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Should pet bloggers work for free? It depends on …

By Tom Collins

Dog-wEmptyBowl I don't know about your pets, but Chester, Emily, Olive, and Molly like to eat. Heck, Yvonne and I like to eat.

And a few free servings of dog or cat food, or a new bag of litter, or some kind of pet-focused book or video just don't provide enough nutritional value for all of us to survive on. Or keep us warm, cool, dry … or pay for the electricity and internet, so we can keep blogging. You get the idea.

So my usual answer when bloggers ask about doing product reviews for nothing more than a sample of the product is, repeat after me: "STOP … WORKING … for FREE!"

These are not my words originally, but have become a rallying cry for me. According to my memory and notes, the quote is from a social media marketing panel workshop at BlogHer ’11. The moderator, our friend and keynote at BlogPaws 2010 Elisa Camahort Page, asked the panel to close with their best piece of advice for bloggers looking to monetize their work. When it was her turn, panelist Melissa Lion leaned forward to deliver that terse admonition with intensity, pausing between her words. To enthusiastic applause.

But are there exceptions?

Sure. If Bissell offers to send their big carpet cleaning machine, or even a SpotBot, it’s a different story. I LOVE their machines and cleaning products and with our crowd, eating isn't the only thing we gotta do! ;-D

So where's the line? I don't pretend to know … and I think it's going to be different for every pet blogger. Seth Godin wrote a "Should you work for free?" post back in February offering this list of factors to consider in deciding whether to work for free:

  • "Do they pay other people who do this work? Do their competitors?
  • Am I learning enough from this interaction to call this part of my education?
  • Is this public work with my name on it, or am I just saving them cash to do a job they should pay for?
  • If I get paid, is it more likely the organization will pay closer attention, promote it better and treat it more seriously?
  • Do I care about their mission? Can they afford to do this professionally?
  • Will I get noticed by the right people, people who will help me
    spread the word to the point where I can get hired to do this
  • What's the risk to me, my internal monologue and my reputation if I do this work?"

I'm not sure all these apply to bloggers. But for me, that first item is a big one that goes to the fairness of the whole transaction when a brand or agency approaches a blogger to perform a service, whether it's a product review, giveaway, or other marketing program. The person at the brand or agency is almost certainly getting paid at a full-time, professional level. They're getting paid to run a program and produce a result.

They're asking YOU to deliver that result for them. They're asking you to devote your time and talent, and share with them the attention and trust of your readers.

Those last two are precious beyond words. The more you value and protect the attention and trust of your readers — by giving them your honest ideas, opinions, and companionship — the more valuable you are to the brands you may choose to work with.

What bloggers are selling and what brands should pay for

As Yvonne explains, you're not selling your opinion. You're getting paid for the time, talent, and work involved in formulating and expressing your opinion.

Let's summarize the work, say for a product review: You'll read and reply to the pitch; receive, open, and unpack the sample; read the enclosed material and try out the product; maybe shoot some photos or video and maybe edit those; then draft, edit, and publish the post; then engage with your readers who leave comments. Several hours of work, spread over several days, to produce web content and links back to the brand's website that will live on your blog, generating exposure, traffic, and SEO value for the brand, forever. That's the work you're selling.

You're also selling a kind of cumulative royalty value for the past work you've invested to gain the attention and trust of your audience. That's what the brands covet most.

And all of this work and ongoing value is what, in most cases, they ought to pay you for. Whether you accept cash, valuable goods, or trinkets, depends in the end on how you value these things.

Two more food for thought posts on how to think about giving your work away for free: another this week from Seth, The free-rider benefit (counter-intuitive to some of what I just wrote!) and one from the paidContent blog on pricing e-books, Free is not the magic number: New trends in ebook pricing.

Please share your thoughts on the free vs. paid blogging boundaries in the comments. If you're interested in digging deeper into this and other blog monetization topics, I’ve started a discussion in the new PBN Members Only group in the BlogPaws

Note: If you’ve joined the PBN, have your ad tags installed, and missed (or didn’t receive) your invitation to the PBN Members Only group, please come knock on the door! ;-D

If you’ve applied to the PBN and we haven't help you get your ad tags installed yet, my apologies, thanks for your patience, and please DO be a squeaky wheel. ;-D

If you haven’t joined our Pet Blogger Opportunity Network, check it out!

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  1. Thank you for this post, Tom. It seems like everyday, someone’s asking me to do something for free. I don’t like to work for free because, as you mentioned above, my family likes to eat. But I do make exceptions, and I love the list of factors you posted above. Food for thought for every blogger!
    I don’t think I got an invite to the PBN members only group. Can you resend?
    Have a great weekend!

  2. When it comes to receiving things for free; like carpet cleaning – I don’t think that falls into the category of working for free, because we’re able to redirect money we would spend on carpet cleaning to something else.
    I love that this article points out the benefit of a relationship. What I find is that many people who contact me just want me to promote their idea/product – they don’t seem to be interested in building a relationship. It makes me feel unvalued, unappreciated, and I definitely don’t do the work.
    I can understand why brands don’t want to pay bloggers; the ROI is still out. But we can at least start building those relationships; maybe then they’ll see our value 🙂

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