Kids, gather ’round and let me tell you a little story, a story that may sound familiar to a content creator or blogger, no matter if you are in the culinary realm or not:
“Hi, Allison,” a cheerful e-mail starts. “We came across your Instagram and blog and LOVE what you have posted. Your recipe with the shakshuka is so good and I made it for breakfast last week! Anyways! We think you’d be a perfect collaborator for our company because [inserts pitch here that is actually thoughtful, clear, and cohesive]. We’d love to have you post our product on your Instagram, and all we ask for is one Instagram post and four additional photos of our product that you can e-mail me. We can put on our social media channels. Let us know if you want to collab! xoxo“
First off, this brand must really like me if they are sending me Xs and Os.
Two, virtually every e-mail I’ve received where the writer says they’ve made one of my recipes, they always say that they made the shakshuka. I’d bet dollars to donuts that they may be yanking my chain…
When first starting off in blogging or content creation, people may get into that mindset of, “Well, if a brand reaches out to me to do a post in exchange for free product, this will eventually lead me to paid opportunities!”
Not…always, and not always right away.
I started this blog – and its accompanying Instagram – back in January 2015. I got my first product only collaboration deals that same year, and boy did they come through! Throughout 2015 – 2017, I got recyclable stemware, hot sauces, jams & jellies, bottles of wine; my favorite was when I got three free meals from Hello Fresh and cooked them up for many friends at my old Inwood apartment just days after we were stunned by Tr*mp’s election on a chilly November Saturday night. (Dramatic? You betcha. Ha!)
I did not land my first paid collaboration – with Cide Road – until August 2018. This was more than three years after I started my blog.
Receiving a free product(s) as a blogger is wonderful, I cannot deny that. It’s a good opportunity to experience new brands, and I love accepting those that I believe I will enjoy & utilize in the future; I’ve become a paying customer to quite a few companies that have gifted me over the years, in fact! Some brands have mentioned, “It’d be great if you could post about us on your Instagram, but it’s not required. We just hope you enjoy our product!” If I do enjoy the product, I’ll give them a shout on Instagram and / or my blog, no problem. I’m more than happy to!
That being said, when the free product(s) comes with the stipulation of “In exchange for this, we request that,” take a moment to pause, re-read, and think about what you may or may not want to do here. Note the hypothetical example I used above: I was asked to post to social media and give them four photos for their brand’s use without discussing monetary compensation.
I have learned a lot over the years, and I wish I was in – the – know about it all sooner. So let me drop a few gems, based on my experiences.
Ask the company about their budget for advertising.
Most companies will and should have this. (A very new up – and – comer fresh out of the gate? Give them leeway.) Recently, a plant-based frozen dessert company reached out to me to do a collaboration. The rub: I must produce six photos for them, one of which will be posted on my Instagram with the other five being sent to the company to use on their social media channels at their discretion. The pay? Six pints of their product, priced at $69.99. Upon studying this brand – ALWAYS research brands that reach out to you! – I saw they sell nationally at large chains and businesses such as Walmart, Whole Foods, Fresh Direct, and Kroger’s. I even saw this brand sold at my local Gristedes. Their ads popped up all over my Facebook and Instagram after I researched them – hello, data mining! – so it’s clear they have a sizable marketing budget. The kicker? An NYC-based health food blogger got a sponsored post with them, her follower numbers & engagement akin to mine. They wanted me to work for product when they could pay. Read: They wanted me to work for free when they could pay. I asked if they could supplement the product with what I believed was a fair payment for my work creating content for them, but I received no response. Which leads me to…
TIME IS MONEY, Y’ALL.
Though the world of blogging and influencing can look glamorous & easy, it does not come with a guaranteed pay check, health insurance, a 403b, and a pension. Hence, I continue to work as a healthcare data analyst, which gives me all four. My time outside of work is precious, especially in 2020 while the coronoavirus pandemic has me putting in extra work hours outside of my usual 40 hours a week, as well as every other weekend. All of my content creation, whether it’s recipe development of my own volition or shooting content for a brand, happens on said free time. There are days I’d rather exercise, take a nap, or read a book after work, but I choose to put in a few hours to build and improve upon Seek Satiation. That being said, I’m a proponent for outside work be compensated monetarily. Hard stop.
My “AHA!” moment for this truly hit when I worked with a well-known platform that connects influencers to products. I accepted a campaign for an eco-friendly tumbler that gave a portion of its proceeds to a water conversation fund; I saw there was no monetary compensation, but their product and company’s mission were up my alley. The requirements? Five photos with a long list of shooting requirements, e.g. one must be a lifestyle shot, one must be outside, one must be of the tumbler’s tea strainer function in use, et al. I had my friend Dom of Dom N’ the City come through as my hand model & creative muse on a very chilly late February day for some outdoor shots. Besides us thinking we were going to lose our fingers to frostbite – okay, slightly dramatic, it was about 45 degrees outside, but… – it took me six hours to shoot, edit, caption, and submit those photos. The retail cost of the tumbler? $29.99. If that was a cash payment, it would have been just a hair under $5.00 for each hour of work I (and Dom, too!) put in. That tumbler, unsurprisingly, did not translate to money in my bank account. In hindsight, it wasn’t worth it to me and I now stand harder on my stance for fair monetary compensation.
Price Lists? Rate Sheets? Quotes? Which do you prefer?
So you got a collaboration and you’re talkin’ money. *woohoo* There are many ways to charge for your work. All have pros and cons, and I know people that are vehemently for one and stand by it. Personally, I lean towards quoting over a static list, though I see the utility in both.
My price per hour lines up a hair higher than what my day job salary’s per hour rate is equivocal to. Seemingly arbitrary, but that is what works for me. Your price asks should suit you best, whether it’s saying “I charge a flat $250 for a 3-photo Instagram carousel plus two Instagram Stories. Here are my analytics to back up this price”, “My quote for recipe development, styling, and shooting is $50 an hour plus reimbursement for groceries, and I will provide you with a detailed time sheet for all work completed plus receipts”, or anything in-between.
Also, I’m happy to be flexible depending on a brand’s budget, especially as this pandemic rages on and we’re all trying to get by. If the brand likes you and you like the brand, you can find a common ground.
Finally, ask around if you are confused about what to ask for! It’s all confusing, and Google can lead you down some rabbit holes. I find that most bloggers understand that we are community – not competition – and will share their insights.
Work with what you love, not with something you abhor!
This point isn’t as much about how to get compensation as it is to align with brands and projects that suit you.
One of my first free product collaboration experiences was with a hot sauce brand. I hate hot sauce. I hate spicy foods. But, let’s circle back to that “If I shoot this for free, the paid opportunities will come!” mindset I used to have. I made a recipe with the sauce – as requested – and shot it for my blog. All I got was a belly ache, wasted food, and a squeeze bottle of green Sriracha that stayed in my previous apartment’s fridge until the day I moved out…more than a year later. Some of my loyal followers commented on my Instagram post, surprised I posted a hot sauce, since they know about my aversion to all things spicy. I felt like I had egg on my face! I wasn’t honest with myself or my followers by posting something I didn’t like, and I had nothing to show for it.
Likewise, my first paid offer was from a well-known beer company back in 2017…but I can’t drink beer because I’m allergic to Brewer’s Yeast, so I bypassed it. (Some people though I was nuts when I told them my payout I missed out on, but…I stand by my declination!)
I look at the few brands I have done paid collaborations with, and they have checked off many boxes for me, such as being women-owned, BIPOC-owned, a B-Corp such as GoodPop, or being Disarrono. 😂 Collaborate with brands you jive with, nothing less!
I don’t have all of the answers. Hell, I’m not even endorsing anything I said above as correct here, ha! I’m just sharing my experiences, my opinions, and my tips on this larger subject.
If you are fine shooting products for free in lieu of payment, that is your prerogative and there ain’t nothing wrong with that! Trust me, I’m not here to shame or say you’re wrong. But if you’re thinking “money”, I hope this post will – at the very least – give you some pause and inspiration on how to move forward.