Why bloggers shouldn’t post sponsored content for free

(This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.)

Dear Jill,

We love your awesome, family-friendly content on your clever and creative website, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. We would love to offer Ripped Jeans and Bifocals an amazing partnership and an opportunity to share our life-changing product with your readers.

Wowza. Life-changing, huh? Is it special laser-guided tweezers that will eradicate those pesky chin hairs forever? Because that would be swell (people don’t say swell nearly enough anymore…I’m trying to bring it back.)

Jill, we’d like to send you our product (valued at $12.99) and have you write a blog post about it (1,500 words should be fine) and share it on all of your social media outlets. We’d like you to include four to five high-resolution images (to include one cropped square for Facebook and one vertical Pinterest-friendly image if-you-please) and include seven links to our website. We’d like the links anchored to a list of keywords we’ll provide in a separate email, along with a list of just twenty of our preferred hashtags for Twitter and Instagram.

You’re the best, Jill! And, to show you how much we value your hard work, we’re going to give your readers a chance to win a 20 percent off coupon for our product. Won’t they love that?

Man-oh-man. It’s super hard to turn this one down. My readers will be so disappointed that they won’t get a crack at that coupon.


Okay, maybe this example was a tiny bit of an exaggeration but it’s fairly representative of the daily emails I get from publicity representatives seeking “partnerships” with bloggers.

That’s right. I get at least one email a day offering me an “opportunity for my blog” or “suggestions for starting conversations” with my readers that are always tied to a product, message or social media movement that someone is getting paid to promote…only that someone is not me.

[Tweet “Here's why bloggers shouldn't do sponsored posts for free”]

I’m a mom blogger. I work for free. I sit around in my jammies refreshing my email just hoping a PR rep will reach out to me,  offer me an El-Cheapo product I don’t really want or need so I can spend between two and four hours writing about it and subsequently, promoting it via a web domain that I pay for. Out of the kindness of my generous little heart.

Not really.

Blogging has changed advertising. I’m not saying advertising agencies aren’t in the game anymore but the advance of blogging and social media influence is a game-changer. Companies of all sizes, from the multimillion dollar level to the just-starting-out mom and pop shops are looking to bloggers to promote their products. And why not? Bloggers have followings. They’re active on social media and they usually have a great deal of influence within their online communities.

Think about it. I have almost 40,000 people following Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. I’m online connecting and engaging. If I post a picture of one of my kids wearing really cool sneakers, people will see it. They’ll “like” it. Comment on it. Maybe even share it.

Will an image of my kid’s really cool sneakers make you want to run out and buy them for your kid?  That’s pretty much the idea.

I’m for hire. I admit that freely. I don’t accept sponsored work for stuff I don’t believe in, wouldn’t use, or wouldn’t recommend to a friend. See also ugly stuff. But I do selectively promote products.

Just not for free.

Here are 4 reasons I don’t do “sponsored” blog posts for free…and why you shouldn’t either.

Why Bloggers Shouldn't Post Sponsored Content for Free|Ripped Jeans and BIfocals

  1. My online influence has value

I’ve spent three years building my blog and my audience. It started out as a creative outlet and hobby but evolved over time. I learned early on to run my blog as a business. I’m never in the position where I think I should be doing a company a favor by giving them a freebie.

And, if you’re in that position, you need to change your thinking.

My online influence has value. I have almost 25K people following me on Facebook alone. I reached almost a million people on Facebook alone this week. I’m not tooting my own horn. There are bloggers out there with more influence and larger followings. BUT. Brand XYZ who is reaching out to me might not be in front of my 25K followers on Facebook.

And, they want to be.

If a brand wants my help in placing their whizbang-gizmo-whatever-thingy in front of the people I’ve cultivated online relationships with, they pay. Plain and simple. My online influence has value which can convert into dollar signs for a brand. Why should they get the whole pie? They shouldn’t!

  1. My time has value

So does yours. I don’t care how small your blog following is, your time is worth something. Even if you have the tiniest of audiences, an advertiser should compensate you to get their brand in front of it.

It takes me anywhere from two and four hours to put together a blog post…longer if I’m actually…oh, you know…paying attention to my family. Writing, editing, grammar checks, optimizing key words for searchability – because we all want the Gods of Google to smile on our blog posts. Taking pictures. Adding watermarks. Making graphics sized for whatever social media you’re going to promote the post on. Pimping. Blog posts don’t get read if you don’t promote them. Keeping track of the comments and capturing the post for a newsletter if you have one.

Why on earth would I do all of that for free, and no…I don’t normally consider a product as compensation. I have a set rate which is commiserate with the number of readers I have and unless a product is in the ballpark of that rate or something I really, really want that I'm not willing or able to buy for myself,  I’m not going to put in four hours of work promoting something so someone else can make money.

Because why would I? Why would you?

If I’m not earning money, blogging is a hobby and there's nothing wrong with that. BUT. If blogging were a hobby, I’d probably not choose to spend my hobby hours photographing laundry detergent and trying to convince people on the internet about it's superhero stain-fighting power.

Because again…why would I?

If Kate Spade offered me one of her new spring bags in exchange for a blog post or if Dunkin Doughnuts agreed to hook me up with whatever I wanted for a year, I might look at this a little bit differently. Might. The last time I checked, my mortgage company and the places where they sell kids clothes do not accept coffee as payment. Why would I take time that I could be spending with my family, drinking wine or watching trashy television to help sell a coffee mug that doesn’t tip over or a tube of organic lip balm?

  1. Companies DO have a budget…

…even if they say they don’t.

My business practices are laid out on my “work with me” page. If you’re a blogger seeking brand partnerships, you should have a work with me page of some kind. My page doesn’t have my fees or blog statistics because that changes over time. If I get an email from a brand seeking to work with me, I always respond with interest. I thank them for thinking of Ripped Jeans and Bifocals and, assuming their brand is a fit for me, I send them my “work with me” link along with any questions I might have, because let’s face it: some of those initial PR emails we get are pretty darn vague. My “work with me” page clearly lays out I expect to be compensated for my time and talent.

More often than not, the PR rep will reply with some version of “we don’t have a budget.” They may urge a blogger to take the opportunity because “their audience will appreciate it” or some such hooey. They may play to your sympathies and tell you they’re a new start-up with limited funds. They may offer to promote your blog on their social channels as “payment.”

I call bullshit.

The company does have a budget and it’s a pretty safe bet that the person contacting you…you know, that guy or gal urging you to work for free…is getting paid.

Why Bloggers Shouldn't Post Sponsored Content for Free|Ripped Jeans and BIfocals

The PR person who contacted you is probably not working for free so why should you? You shouldn’t!

The company most likely does have a promotion budget. They may not be placing enough value on what you bring to the table to give you a slice of the pie, but there’s a budget. That’s a sign you should move on.

Some bloggers negotiate back and forth and although I've done this, I don't think it's generally worth my time. Unless you have some clear indication that they'll pay your asking price or that you can reach an acceptible compromise, playing email ping pong with someone who doesn't recognize my worth is generally not a good use of my time. You will have to decide if that is a good use of yours.

One thing not to do, though, is send a scathing “how dare you suggest I work for free” email to the PR rep who asked you to work for free. Yes, being asked to give something and get nothing is frustrating but consider what is a good use of your time. Spending 20 or even 10 minutes firing off an angry email is time you could be spent on something more productive or enjoyable. Besides, the PR person might move on to a company or campaign that will pay bloggers and she'll probably remember you if you're a jerk.

  1. Working for free diminishes our industry

That’s right. I said industry. Bloggers are not bored housewives. Bloggers usually aren't sitting around scratching their head wondering what we're going to right about. Bloggers don't jump up and down and squee with excitement because a company that makes bug spray or organic lunch meat has sent them an email that “gives them a great idea for starting a conversation.”

Bloggers are entrepreneurs and social media professionals who have probably spent money on our websites, training and see blogging as not only a way to have fun and engage but as a way to supplement family income. Bloggers should be taken seriously as the potential advertising partners that we are, but if we give into the “work for free” demands of PR people what do you think is going to happen?

That’s right. Bloggers who work for free are responsible for the continued emails of PR companies asking them to work for free. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a blog that has a good-sized following dedicate a complete post to face cream that probably retailed for less than ten bucks.

The same company reached out to me a month before, seeking a “sponsored” post on my blog. When I inquired about budget, I was told this was a new company trying to spread the message about their all-natural skincare line and that they…wait for it…didn’t have a budget.

Sad trombone.

I don’t know if the blogger convinced them to pay her. Maybe they gave her a year’s supply of wrinkle spackle. Maybe she really just likes all-natural skincare stuff. But, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say maybe she doesn’t realize her worth and her influence and that PR companies take advantage of people like that every day.

Yes, the beauty about being your own boss is being in charge of your time and being able to set your own rates, but when you undercut your worth, it ripples throughout the blogging community. So stop doing that, m’kay?

If you’re a blogger, know your talents are valuable.

If you’re a brand or a PR person, take notice. Most bloggers and influencers worth their salt aren’t going to agree to peddle your wares for free. You might hook in a newbie blogger but like me, most of them are going to wise up and figure out what’s up.

And let me be clear:  if your company really makes laser-guided super tweezers, all bets are off. I might just pay you to let me give that a whirl…the forest on my chin is pretty damn scary.

Thank you for reading!

Why Bloggers Shouldn't Post Sponsored Content for Free|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

For more great blogging tips, check out this post on Mom it Out Loud:

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  1. Well said, Jill. Last year the top news television station in our market re-designed their website. They thought it would be fun and drive traffic to feature the top bloggers in the market on their home page…I was honored to be one of those bloggers. The feed would update with our new material each time we posted. After three months, they noticed we were writing sponsored posts on our blogs. So, they cancelled the idea because they said we were competition for the advertising dollar and they could not feature us any more than run a story from a competing station. So, if the top TV station in a major market sees bloggers as competition, then we must start taking ourselves seriously and demanding the same respect as any media which generates income from advertising. EVERY brand has a promotions/marketing budget and anyone who insults us to think we would buy into the fact they don’t is perhaps not worthy of our time. Good post!

    1. Thanks, Pam! I think we live in the same neck of the woods, don’t we?

      And that’s encouraging to hear that the TV stations see the value of what a blogger can bring. We’re getting there.

  2. This is such a great post!! It’s funny too because it has come to my attention a few times that posts that I was paid for had previously approached other bloggers with “no budget for payment.” I take the “take it or leave it approach” and it often pays off. I also may be more affordable than other larger blogs so maybe that works in my favor? I also insist on payment up front BEFORE it’s published. Too many bloggers I know have gotten stiffed in the end. I wish I had known my own value a hell of a lot sooner!

    1. You are exactly right. I have been paid for things I know others have done for free (or been paid more) because I ASK. I do think affordability comes into play, especially if a company is small or mom-owned. I also think smaller bloggers work harder to make a client happy. I’ve wiggled on my price a few times for the right reasons and have been happy with the results. It’s the beauty of being able to choose.
      Thanks Tiffany! MUAH.

  3. I wouldn’t really say that letter was a bit of exaggeration. In fact that’s the attitude I have seen in so many mails I used to receive!! My inbox gets bumped up everyday with so many you got to work for free mails… seriously I can’t exchange the baby toys or wipes they give me free for promotion to buy my groceries!!

    We bloggers how much ever less number of followers we have shouldn’t work for free.. We should first realise and believe in the super power of our online influence and the time we have spent growing it!!!

  4. Very well said and with swell humor! (I’m a Brit and we don’t even say that so I will broaden out your efforts to bring that word into regular use here too!) You make some very good points here and I enjoyed the read. It’s a very encouraging post! Thank you.

  5. Jill,
    Well said and I agree. Tough to do, new mom blog owner here, but I am standing firm knowing my worth and time is valuable. If you get offered the swell laser-guided super tweezers in the near future, please share. I have a forest on my lip.
    Thanks for the encouragement, reminder, and humor.

  6. That was a SWELL post! I’m getting out of the “newbie” phase myself of just accepting anything. For Christs Sake I spent a whole day a year ago on a Juice Infuser that retailed for like six bucks.

  7. This is such a great post. I’ve gotten to the point where half of the time I find myself ignoring emails because I’ve heard from that rep before and they ALWAYS say they don’t have a budget. What really gets me is these big multi-million dollar companies when you know they have a budget for advertising (uh, hello I see your commercial for the 100th time this hour alone). I always want to come back with some really good, smart, but professional response but I just don’t. It’s not worth my time to explain something they already know.

    I also couldn’t agree with you more that the problem is bloggers agreeing to free work. I see it all the time and I always tell them that they shouldn’t because it creates a bigger problem for everyone. I’ll admit, sometimes I take product for compensation (very rarely) and when I was a newbie blogger I did it all the time. But now, I know my worth and I know companies that respect us as people and business owners will pay for our time.

    Thanks for sharing this because I truly think we need to stand together as a community and say no to free work!

  8. I like your stance, Jill. You value yourself and your web presence, so they better make it worth your while if they want to use your influence with readers. Now if only some travel agency would approach me and “pay” me with a free all-expenses paid trip to wherever I want to go, I’d consider….

  9. This post is on point in so many levels!! #bowsdown!
    After getting those emails (which by the way I find them down right insulting), I created my “hire me” page. This rep contacted me and offered to work and even mentioned products and somehow after the third email back and forth he could ONLY offer me hi-ress images and the amazing chance of joining the affiliate program for the company? Get out of here!! LOL

  10. Jill, your article ought to be a must-read for every new blogger. You’ve outlined clearly the value bloggers bring to the table with the amount of resources we invest in developing our audiences.

  11. I agree, it’s gotten RIDICULOUS. BUT I still do partnerships for products sometimes. It really depends on what works for you! I stumbled and tweeted!

  12. We have the same problem in the handmade or as I refer to myself, artisan crafted markets. We find the hobby crafters are constantly undercutting on prices and trying to compete with the Range or Target markets. They don’t see that even if they don’t need the money (or have the quality) they are bringing down the whole industry. They don’t place value on their time or skills that might have taken years to hone. As a result artisans are finding it increasingly difficult and are having their prices pulled down. I admire the ones who refuse to budge because they have worked out what their time and skills are truly worth.
    Great post. A blog after my own heart. Cath xx

  13. I love this post! I wish every blogger/photographer/creative would stop working for free, it hurts us all. Happy I found your blog.

  14. Just saw this post and angels are singing in the background! Haha. Love it. I was just contacted by a company today that wanted me to publish a post for free. I told him that I only do free guest posts for other personal parenting blogs, he sent me a different link he would link to that was more parenting oriented but the site was for a discount voucher site, not a personal blog in any way shape or form. He kept trying to get me to accept the post for free and when I rejected he got snippy and tried to tell me what my traffic was and such, and the numbers he gave were no where near the numbers I have. When I still rejected he finally gave up. Anyway, I agree with you completely! Once one blogger publishes a post for free the companies will expect everyone to publish the post for free. Plus, their $12.99 product doesn’t pay the bills. Thanks again!

  15. I have so been there and get requests all the time to post something about a product or add a link. I always ask, “What’s your budget?” I’ve been focusing more on affiliate than sponsored lately because it gives me more freedom to write about things I would truly use, although I will do sponsored if it’s worth it. Occasionally I do things if it’s a public service but that’s about it.