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Bloggers: how to say NO to working for free

Having blogged since 2015 and having worked with a number of brands - big and small - I wanted to share my insights on blog monetisation because undoubtedly this is on a lot of bloggers' minds. And if you don't blog you are probably curious about how bloggers make a living out of their blogs, right? Well this post is available here if you want to have a read - it's full of my tips and tricks after blogging successfully (=monetising my blog) for 4+ years.

Today, I wanted to talk about learning to say not to working for free and understanding that even when you get sent gifts in lieu of payment, these are deemed to be benefit in kind and you still have to pay taxes on them. There is no way around it.

Example: If you get sent a sofa for free, you dod not pay that £1,000+ to buy it yourself, and the brand expects you to market the hell out of it on your social media and blog as return. This is a business transaction and you were paid in kind. it's a pretty medieval way of transacting if you ask me, and because I can't send one of the sofa cushions over to the taxman to pay my duties (or the Sheriff will come asking for it on my castle step) I have to pay out of pocket. Now, one might say, the sofa cost a thousand, the tax band is around x% of your annual income, so maybe it's not so bad, if you pay £200-400 (depending on your tax band) towards the sofa for tax purposes.


And let's get it straight - there is no alternative. If you want to be a professional, you need to be legit and declare all your income.

Which is why I get upset when influencers try to cover up free trips worth thousands of pounds as "PRESS TRIPS" - which is utter bollocks. A trip to a skiing resort organised for just one person lasting many days is no "Press trip". It's a pure business transaction and if you were to be audited, HMRC would take a very dim view of your accountant's advice that it is not taxable. Especially when you brought the whole family along.

So why not explain to and educate the brand that it makes no sense for you to be paying cash out of pocket when you didn't receive cash from them in the first place.

This came about in 2016, the year when I won the AMARA Blog Award for Best colour Inspiration Blog. One of my biggest 'clients' decided they wanted to start paying me in gift cards. At first I thought nothing of it, and said yes. Then I had second thoughts. The gift cards would be taxable, so I would have to cough up out of pocket to pay for their tax value to me. Being on a higher income band as well did not help.

So I did the unthinkable. I said no.

I wrote to the brand and explained that I loved them (and still do). That I was pleased that my blog had created sufficient sales on their store (which I could track through affiliate marketing platform AWIN, and that i was over the moon they kept choosing me for their campaigns.

I also told the team that it was one of the best I had worked with. But that it would make no commercial sense for me to continue working with them if I were to be paid in gift cards. I explained that I would have to pay tax and that I would need to have a cash transaction in order to ensure I could pay the tax when it was due. And that I wanted to be fair to all my clients by having the same standard in my payments terms, being professional and all.

Now before I give you their response, let me quote here my friend Natalie Lue, who is an author, podcaster, speaker, life coach and whose blog Baggage Reclaim may be talking about how to deal with everything on a personal level, but her words and advice work in many other areas, including the work environment.

Natalie said in a post back in 2015 aptly called "What’s the problem with saying NO?"

"For many ‘NO Strugglers’, being declined is a reminder of being denied something that they wanted (or a series of similar experiences) or is automatically equated with rejection and not being ‘good enough’ "

So I have just said NO to probably my best client and of course, the only thing that goes through my head is that they will respond 'thanks, but no thanks' and move on to the next blogger who will be happy to play ball on THEIR terms.

Of course, I am DREADING the sense of rejection. And of course I am going to hate myself for saying no, and it is very likely that I will regret it and go back to ask to take me back. On their terms. Hey, I might even throw in a freebie as well, to prove I am still worthy.

Somebody please pass a bucket.

And then came their reply.

"Had a chat with so and so, and it won't be a problem, we'll revert to cash for you".

Wait, what?

'No' isn’t a dirty word and it’s very necessary for living your life authentically - Natalie Lue

Few of us are comfortable with asking for money for anything. This is even worse with blogging which is perceived by many as not 'real work' (I know what you think, I really do). You expect to build almost a portfolio of collaborations (all unpaid of course) and until you have done that you feel happy to say YES to any gig, big or small. I know bloggers who even invest own money in specific posts in the hope they will get noticed.

But let me tell you one think: Unpaid work does not give you any kind of advantage at all. In fact, more often than not, these unpaid "opportunities" will put you at a disadvantage.

Opportunity doesn't pay the bills. Exposure won't put food on the table. And working for free sets a bad precedent that's hard to break later - Jeff Goins, Business Insider

A good proposition needs to be fair, which means benefit both parties in the transaction. A paid proposition is one that will get you motivated, excited and eager to deliver over and above. An unpaid one, I don't know, why would I want to give up my time, the most precious thing I have in order to satisfy a brand that does not recognise my value added?

Of course, if a certain project speaks to you and gets you all excited, and there is truly no budget (or is relates to charitable work etc) then by all means, if you want to get involved, go for it. And of course there are project that can really provide for quality exposure. I am not suggesting you should say NO all the time, rather that you should understand that you CAN SAY NO and that you should be selective on the work that you might take on when there is no compensation.

Bloggers and influencers not only have an audience, but that audience trusts them, and that is the MOST powerful type of recommendation. And it is why influencer marketing brings many of the same benefits for brands in terms of direct exposure to audiences and the credibility that comes with being recommended by a trusted source but without the punitive cost of signing up to an online marketplace or a multichannel department store.

And, unlike traditional forms of advertising, influencer marketing is proving its value as an effective marketing tool for small and medium businesses. A recent study by McKinsey found that not only did marketing-induced consumer to consumer word of mouth generate twice the sales of paid advertising but those that were acquired through word of mouth had a 37 percent higher retention rate.

And therein lies the value of influencers and bloggers with established platforms. Know your value, understand what you can offer and therefore ask to be compensated accordingly. And by the way, here's what Emily Henderson, well known interior designer has to say on the subject.

If you do want to go ahead with working for free, here are some questions to ask yourself before proceeding!

  • If they offer you 'free exposure' ask yourself - how many people will your work be exposed to?

  • Is it a cause/ brand you truly believe in?

  • Will they promote your work as well and how long for?

I leave you with this amazing flow chart from designer Jessica Hische on



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