggers on this subject, but it seems that we rarely express to brands that it is simply not okay to approach a blogger and ask for creative content without any plans to pay for that content.
My journey on the topic of blogging for free started with a post that my friend Emily shared on Facebook. The article, entitled Equal. Not. shows an email thread between Catherine Deveny and Equal (the sweetener) in which a representative from Equal approaches Ms. Deveny and asks her to promote their product for free. Her response is scathing. “How incredibly unprofessional to develop an advertising budget where you do not pay for the content. And how rude to ask people to work for nothing.” It goes on beautifully from there. You should read the whole thing.
Along with the accompanying image of two businesswomen giving an enthusiastic high-five across the text “WOMEN Like men, only cheaper” it occurred to me, in a ton-of-bricks kind of way, that I worked for free all of the time. I have been paid in coupons, free products, and everyone’s favorite, “full credit and a link to your blog!” In doing so, I was doing a disservice to myself and all of the creative, hard-working women in my field. And, yes, I know there are male craft and design bloggers out there, too, but the fact is that women lead this industry, and it is not a coincidence that the majority of bloggers who are being asked to work for free are women. In many cases, it isn’t an intentional attempt to exploit women. And often, the women bloggers themselves are not aware of the fact that they are being taken advantage of. I know I used to get excited about the free products I would be offered in lieu of payment. But it’s almost worse that this exploitation of women is so prevalent that we don’t even notice it is happening. This is not okay.
Here’s the thing — Blogging is my business. I love my job. But it is my JOB. And for better or for worse, we don’t live in a society where I can go to the grocery store and barter for loaves of bread with craft paint samples, so I need to be paid with money. Not coupons, not free product, not gift cards. I don’t know why this seems like such a new concept, working for money. I *think* that most people who have jobs are paid in money. But for some reason, I am often reproached for daring to ask to be paid for my work. Almost as if I am doing something unethical by billing for my time. It is as though I should be penalized for enjoying what I do for a living.
When I finally decided that I would stop selling myself short and stop working for free, I started off with polite “No, thank you” emails to companies that reached out to me and asked to exploit me. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this would do nothing to change the culture. Catherine Devany‘s approach of calling out Equal was the slap I needed, and it’s the slap I’d like to pass on.
Recently, I have started taking a stand when I am asked to work for free. I’d like to share the email with you that I respond with after a company approaches me to work and then tells me that they do not have the budget to pay me for that work (you’ll see Ms. Deveny’s inspiration in it, if you read her post). Usually, I get crickets back. But sometimes I get a decent response.
Here it is:
Dear Company X,
I’m sorry to hear that your multi-million dollar company does not have a budget in place to pay bloggers for sponsored content. It is irresponsible and rude to approach a blogger and ask for free marketing. If you like the person’s work, and you are asking her to spend time developing a post to advertise your product, you need to have a budget in place to pay that person for the work she does.
Forgive me for being so straightforward, but this is a major problem in my business, and I think one of the main causes is that bloggers never point out how rude and de-humanizing it is to be asked to work for free. My work has value, which I’m sure you realize, or you would not have approached me in the first place. I’m sure you do not work for Company X for free. I’m sure you would laugh at them if they offered to pay you in free product or coupons. Please ask yourself why it is acceptable to ask someone like myself to do that. Perhaps because some greener bloggers are willing to work for free because of some empty promise of exposure. As if it is a favor to us to advertise products for free! And those of us who understand the value of blogging and word-of-mouth marketing are sweetly apologetic in response to being told we are not worth paying.
I think you have a great brand, and I really would like to work with you. But, for goodness’ sake, please have a budget in place next time you approach me, or any blogger whose work you admire, and ask for sponsored content advertising for your products. It is the responsible and ethical thing to do. And if you’re not the one who makes the budgeting decisions, I hope you will pass this up to the person who makes these “marketing plans” of exploiting women.
If you’re a blogger, I hope this inspires you to consider what you will accept as payment for the work you do. I hope you’ll stop working for coupons and links. Feel free to use my email and tweak it to your needs when a brand approaches you and asks for free content.
If you’re a brand, I hope this inspires you to stop approaching bloggers and asking them to work for free, and to implement a marketing approach that pays fairly for creative services.
If you’re a reader, I want you to know that the ads you see here, the affiliate links, the sponsored posts…the money I make from those things contribute to my livelihood. If you bought a Craftsy class through an affiliate link, you helped buy my kids’ lunch. If you purchased beading supplies from a sponsor, you helped me pay my rent. I appreciate that, just as I hope you appreciate the creative content and ideas I put out into the world.