I was reading recently “279 Days to Overnight Success” by Chris Guillebeau and noticed a section where briefly mentioned that he worked HARD but also worked for free in the beginning of his blogging/writing/self-employed career (this is worth reading by the way – there are quite a few gems scattered about). I honestly just glossed over it without thinking much about it except that I said to myself, “yeah, of course you will have to work for free in the beginning, that’s part of the risk and getting your name out there.”
It also reminded me of a show I was watching on CNBC this weekend called “How I made my millions” where one of the entrepreneurs mentioned that he gave his popcorn seasonings to a movie theater in the beginning, after which they bought the seasonings for the whole chain – now he’s a millionaire. I don’t know any entrepreneurs who haven’t worked for free or given stuff away at some point; it’s part of the passion and risk that goes along with starting a business.
But then, the “culture of free” hit me again this morning while looking through some of the live tweets from the Independent Fashion Bloggers conference in NYC:
In principal I believe these sentiments are true, but in practice, it’s not always so easy, or even the right thing to NOT work for free – at least in the beginning. I did it. 6 years ago when I started Grechen’s Closet I worked for free. I did it for “free” for 2 years before I was able to quit my full time job and make blogging my career. The key is to KNOW WHEN YOU’RE BEING TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF. There’s a big difference between giving something away or doing something for free in exchange for proving yourself to a potential advertiser and consistently allowing yourself to be taken advantage of by PR companies, designers, agents, etc.
I made strategic decisions in the beginning to write ONLY about what I loved and to feature places online I have shopped or would shop, no matter if they were advertising on my site, or if I made a commission from them or not; editorial content has always been separate from advertising. BUT – I also knew that what I was offering was in demand, both from my readers and online boutiques, so I sent out e-mails every week to the new boutiques/designers I featured with a link to my media kit and let them know about my advertising options. They were already getting traffic from me FOR FREE, but I let them know that they could get more CONSISTENT traffic if they advertised with me. And while most turned down the offer, enough took me up on it, and the rest is history.
Maybe the time for you to do this is passed – maybe it worked for me because I started earlier, or because I focus on online shopping and fashion, not just “fashion.” What worked for me, might not work for you, but just based on my own experience, I don’t necessarily believe that if you start out giving stuff away for free, people will always expect it to be free. It’s harder to transition to charging for things once you’ve started out NOT charging, but it’s not impossible. And to a certain extent, it’s expected. It’s up to you to know when to STOP giving stuff away for free.
Again, if YOU are making the decision to do something for free, at least be strategic about it; know first what you’re getting in return. If you get nothing in return, don’t do it. If you’re being approached by a large brand who wants you to do something for them at no charge, don’t do it!! You KNOW they have money to pay you, but they’re being stingy and trying to take advantage of you. In that case, you know the right thing is to turn it down.
I believe in fair compensation, and I believe that fashion bloggers should be paid for their work; EVERYONE should be paid what they are worth. But you can’t expect to start a blog and begin making money immediately. You will need to prove yourself first. It took me 2 years to “prove myself” enough to make money to live off of, and 4 years to make “consistent” money. And I still do some things for free – if I’m courting a potential advertiser, I’ll post a code or something first, so they can get an idea of how my readers respond to their boutique before they cough up the big bucks (LOL) to advertise. No skin off my back. I won’t keep doing it, but it’s 100% worth it to me to build the relationship and trust first so they can see the value, then ask them for money.
What do you think? what has been your experience working for free?
No related posts.
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.