Why 'Free'​ is Never Free

A thought piece on why I usually turn down 'free luxury trips'.

Gift (noun): a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.

Free ski trip to Niseko at a luxury winter lodge! An ultimate girlfriends getaway to Phuket with you and your bestie! An all expense paid trip to Japan for a whisky tour and 6 course meals at Michelin star restaurants at the hotel! Luxury, organic skincare collection valued at $5,000!

These are all some real examples of emails I've received in the past year. For most people, this is the dream; to be an Influencer who's offered to travel around the world for free and showered with lipsticks and shoes.

This may sound ideal but as someone who is trying to build a business, free stuff does not equate to income. As a freelance content creator whose only income comes from producing high quality images, at the end of the day I cannot pay my bills and groceries with free bags. If the rest of the economy doesn't accept free product in exchange for electricity/gas, food or water, why should we?

To fellow creators

I'm not judging those who accept free things. I have products sent to my studio and I'm grateful that brands think of me. There are content creators out there who have full time jobs and receiving press gifts are perks but they don't rely on their socials for income. On the other hand, there are freelancers like me who consider this as a serious career who don't accept barter service. However the more free shoes, bags and makeup you're willing to accept, that sets a tone and a message that creators don't need jobs OR that they're well off to begin with thus don't need work.

To fellow PR agencies, brands and clients

When it comes to accepting 'free stuff', I only accept it when it's truly a gift. There have been one too many times where I've accepted something that was marketed as 'free' but afterwards been told "it'd be great if you could use #XX in your Instagram post and tag (insert brand's IG handle)" By then, having consumed that product, it makes me feel that it's now a necessity to make some content out of it.

I've come to learn it's better to be straight up in the initial phases of brand collaborations to understand the brand or agency's intent behind gifting. Be deliberate and honest! I'd rather know what the expectations are ahead instead of guessing and causing anxiety. These are 3 red flags of instances where I will turn down 'free things':

1. The email offer falls in a 'grey area' of feeling the necessity to post even though it was labeled as a 'gift'. Please, please create clarity! If it's a gift, there shouldn't be an expectation to post 5 Stories and use brand hashtags like a sponsored post.

2. I need to work more than am able to enjoy. A one night hotel stay in exchange for 3 Instagram posts pretty much means I will only be focused on researching, scouting, setting up and shooting than 'enjoying' my 'free staycation'. I love creating content but I don't like murky definitions of 'complimentary stays'. Let's put it this way, if I can eat my breakfast hot, I know it's genuinely free.

3. I need to pay. A free trip to Paris without additional payment and no expenses covered? I don't need to do the math, but generally I know my spreadsheet is going to be at a minus after transportation, food, telecommunications add up.

You see, of all the people, I am in the business of free. From my Instagram to our newly launched Youtube channel to these LinkedIn articles I'm writing on a Monday morning, all the content on my socials are accessible to anyone without cost, restrictions or creative briefs. Perhaps your clients don't allocate budget for paid Instagram posts- I get it- they probably don't see the value of an Influencer or perhaps don't get how social media can convert to sales. My passion is educating agencies that creating social media content is a job and NOT a millennial hobby.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and hit me up on my Instagram if this helped you!