Congratulations! You did it! You have successfully made it through the 5 steps in becoming a content creator and you are now starting to monetize your posts! Because you have started building a portfolio of either great pictures or actual sponsored posts, you have gotten to the point in your creating that you are asking yourself “should I still be accepting unpaid work?”.
Let’s dive in to this topic!
This post will be for anyone who has started working with companies on a gifted or hosted basis, looking for more information on this topic, or is wondering when you should start cutting the cord from even accepting free items for content purposes.
And the truth of this topic is simple – there is no one right answer. So overall, my hope from this post is to at least give you some guidance and to get you to think about what’s the best course of action for you.
For me personally, my page originally started as the social media account for my small shop, but after sharing more of my personal life and style, the page naturally transformed in to something else entirely. So after some thought, I changed the name, I changed the direction, and I started making all of my content as “lifestyle blogger” content. And even though I have had the account for over six years now, I really didn’t start doing influencer stuff until about late 2019! So currently, even with over 18,000 followers, I still will sometimes accept gifted opportunities.
That being said, I have rules for myself when accepting gifted campaigns. The reason I have these rules is because I have started valuing how much time and effort goes in to all of my posts and I cannot just be accepting things because its free. So the three reasons I will accept a gifted campaign are:
- It’s a product I was going to buy anyway AND the deliverables are not excessive. If I really wanted that product but they are asking for three Instagram posts, a Tik Tok, and a YouTube review, well then I’m passing. One post and an Instagram Story with a swipe-up link is perfectly fine.
- It’s a product that I can link via RewardStyle and make some commissionable sales off of it. In this way, I can actually make money off of a free product by talking about it on my social media and hopefully getting some small compensation for it.
- It’s a company that I really wanted to work with. I have my own list of companies that if they came knocking, I would 100% answer the door as quickly as possible!
Now to answer this question for yourself, you first need to ask yourself “how much is my time worth?”. For me, I started setting these rules for gifted opportunities only last month because, for all of 2020, most every single sponsored post I did, I was only getting paid about $25 per post (which is NOTHING!). So after reevaluating my page and refocusing the direction, I decided that it was time for me to start standing up for my posting rate, which is currently around $100 per single Instagram post. So maybe if you value your time or page a little bit less, accepting something for free could possibly be as good as getting actual payment for it!
However, let’s say you are constantly getting DMs or emails for opportunities, your schedule is booked with all these fun campaigns, and you may be getting to the point of not having enough time to mix in your own non-sponsored posts. This would be a definite sign that you need to stop accepting those non-paid gigs and start giving them your posting rates. Free is always fun, but if opportunities are always knocking on your door, then obviously you are doing something right and people are noticing! By responding to these campaigns with your enthusiasm and your ideas for how to showcase their products, but ending it with “however, I do not accept products as payment. If you liked the ideas I had for promoting your product and feel like I am a good fit for your brand, I would be happy to discuss my posting rates with you!” could get you that CHA-CHING! But keep in mind, companies will say no – there is always going to be someone who will do it for free. But you don’t have to be one of them.
This doesn’t have to mean the end of gifted opportunities though. Remember, I still have my own rules for receiving product as payment. So let’s say that you respond to that email saying that you would happily discuss your rate and the company responds with “Thank you for your interest, however at this time we are only doing gifted products for content.” Well, you can just as easily think it over and respond with “After thinking it over, I really feel like my audience would appreciate seeing your brand, and I would be happy to do product in exchange for content.” Or you can even say “Thank you for thinking of me for this campaign, please keep me in mind for your next paid opportunity!” If you really just want to work for free, no one is stopping you! But with the influencer market becoming so large, there will ALWAYS be someone willing to work for free if you won’t.
Which leads me to another interesting tid-bit of information. One of the big reasons that I am an advocate for moving from gifted work to paid work is because the market is so saturated. Influencers left and right want to work and they are willing to do it for free. Now again, this is fine to build a portfolio or to get your foot in the door with a brand you really like, but the reason influencers are getting a lot of DMs and emails for non-paid work is because other influencers continue to ACCEPT those campaigns. So those companies know that they can get away with offering gifted campaigns because people are willing to work for only that.
Can you imagine the impact we would all have on the influencer market if we started working together to stand up for our time and energy in to these posts? Companies everywhere are turning to influencers because it is SO MUCH CHEAPER to use hundreds of influencers to promote them than it is to spend a whole lot more money on doing fancy photoshoots where they hire the photographer, the wardrobe department, the lighting, setting the scene, and the editing team. I assure you that they have room in their marketing budget to pay influencers a decent rate. But they won’t if they know someone will work for free.
And you don’t need X amount of followers to do paid work! You should not be selling yourself short just because you don’t think you have a big enough following to get a company’s attention. If you have an engaged audience and you are getting brands wanting to work with you, keep up the good work up! I have seen so many people get paid deals with as little as 2,000 followers. Don’t sell yourself short if you think it’s time that you started getting paid for your awesome posts!
Overall, just take this with a grain of salt – there is no one right answer to this big question of “when you should stop accepting non-paid work”. It will forever be a moving target! You just need to decide for yourself when your time and your work needs to start making you money in return.
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