Why Getting Paid with Stuff (Instead of Money) is Like Having a One-Night Stand

Bloggers: Don’t trick yourselves into thinking companies value you if they’re paying you in merch

I have a friend who makes stuff happen. She’s been interviewed on TV at least a gajillion times in the three years that I’ve known her. One of her pieces for Huffington Post has been on shared on Facebook 58,933 times. (When I said “gajillion” I was exxagerating. When I said that last number I was not.) She also has a regular blog column with a major, big-time national publication, founded a non-profit, and published two books.

But this friend (let’s call her “Sarah” because that’s her name) has a problem. While Sarah is awesome at getting exposure for her writing, she’s not awesome at getting money for it. Most of that stuff up there? Unpaid.

While she has managed to nab a couple sweet paid gigs this year, my girl is still struggling to make the rent. That’s super unfortunate because she happens to be a born-and-raised Brooklynite, and she reports that it now costs $25 just to walk out her front door in her neighborhood.

She recently called me to ask for help nailing down a paid monthly writing gig … and I failed her.

Why Buy the Cow …?

A few years  ago Sarah did a giveaway for a T-shirt co. She did it because she wanted a free T-shirt. She’s pretty crafty about getting free stuff that way.

The other day she called to say that she’d been emailing with someone at this company, and she wanted to know if I’d help her put a proposal together for a monthly blogging contract. She and I played phone tag for a bit and then finally ended up talking while I was in the car between appointments. We figured out a price and a scope of work with possible adjustments up or down based on what the company needed. Sarah was excited to send it over to them.

The company got back to her right away. Their response basically boiled down to “We dig your writing, but can’t we just give you another T-shirt?”

I wanted to kick myself. Of course they didn’t want to pay for blogging. Why would they, when they could get plenty of exposure by sending out a few T-shirts? That little detail that I had failed to internalize while I was multi-tasking was the only one that really mattered.

Sarah is a smart chick. But she fell into a trap that a lot of good writers fall into — especially bloggers who write a lot and are trying any which way to “monetize” their blogs. They often find that the path to monetization wasn’t as easy as they were told it would be, so they figure they might as well get some free stuff if they can’t get actual dollars.

Will You Be My Boyfriend?

Getting cool stuff without paying for it … well, that’s nice, isn’t it?

Except it’s not really free is it? Of course, there’s the obvious cost of giving away your time and your audience for the cost of a Tee-shirt.

As we discussed in the last blog post, you teach people how to treat you. You just taught this company that they don’t have to write you a check.

Even worse, you just taught yourself that you don’t deserve one.

Let’s equate this to sex and dating. As Hollywood has told us time and again, you can’t rewind and start dating after you’ve had a one-night stand with someone. (See how I attributed that to the movies so no one feels slutty? You’re welcome.)

It’s the same with clients. You can’t give up the goods for free and then later expect a company to take you home to meet their parents, er, pay you.

Stephen Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance (which was later turned into a movie starring some guy named Matt Damon) also wrote a must-read book for writers called The War of Art. In it, he talks about going pro. “Professionals get paid,” he says.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Freelance shouldn’t be free.

If Sarah is going to plug a company’s product, she deserves a paycheck for it. So do you.

We haven’t done this in a while. Maybe it’s time to recited the PAYlance Pledge again? Stand up with me, boys and girls. All together now:

I hereby promise that I will no longer de-value my time and my skills by applying for jobs that pay a lower hourly rate than that received by fast-food workers. I will not write in exchange for ‘exposure’ unless I have solid proof that the website is going to build my professional credibility in a way that will eventually lead to dollars in my pocket. From today on, I will honor my skills and my talent by only conducting business with people who see my worth.


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4 thoughts on “Why Getting Paid with Stuff (Instead of Money) is Like Having a One-Night Stand

  1. Kim Tutt

    I so agree BUT tell us HOW (please).

  2. So many companies don’t really value a person’s time or skill set, and they figure if one person wants to be paid, then they’ll just find someone else who doesn’t. Plus, we’ve had it drummed into us that we have to work for free for “exposure”, it’s so hard to convert that into payment down the line! I almost feel bad asking for payment for services rendered, as if I should just ‘help’ for free, but there comes a point when you have to put a value on your time!

    • Trish Sammer

      Hi Loz,

      The point at which you put a value on your time should be now. You know what else you should put a value on? Your skill set.

      Companies get away with this because they can. Is exposure sometimes really useful? Sure. There are always those people who were offered book deals after being featured on HuffPo or elsewhere. But a lot of sites claiming to offer exposure just don’t have the clout to deliver any real benefit by giving you a byline.

      I wouldn’t try to convert any “exposure” gigs into paid gigs. You’re probably better off finding serious gigs that pay you from the start.

      As I mentioned to the last person who commented, I’m writing an e-book on how to get paid writing work. But in the meantime, you can check out a blog post I wrote about it if you’d like to see how I do it.

      Here’s to getting paid!

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