Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who works from Elan.Works, a designer and editor at GenderAvenger, and a speaker who has spoken across North America. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.

Stop Working For Free Online And Show Them What You're Worth

The following entry is republished from my now-defunct domain, Ninjamatics.com.

Utah Phillips 4
This is Utah Phillips. I just stuck my photo of him up here because he was an activist, and I'm pretending that he would nod along and agree with me.

There is truth behind the statement that you teach people how to treat you, which is why it chaps my now raw butt that bloggers at any level of popularity would work for companies for free.

I have read articles that talk about the importance of personal choice and how those who would write articles and do giveaways without pay should be free to do so. I agree. They should be free to do so. That doesn't stop them from also chapping my butt when they do, though, and, I think, for good reason.

There are exceptions to every rule. There are book reviews done as favours to friends and the receipt of a product whose value more than makes up for the work you put into a giveaway. Yay for friends with books and getting expensive boots you could never afford!

However, sometimes (read: more often than not) a large or mid-sized company (or any company, really) asks a blogger to:
  1. spend time writing for them, and maybe also
  2. go out to get a product on their own or visit an establishment, and maybe also
  3. run a giveaway, and possibly also, by extension,
  4. be given access to all of the blogger's followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook and the readers of their weblog, which are all relationships they've cultivated and probably value, and then the company has the gall to also
  5. ask that the blogger to do it for free or for a coupon that is not even near worth the investment of their time, hard work, skills, and personal relationships.
This is what a company tells a blogger by suggesting this sort of relationship:

A company that asks a blogger to work without proper compensation is telling that blogger that it does not value them or their work.

And this is what we tell a company when we willingly enter into this kind of relationship:

Bloggers who give away their time, hard work, skills, and access to their personal relationships for nothing or next to nothing are telling that company that the company's valuation of them and subsequent treatment is appropriate.

I've been approached by Big Important Companies, and it feels flattering that they noticed me and thought enough of what I do to tap me for an article and a giveaway to my readers, but I can guarantee that, in most cases, Big Important Company was not getting the same warm fuzzy feeling for me. They were hoping to get work out of me on the free side of cheap.

The proof of a company's valuation of you is in the pudding, though. Either they compensate you or they don't, and, if not, I'm just not feeling the love.

You represent free outreach that they didn't have to do themselves plus maybe a $25 coupon for their own company's product, which really amounts to them spending $5 plus postage to use you for your skills and the extended reach you've cultivated. And you? You just gave away – and, yes, I'm going to list it again – your time, hard work, skills, and personal relationships for a couple of bars of soap or a few free cups of coffee. It's your prerogative to do so, but know that you are, in effect, not only working for free but also transmitting the idea that it is okay for them to expect it not only of you but also of others.

To put it in perspective, if a business in your city asked if you would reach out to potential customers using contact lists that you have personally cultivated over several years, write engaging copy for them, and also manage a giveaway campaign for the super fantastic low, low offer of a $25 coupon that you can only use in their company store, you'd probably hold out for the next job offer, wouldn't you?

I know I would.

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ADDITIONALLY: There is an argument that writers in magazines are not compensated directly by companies when they are given products to review, because direct payment for reviews will be seen as payment for positive reviews. This argument is invalid on two counts:
  1. It equates the blogger's work situation with the magazine writer's situation, and they are not usually the same. A blogger is often not employed by anyone who is going to put forth any compensation whatsoever for their work if it does not come directly from the advertiser, whereas the magazine's writer is rightfully going to be paid for their work whether it is from the advertiser or not.

    No one assumes that the magazine writer should be happy not getting paid at all because they got free eye shadow. Although, maybe magazine writers do have their pay cut off for the hours they spend trying out and writing about shampoo samples. Correct me if I'm wrong.
  2. Receiving free products to review is just as likely to be seen as a brand's attempt to influence positive articles about their product as receiving payment for reviews is. Not everyone will write positive reviews about free products that they don't like very much, but many will in an attempt to gain favour with a company, especially if that company has other products which the blogger will like better and might want free access to, or if that blogger is trying to make a name for themselves and create an impression.

    It's my guess that any blogger who would falsely write a more positive review for money would also falsely write a more positive review for a free pair of shoes.
Not paying for a blogger's work to advertise your product does little to ensure an unbiased review, but taking a supposedly ethical stance against paid reviews and falsely equating staff/contracted writers with self-employed bloggers definitely ensures that a company gets a hell of a lot of free advertising.

162/365: Waiting for the Last Day

161/365: Unwinnable