Unpaid partnerships: should you say yes?

A brand reaches out to you to collaborate and offers gifts as sole payment. Should you say yes or no?

Here are some tips to help you make the right choice when you find yourself in this situation. You’ll avoid jumping too quickly into a decision that might not fit you!

As a creator, you’ve definitely come across this situation: a brand representative reaches out to you to collaborate. They know how to talk to you, they love your content, they think you're so unique and they're happy to honor you with gifts… as sole payment. 

Yet, your posting is how you earn your bread, and to be honest, you are kind of tired of being offered unpaid partnerships. A big part of it is because you have no clue if it’s normal to accept such offers. Should you say yes or no? Here are some tips to help you make the right choice when you find yourself in this situation. You’ll avoid jumping too quickly into a decision that might not fit you!

Do some research 

Of course, one of the first things you probably do when deciding whether you're interested in a collab is to check the brand's social media accounts. Next, make sure you check their previous partnerships. On Instagram, try browsing through the photos they’ve been tagged in. Focus on the photos that look like partnerships with other influencers. Is there a "paid partnership" mention? Did the brand repost the publication on their feed? Do they comment on the influencers' posts (which would show that they are genuinely interested in the influencers' work and aren’t only on the lookout for free content)? You can also contact other influencers who collaborated with the brand to get their feedback on their experience. If you value respect and reciprocity in a collaboration, ask about it. Spending time on research is definitely worth the knowledge you’ll gain!  

Know your limits

Every creator is unique, which means they all have different goals and capacities. You might know some bloggers who make 10 partnerships a month, some for free, some obviously paid. Don't compare yourself to them. Before becoming a source of revenue and recognition, a partnership should be a reflection of your own ethics. Take time to define your limits (timeline, content type, and quantity, etc.), so that you don't regret saying yes or no to an opportunity. 

Having boundaries is okay

Maybe they're serving you the "we will offer exposure" deal. You might feel compelled to say yes because you think your portfolio is empty or lacks content in a certain field you'd like to explore. But relax: just because a brand reaches out to you with appealing promises, doesn’t mean that you have to say yes! It’s their job to appeal to you. Ask yourself the reasons why you would say yes or no. If it's "yes" because you lack content on your collab portfolio, then maybe take the time to curate a couple of brands that you'd like to reach out to yourself. If you're going to create content for free, do it for a brand that truly matches your aesthetics and your professional and personal values. 


Are you saying no right away because you’re tired of brands reaching out to you for free content? If it's "no" because you don’t want to create without being paid, try reflecting on your fear of being stepped over, which might be blocking you from even considering a yes. Often getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing, but there's only one way to find out: experience. Say yes maybe once. Worst case: if it goes terribly wrong, then you'll learn a thing or two about your own values and limits. Write it down, so you can keep track of your learnings from collaborations and move forward. 

Trust your instinct

Even if you've previously worked with the brand, when offered an unpaid partnership, it's always helpful to reevaluate. Check with yourself. Actually, this applies to every partnership, paid or unpaid. Don't only listen to the businessperson within you, listen to your senses. Do you perceive encouraging signs of a potential healthy exchange, or red flags? Pay attention to them as you move forward in your conversation with your potential partner. 

There are actual ways to see whether or not a brand is trustworthy 

If they tell you from the get-go that they won't be paying you, you have every right to ask why they are not offering payment. It’ll set the tone for a reciprocal exchange that’s mindful of your boundaries. If they don't explain why right away, that's a pretty good sign you should say no. Such situations exist: the potential collaborator tells you all about their fantastic project until you're so into it that you can hardly say no. And only then they tell you: "By the way, we don’t compensate in cash." Not only is this disrespectful, it shows a lack of trustworthiness and transparency on the part of the brand. On the other hand, if the brand is transparent from the beginning, that's a green light. If you can freely ask about the absence of revenue and get straightforward answers, chances are your partnership will be one of mutual respect. 

One last tip: evaluation is key 

When contacted by a brand, make a point of pitching your work before giving an answer. You have the choice to open the conversation. Yes, they chose you, but both parties can benefit from a rundown on how you work best and what you can provide. After all, what they have access to is your visual work and an overview of your creativity through your online presence. What they have very limited access to is how well you work. Regardless of whether you are going to say yes or no, you should build the capacity to prove that a partnership with you will be successful. You can do so by providing actual data and KPIs on previous partnerships, paid or unpaid. After a campaign is over, keep in touch with the brand and ask to swap data. Collecting data is crucial to keep track of your performances and to use as leverage to showcase to brands the kinds of results you can generate (engagement, visits to the brand's website, follower growth on your side and the brand's, and in some cases, sales). There is no certain way to ensure you can provide similar results in a new partnership, but you’ve got everything to gain from learning how to pitch your capacities. 

Final Thoughts

Saying yes or no to an unpaid partnership will depend on a mix of several factors: instinct, research, past experience (yours and the brand’s), and asserting your unique values and principles. Remember what really matters to you, and you’re on the way to making an informed, productive decision. 

Stay tuned for more resources on how to run your business! We’ve got your back.

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