every day i am asked to take part in a variety of activities as a tastemaker and influencer, and honestly, though i can't participate in everything, i am flattered to be asked. i've worked hard over the last 6 years to promote myself as an interior designer through my various social media channels, and before i started social media, i slogged away as both a design assistant and under my own name, then there was the years of schooling before that. so while i'm happy to wear the hats of tastemaker and influencer, i am also an experienced design professional. an expert in my field, if you will.
so when a *large* internet-based commercial venture (you know their name, we all do) approached me today about working for them by creating content for their site, i was flattered, and gratified that a big company like that was interested in partnering with me to help promote their first foray into the home sector. i immediately responded back that i would be happy to consider working with them, and what was the pay rate? to which they responded (and i paraphrase) "no pay, but we'll promote you through our website"... um, wait- isn't that what you just approached me to do? not only "promote you through my channels", but use my experience as a design professional to provide content, in addition to lending my "gravitas"as a veteran in the home design field, to your endeavor? that seems to be a lot to be asking without compensation beyond "promoting me". and they weren't just asking for a quote and a headshot (usually happy to provide if it's the right fit), or anything simple, but asking for hours of my time creating exclusive content for them to then commercialize. i declined and explained that i am a working designer, and that to devote time to their site, takes away time spent with my own clients and i also explained i have obligations to several media partners who are willing pay me (or at least provide some quid pro quo), so working for free wasn't fair to those partners either.
and, normally, it would have ended there. i would be flattered they asked, and that would have been that. after all, the internets is still sorta the wild west with no rules, unions, or even etiquettes for these situations, so whatevs... but then i looked on their site and found them boasting of the following facts:
- they have over twenty million dollars in outside funding.
- they have been profitable for several years running.
- they operate at 90% gross margins.
and that kind of pissed me off. dude (and i use the corporate "dude" here), don't brag about how much money you have and how much fat profit you are raking in while asking people to work for free. i mean, they have 90% gross margins. 90%. let that soak in. ninety percent! and yet, they want me to provide content for them for free. i had to ask myself, what if they actually paid people for content, and/or to promote their site, what would their margins be then? 80% 70%? 60? those are still pretty healthy, right? for those of you who are business owners, what is *your* gross margin?? surely not 90%, and if it is, what business are *you* in? cuz i wanna switch!
which leads me to the meat of my rant: why as a tastemaker or influencer, or as i prefer, an expert in my field, am i not worthy of being compensated? especially when your own business model says you have the wherewithal to do so? don't i deserve a teensy tiny slice of sumpthin' for helping you build your business? i know if this company's CEO asked me to decorate their own home they'd understand as an experienced professional that i would need to be compensated. i mean they *could* find someone with little or no experience to decorate it for free, but it would probably look pretty bad, and it would certainly cost more in mistakes than i charge in fees, so it would be a bad business decision, right? then why isn't that same principle applied to their website? why wouldn't they jump at the opportunity to pay a small amount to be associated with someone who is not only talented, but experienced, and an expert in their field? surely it would make their site look better than being associated with someone with no experience and no eye but who is willing to work for free? i just don't get it, and the sad thing is, i know the company doesn't care. as an experienced professional and an established social media voice, i'm going to refuse this "opportunity" but there are a hundred kids behind me who will probably jump at the chance to toil for free to get their names on a website with millions of users, and that is sad. they haven't been around long enough to realize that they are being taken advantage of, and that providing content for others without compensation nets them nothing.
i know by posting this that i might scare off potential brand partners, and perhaps even lose a few of my existing ones for being an outspoken bitch but that's a risk i'm willing to take. it's important for those of us who have worked long and hard to get where we are, that we are appreciated and valued. we are lending not only our followers, but our names, hard won experience and knowledge, and that is worth something. certainly we deserve more than the average college summer intern would get- a nice mention and a pat on the back. (side note: don't get me wrong- sometimes, like with a college internship, it's smart to work for free). i just think that large, established companies, with funding... and profits! ought to be compensating for content, and that we, the content providers need to start to learn to say NO if there is no quid to go with the pro quo. after all, they pay their executives, they pay their shareholders, and they for damn sure pay their IT department, so it's time they start paying their content providers as well. some companies have already learned this, and i applaud you- now please go tell your friends. ;-)
and that's the end of that rant. thanks for reading, and fellow bloggers, i hope you'll join me in sometimes saying "NO". not everything that puts your name on someone else's website is an opportunity. well, it is for them, but not always for you.
ps- for those of you guessing along at home, i have no desire to publicly name the company. if you are profitable, have 90% gross margins ,and think you don't need to compensate content providers in a tangible way, well then this post applies to you too. ;-) that said, please note this company is not currently officially in the home sector, but would like to be...