Should I Do Unpaid Collabs?

May 10, 2021

If they say there's no budget, where do you go from there?

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If they say there's no budget, where do you go from there?

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If they say there's no budget, where do you go from there?

If they say there's no budget, where do you go from there?

So you're trying to grow your brand or blog following, gain traction, and start attracting attention from big brands you want to work with, right?! I'll preach "don't work for free" all day long BUT where do you start? There are a few times and circumstances when collaborations, trades, and in-kind compensation may still be valuable enough for you to do the work. It's super personal and will vary for everyone.

Paid deals are the hot ticket these days. All bloggers and influencers want paid brand deals and nothing else. I get questions all the time about how to pitch, how to get paid, and when someone "is ready" to start charging brands for their work.

I keep it real with my community and if someone asks me that, I'll be honest and tell them that their photos aren't high enough quality, that their brand message is unclear, or ask them what value they're actually providing to a brand who would work with them. Yikes. I know...sometimes I'm too honest. I promise I follow it up with action steps to move forward though! ;) SO I'm going to share some valuable information with you here. First things first, do a self-check. Read this post about 3 things to do before pitching. Ok now that that's done you're ready to roll.

Like I said, everyone wants to get paid, but when is it ok to work for trade or even free?

I've been blogging since 2013 and WOW the game has changed so much even in the last 5 years! You know what though, I've changed right along with it. I've grown SO much, learned my value, fine-tuned how I work, and how I talk to brands. I treat my blog like a business....because it is! 

If you expect to get full-time income from your blog, treat it like you would treat a full-time job.

Professional, timely (usually! why are emails such a struggle sometimes?!), quality. Get into the mindset of treating your blog like a business. Especially if that's what you want it to become! Ok let's get to the goods.

If a brand pitches you OR if you pitch a brand, your first step is always to ask for payment. ALWAYS. Right away. Don't hesitate. "what is your budget?" "do you have budget?"

If they say there is no budget, you get to decide what to do next:

1. Say thank you and goodbye.

example: "ok thank you for letting me know! I'm only working on paid campaigns right now but please keep me in mind for future campaigns."

2. Negotiate an unpaid campaign.

Let me point out that #1 is *usually* the right way to go. The point of this specific blog post is to help you with #2 and determine if there is any reason you might consider working for free. There are a few situations that could apply here.

Below, I'm sharing specifics and example from my own life and business. I'm keeping these very simple so you can remember them and ask yourself these 3 questions anytime you're about to agree to do unpaid work.

1. Is their product or service valuable to me?

If this brand has asked you to create an Instagram post in exchange for a product trade, you need to look at the product being offered. Do you use this product or service in your daily life? How much does it cost? Would you spend money on it anyway?

If they are offering you a $10 candle, you NEED TO MOVE ALONG. PERIODT.

I have had a handful of companies I've worked with in the past on a trade basis because their services were valuable to me. Specifically, I will say yes to working with some restaurants who reach out to me because I love their food and it makes room in my budget for a free date night. Again, this will vary for every person. Food tends to be something for me that has a little more value and leads me to my next point...

2. Will it benefit my content?

Does it make sense for your content strategy? Going back to my personal example of working for food trade with specific restaurants, it makes sense for my content because I do share Dallas restaurants as part of my content. So that makes sense for me.

One additional example here would be clothing trades. *Most* clothing retailers do not pay micro-bloggers for their content, but they will do a trade for clothing items. If you are a fashion blogger and want to share a different outfit every single day, this might be a good fit for you. If so, make sure the style of the retailer is *your* style. Don't just change your style and work for free just so you can get free stuff! 

3. Do I have a relationship with the brand?

Could this be an ongoing partnership? Is this a potentially valuable brand connection to have? It all depends on your specific situation, so think this through! 

Here's an example: I have worked with a specific agency for years now. Some of my highest paid campaigns have come from them. One time they asked me for an extra piece of content...maybe an Instagram story or something like that. Instead of saying no way, I said I would be happy to do that for them. WHY? Because I have a relationship with them, they don't try to take advantage of me, they regularly pay me, etc. I might have risked burning a bridge if I had been super entitled and ranted at them for asking for something for free. Would it have been reasonable to still ask them if they had a budget? Absolutely. Brands know and expect that, and different bloggers will run their business differently.

Bottom Line: it all depends on how you want to run your business. Think about what kind of content your followers like, what kind of brand you are personally, and what types of brands you want to partner with.

Never EVER work for the promise of paid future work. Phrases like "then we'll reevaluate" "let's see how it goes" etc. are usually a good indicator that there's not a budget in the future or else they would share it with you up front. Ask questions like "what would a successful campaign look like?" "what level of conversion do I need for a paid campaign?" and see what they say.

My last tip: Always be courteous when dealing with any professional connection. This includes followers, brands, agencies. Everyone.

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