Why Bloggers Don’t (and Shouldn’t) Work for Free

Fashion Bloggers
Photo: STYLECASTER/Getty Images

Starting at a young age, we’re encouraged to find a job that we love so much that we’d do it for free. In theory, this is great—who wouldn’t want to wake up each morning and feel like their job isn’t work?—but in reality, obviously “free” doesn’t pay bills. When I started my style blog, Simply Audree Kate, in 2012, my goal was to leverage my website as a resume-builder when applying for internship and jobs. I never imagined that a little over five years later, “blogger” would be a permanent job on my resume—or that I’d be able to make a legit career out of it.

I recently wrote a story about my average workday, in which I answered three of the most common questions I get asked about blogging. Some people are taken back when they find out that bloggers are paid for writing posts, posting on social media, or attending events. And while the blogger boom is still relatively new to the world, this type of work is not—so why would anyone expect bloggers to work for free?

Many companies want to partner with bloggers on content, but so few want to pay for these services.

I’ve met many bloggers over the years, who have said that they don’t make money from their blog. And to be fair, I didn’t make money during my first couple years blogging part-time, either, but I do believe that the industry was different then—plus, I never sought out paid opportunities. Fast-forward to today’s culture, and companies are seeking to work with bloggers and partner up on organic, unique content; but still—somewhat unbelievably—there are still so many companies that refuse to allocate budget for these services.

Ahead, I outline four main reasons bloggers don’t (and shouldn’t) work for free or trade. If you’re a blogger, remember that your influence, time, and content has value—and you should be compensated for it. If you’re a brand or agency, remember that bloggers are very excited to work with you, want to produce the best content for your team, and can also be a great asset to your company’s media outreach and relations.

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Free Doesn’t Pay the Bills

I’m grateful to say that I love my blog so much that it’s the type of job that I wake up excited about, but doing work or trade for free product doesn’t pay my rent, my photographer, and the many other costs that come with running a small business. Everyone’s time is precious and limited. None of my friends, family, or colleagues would ever think about going to work without being compensated; the same goes for bloggers.

I’ve received hundreds, if not thousands, of emails from companies or agencies reaching out about sending me product in exchange for reviews, social posts, blog posts, rights to my images, etc. They never have a budget for the collaboration and respond that this collaboration would “potentially” open the door for future paid collaborations down the road. This is essentially free marketing for the company with no guaranteed ROI for the blogger.

Regardless of what kind of blog you have, or the blogs that you follow, blogs are a functioning business and media platform that requires time, effort, investment, and expertise—the same practices that a regular 9-5 employee is paid for at his or her job. According to Forbes, in 2016, 35 percent of U.S. workers are freelance. That’s roughly 55 million people who don’t have a typical office job.

When bloggers accept working for free, it creates an imbalance in the industry.

Marketing, social media, photography/videography, and all the other services provided through a blog post costs money. Companies are paying their employees, agencies, and freelancers to do this work (the countless number of employees who emailed me about collaborations also received pay).

Blogs can be passion projects, side hustles, or in some cases, a full-time career—and free work doesn’t pay the bills. And when bloggers do accept working for free, it creates an imbalance in the industry where companies and brands will continue to work with bloggers who produce free work because it’s easier and cheaper for them. But if a company takes the time to invest in a blogger who will take the time and money to invest in high-quality, professional content, both parties see ROI: The company receives high-quality content they can repost/use, they gain new consumers, and build a sense of relatability with their audience; and the blogger is compensated for their work, gets to promote the cool brand they worked with, and also afford to pay their rent or happy hour bill.

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Bloggers are Trusted

Bottom line: Bloggers’ influence is worth something to companies. There are plenty of large companies in the luxury market or mass retailers that don’t necessarily need your Instagram following to convert to consumers, since they have a large audience of their own, but your influence and small niche audience in the world is special and can bring the brand to a new type of consumer or market to the brand.

Bloggers have cultivated personal online relationships with specific people, and those people trust bloggers or their friends more than a billboard ad, magazine blurb, or social media bot. The blogger’s content can ultimately convert into money for the brand. There are bloggers—for example, Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies—who will wear an item on her blog and it will sell out quickly through affiliate links. It gives these potential customers a visual review and personal touch when they see a blogger they like and trust use and talk about the product.

People trust bloggers more than a billboard ad, magazine blurb, or social media bot.

Whether a blogger has 10,000 or 500,000 followers, their influence is still important and plays an active role in today’s consumerism. Companies have paid celebrities, athletes, reality show stars, and others to promote product for decades, and this new wave of micro- and mega-influencers are no different. Right now, brands need bloggers to sell product. Bloggers create organic advertisements, reviews, personal testimonials, and they showcase product in a way that an internal team might not think of.

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Blogger Content Has Value

People like pretty things. They gravitate toward appealing graphics, aspirational photos, and witty text. It’s the bread-and-butter of marketing and advertising, and content creation is a huge part of a blogger’s day-to-day. Bloggers typically have a small team they work with to create a piece of content. It could take hundreds of photos with the photographer to get the one good Instagram shot, hours of shooting with the videographer, or submitting multiple drafts and re-edits to brands before publishing a photo.

Collaboration isn’ always mutually beneficial—or in a blogger’s favor.

Also, in some cases, the collaboration is not always mutually beneficial. For example, if the company is still new or has a small social following, the blogger will create brand awareness and potentially increase their follower count, sales, and customers. The company will also walk away with free marketing and possible assets. In return, if the blogger is not getting paid, this collaboration might not benefit their blog at all.

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Bloggers’ Time Has Value

As I’ve already touched on, and which I think bears reiterating: Time is money, and it’s standard practice to pay someone for their time. For me, personally, a quality piece of sponsored content can take anywhere from four to 10 hours to create, including emails, contracts, negotiations, brainstorming themes, sourcing a team to help me, researching the company and their previous content or collaborations, photographing the content, editing, writing the post, posting it on social, and marketing it.

A quality piece of sponsored content can take anywhere from four to 10 hours to create.

I’m always happy to try new products, test samples, attend events and have conversations with brands. I love it and I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without those brand collaborations, but my time is also precious and I have to maximize my time, schedule and money in order to grow. I’m pretty sure this holds true for most bloggers—and people, come to think of it!

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@weworewhat , @camilacoelho@songofstyle
PHOTO: Getty Images

At the end of the day, bloggers should be mindful and set their own boundaries of what they do for free, trade, and their rates. Companies should take note that gifting product to bloggers can be really great way to start building brand awareness and connect with the industry, but they shouldn’t expect an entire package of content, photos, and stats without payment. Bloggers are essentially a brand’s newest advertising partner and should be treated as such.