Should You Post for Free? The Influencer Dilemma

Becoming an influencer is a great way to learn how to make money from Instagram and other social channels while working on content you’re passionate about. While there are a myriad of benefits of becoming an influencer, there’s one benefit that remains consistent; brands will continue to rely on influencers to reach their target market in a more authentic way. 


However, every non-celebrity influencer has to start from ground zero. And while consistency and continued education are imperative to every influencer’s growth, many wannabe influencers struggle to get past the early hurdles influencers face before they become profitable. 


One of the primary struggles new influencers run into is an age-old Catch-22; they need to grow their following and build a portfolio of partnerships in order to secure future partnerships, but to secure future partnerships, they need a following. 


One of the oft-recommended solutions to this influencer Catch-22 is to work for free during early stages. This way, influencers can build their portfolio and acquire testimonials to include in their influencer media kits and pitches. 


However, on the other side of the argument, some professionals are steadfast in their opinion that influencers should never, ever work for free. If you’re new to influencer marketing and want to grow as an influencer, you might be conflicted with which advice to follow. So we’ve narrowed down the pros and cons of both arguments to make it easier for you to come to a decision that works best for your gameplan towards growth. And here’s the answer we came up with: 

There Is No Right or Wrong Answer

This might feel like a copout answer, but it’s the only true one. No one, regardless of their experience, is at liberty to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t post for free when you’re establishing your credibility as a new influencer. 


When it comes to making the decision on whether to work for free, there is no right or wrong answer. Every piece of advice is biased in one way or another; typically, advice on whether to work for free comes from accomplished influencers. And on the one hand, it’s easy to want to take their advice because they’ve been in your shoes; on the other, it’s easy to take their advice with a grain of salt because they are no longer in your shoes. 


Some successful influencers might say their free work ultimately helped them become the influencers they are today, while others regret putting painstaking hours of free labor into creative content. 


Those are their experiences and yours are your own. Ultimately, the decision to post for free is up to you and regardless of what you decide, your decision offers a learning experience either way. 


However, there are some deciding factors you should consider that will help you determine whether taking on a free gig is best for you. And yes, even when you’re just starting out, you should evaluate every unpaid “opportunity” independently. Here are a few things to consider: 

How It Benefits You 

If you’re considering creating content for free, one of the first things you should think about is how the partnership will benefit you. Typically, brands will promise “exposure” in exchange for your work, but it’s important for you to dig deep into what this actually means for you. 


Conduct a quick social media audit on the brand. How many followers do they have, what’s their engagement like, and what have previous influencer partnerships looked like? This will help you determine whether they have the social standing to actually offer the exposure you’re seeking. 


Next; don’t be afraid to ask for more information and ask for more out of the partnership. After all, you’re the person they’re asking for free work. Therefore, consider asking the following questions: 


  • How do you plan to promote my work and offer increased exposure to my brand?
  • Can you tell me more about audience demographics? 
  • Are you willing to offer a positive review/testimonial for my portfolio following the completion of submitted work? 
  • Can you provide me with detailed insights into the performance of my work post-partnership?
  • Can you provide me with detailed feedback about your experience with me?
  • Can you provide me with free product or discounted prices?
  • Would you consider an affiliate collaboration instead? 


The more tailored questions you ask, the better you’ll be able to understand whether this is a good partnership for you. If a potential company expects you to work for free but isn’t willing to give you free information or exposure at your request, it’s clear you’re dealing with a one-sided marketer that’s only looking out for their best interest. 

Hours of Labor Involved

Once you’ve determined how you might benefit from the partnership, it’s time to calculate the amount of labor you’ll put into the free post(s). It can be difficult to determine how long a particular post will take you and it varies depending on the type of collaboration. 


The idea is to gauge whether the input is worth the output. Will five hours of free work be worth what the finished product can offer you? Think of the following: 


  • Will the collaboration require consistent communication throughout?
  • Do you have creative freedom or specific instructions? 
  • What’s the delivery timeline look like?
  • Will you have to pay for any part of the process (such as new filming equipment, editing software, etc)? 
  • Will the collaboration have a negative impact on your current schedule/work life? 


There’s a difference between creating a quick, catchy caption with a few photos for a local coffee shop and spending painstaking hours creating a YouTube video or trying to frame and photograph a product the right way. It’s one thing for a brand to ask you to post for free, but it’s another for them to ask you to sacrifice too much of your personal time and micromanage your process. 

Brand Alignment

Whether you’re getting paid for a collaboration or not, you always have to think about whether a particular brand aligns with your own. This means that there will be times you have to decline a partnership request from a brand—even if it’s paid. And as you grow as an influencer, chances are you’ll find yourself declining more work than you take on. 


So, how do you determine whether a brand aligns with your own? Of course, it starts by deep-diving into their social channels and websites. Does your audience demographics (or target audience demographics) intersect with their target market or a segment of their target market? 


Here are a few questions that can help you determine if the brand alignment is there:  


  • Would you use this product or service on your own?
  • Would your followers enjoy this product or service?
  • What’s the brand’s mission statement? 
  • How does the brand communicate with followers?


The Affiliate Proposal

Instead of working for free, you might suggest an affiliate partnership arrangement. In this situation, you are paid a small commission for any sales made as a direct result of your labor. 


For example, if you created an Instagram post that included a special referral code or unique URL, you would get a commission every time someone clicked on that link or used that code in checkout. 

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Affiliate partnerships are a fair counter to a free collaboration because, in this case, the revenue generated is coming directly from you. To put it simply, you’d be making a small amount of money for sales that the company wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. 


Another good reason brands will be open to this arrangement is because it makes you financially vested in creating content. How the content performs will directly impact you. 


You’ll find that some brands aren’t interested in this type of arrangement, either, and this can be off-putting. If you’re in a good position to suggest an affiliate partnership and you’re turned down, give the brand a chance to explain their rationale. 


Local businesses with small budgets, for example, might be struggling with profit margins as is, and can’t afford to skim a few cents or dollars off the top. Transparency and honesty is key here. When a brand declines an affiliate partnership, how and why matters. Considering all the other factors you’ve assessed, you can make a decision from here. 


The Rebuttal

As we’ve mentioned, the decision to accept or decline free work is entirely up to you. However, you should assess various factors to make the best decision possible. There are some unpaid collaborations that could give you the leg up you need. And there are others that offer little to no value to you. 


Then there’s that word “value.” Accepting free work doesn’t mean you value your work less. It simply means you’ve weighed the pros and cons, considered your current position as a freelancer and the brand’s current position as a market leader, and come to a conclusion that fits. 


If you decide a free proposal isn’t in your best interests, you can always decline the offer with a polite rebuttal explaining why you should be paid for this particular project. In your rebuttal, be sure to include your media kit, along with several clear reasons why you’re the best person for the job and should be paid. 


Source: Better Marketing Hub


For example, do you offer strategic guidance and research in addition to posts? Do you have data on previous partnerships that were lucrative? List your selling points in your rebuttal and leave it to them to weigh their own pros and cons. 



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