Earlier this year, I was unemployed for three weeks. It’s not long to be out of work, and it certainly wasn’t my first, second, third, or even fourth time in that uncertain, demoralizing position, but day-to-day life didn’t feel great.
I hated seeing my boyfriend off to work every morning knowing I didn’t have a job to go to. I found myself constantly checking Gmail, lighting up every time my phone downloaded a new message but dying a little inside whenever it turned out to be spam.
Even worse than the “Congratulate [this person] on her new job!” emails from LinkedIn, however, were the requests for free blog posts from various companies. I got these at least a dozen times and never replied, although I was tempted on several occasions to tell these businesses how tacky it made them look to ask strangers, especially unemployed ones, to work for free. But I kept my mouth shut, as I needed to save all the fight in me for job searching.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to blog for a well-established co-working space with a prominent NYC presence. The company has more than 20,000 Twitter followers, millions in funding, and billions in value, as I learned from a quick Google search. Because I’d worked in one of their spaces before, I was willing to hear more about the opportunity, but only if it paid.
Then the community manager gave me some rather disheartening news, “Unfortunately, this is not a sponsored post – like I said, it’s really just a little project of mine to get some fun conversation started about work spaces. I know our social media team has tweeted some posts in the past, but I don’t control who they choose to tweet about unfortunately. So I could certainly get the post over to that team, but can’t guarantee they’ll share it.”
OK, so not only do you expect me to draft up an article for you, pictures and all, without compensation, but you’re not even sure it’ll be shared on your social media platforms? That’s the best you can do for people you’re bothering out of nowhere? Your company has more than $350 million in funding, but you’re brazen enough to scour the Internet for talented writers only to present them with an underwhelming, insulting offer?
I know younger companies say budgets are tight and they can’t fairly compensate all involved in the process, but if you’re unable to pay someone for a service, you can’t expect anything in return. What do we tell little kids who throw tantrums about lacking the allowance funds to buy all the toys they want? If you don’t have the money for it, you can’t have it. You have to earn my labor, and you can do so by paying me.
Luckily I work for a company that pays its writers because it’s, you know, ethical to do that, but many businesses get away with this by preying upon newer bloggers who may think this can be their ticket to a paycheck someday. And I have advice for these budding writers: it’s not. Providing unpaid labor is no way to begin your career. If you start out hearing that your work is unworthy of compensation, you’re going to think getting paid for labor is a privilege. No, it’s a basic part of doing work. We have enough people in our culture who just don’t understand their value, and that has to change.
These companies don’t seem to understand that writers need money too and aren’t simply wooed by the honor of having an online platform. Just look at this email I received around Christmas:
“Would you be interested in writing a post on your blog detailing your best advice for staying healthy throughout the holidays? Whether it’s the winter sneakers you live by, a pre/post workout smoothie or a flu-fighting, superfood recipe, my goal is to inspire good health throughout the holiday season.
To help encourage healthy habits, our Social Team will share some of their favorite posts on our twitter account throughout the holidays!”
“We’d love to hear from you on your travel must-haves. Everyone has their own travel essentials–especially for those sticky airport situations or just-in-case moments while en route to their getaway. We’d like for you to create a post on your blog highlighting some of your travel emergency picks, so feel free to include a mood board/collage or dive into some hidden tips.
The travel community is all about inspiration and our social team will be shouting out some of their favorite posts.”
“On your blog, share pictures of your first home if you have them, show us how you made it your own, and write about what it meant for you to have your own place!
We’ll be sharing some of our favorite Starter Stories on Twitter, so we look forward to seeing what you come up with. Please let me know if I can count you in!”
Again, the only promise is to “maybe” share it on the company’s social media page, thus exposure alone should be compelling enough for me to say yes time and time again.
Have I written for free before? Oh yeah. But always by choice. I once turned down a job at a website with regular contributors, and because I wanted to stay on their radar, I offered to write a few blog posts for them on my own time. I’ve written blogs for various friends as well. The difference is I knew these people and offered to help. They didn’t send unsolicited messages asking for free blog posts. They have class.
I genuinely want to ask each and every company with this kind of approach a question: Why in the world do you think a complete stranger is going to do you a favor? Are you naive enough to think strangers always help each other for free, or are you hoping I’m naive enough to be exploited? What if I wanted to use your service but refused to pay, arguing my input as a consumer should be enough of a reward for you? Would you allow me to take advantage, or would you laugh me out of the room?
It’s clear you understand the power of writing and blogging in our social media age, but you devalue the work of writers by telling them their contributions aren’t worthy of payment. You recognize that blogging can get you a lot of traffic, but you don’t want to pay the people who help you achieve this.
The next time a company emails me of nowhere requesting free labor, I will send them this. It’s important to remember that some people make a living off writing.
I happen to be one of those people. It’s how I pay my portion of the rent I share with my boyfriend and buy our groceries every other week. Recognition from your company isn’t going to cover my gasoline costs, health and car insurance, or monthly parking garage fees.
Stop diminishing my life’s work by expecting me to give it to you for free.