Have you ever thought about the definition of the word FREE?

Free: adjective \ˈfrē\ –  given without consideration of  a return or reward.

In the blogging industry, that word, FREE, gets thrown around a lot.


We hear comments like, “You’re so lucky. You get FREE stuff!”

I don’t mind hearing that so much from people who really don’t know better. How would the average Jill or Joe know the amount of time and effort it takes to create a post? How would they know how much time and effort it took to build a voice/brand that the “givers-of-stuff” would WANT to give someone their stuff?

OK, it bothers me a little. I wish folks understood the effort. I worry they think I hang out at home during the day organizing and petting all my cool free stuff. I just sit there. Acquiring free stuff.

And then there are the marketers and brands.

I have been able to work with some outstanding PR firms and brands. It’s an honor to work with businesses that recognize the effort.

But for every 1 of those, there are 15 of the other. Oh the countless pitches that daily fill my inbox… The emails to butter me/us up with promises of FREE stuff… but at a price.

Free + Price = not so much. It got me thinking. And I guess when I think I get a little mathy. Which is odd since math makes me gag…

a story problem for bloggers

Either the word FREE needs to be redefined or… OR maybe FAVOR should replace it.

If you want a favor – just call it what it is.


I learned a lesson many years ago. I was sent $6 in crackers to review… aaaaand about $20 prize (crackers and cheap crap) for my giveaway winner. I spent:

  • time taking pictures
  • time uploading pictures
  • time crafting an interesting, fun post
  • time promoting giveaway
  • time facilitating giveaway
  • time packing shipping prize
  • my own money shipping AND packaging prize

I traded time with my family in trade for FREE crackers. I spent my own money on packing and shipping… for FREE crackers. I used my creative talent and valuable voice… for FREE crackers.

My family received $6 of crackers that were gone in a day. I spent 4-6 hours on that little project (I was a slower writer then)… I made $1-1.25/hour BEFORE taxes. Except it wasn’t money. I had to eat my money in crackers.

Or my kids did.


So, when I am sent an exciting email about someone’s wonderful product and am told a blog post and some promotion will get me FREE stuff… I’m not so much thinking there is so much FREE in that.

If a product is super-cool or fun or something that will truly benefit my family… then perhaps. Or if I am moved or feel my readers would really dig the product or it means a fun giveaway for them… or I am able to do that favor… Sure!

But when I get an email trying to convince me to spend time (I could spend with my family or having coffee with friends or cooking dinner instead of getting take-out) writing about moisturizer or a frozen pizza coupon or an energy drink… so someone else can grow THEIR business… That’s a hard sell.

FREE stuff is not free. We (bloggers) pay with our time. Literal time pounding out a post we feel worthy of our readers…and worthy of our reputation… not to mention the months and years we have spent growing a space that businesses would consider worthy of their product.

I am learning, my filter for making decisions has been my family. Is 4-6 hours of mom’s time worth $6 in crackers? And it’s not all about money – it’s really more a matter of ime. My kids could really care less about crackers. They want my time. And I refuse to trade my time for crackers. My family is worth more, and so am I.

What are your thoughts? Does X + Y = Z?


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35 Responses to “Have you ever thought about the definition of the word FREE?”

  1. If only X= Sparkles,Y= Coffee then X + Y= Jenny.


  2. SUCH a great post. I feel like bloggers sell out way too often for way too little. I think in the beginning, it feels like you have to say “yes” to everything just to get started, but Bloggers, THIS JUST ISN’T TRUE. In fact, the more you say “no”, the more valuable you become and you can start saying “yes” to things that make sense for you, your family, and your audience.

    This isn’t just about free stuff either, I see companies offering bloggers $15 to write multiple posts touting their product. Then I see bloggers who actually do it!

    Bloggers, stop selling yourself short. Your time is worth more than free stuff (and certainly worth more than a few bucks).

    Thanks for the great post Jenny!

    • Thank you Alysa! I do think there is a point where a blogger may need to do some projects to show skill (because it is a different approach, and good learning how to work with someone else’s expectations), but you are right… there is an issue of value. And time is valuable.

      I also appreciate your point about the low compensation… back to a person’s value and also the market. It makes it tough to ask for/receive a fair wage! Thanks for adding in here!

  3. Fantastic post Jenny and SO spot on!! I haven’t traded my time for free crackers as of yet , but I’ve done comparable things with my time and realized quickly about priorities and the value of my time. Well written my friend. Now…if they sent me a case of coffee or wine….meh..might do it 😉

  4. Carly says:

    Great post I have done the same thing many times! Family time is so much more important.

  5. Stefanie says:

    EXCELLENT post. I just tweeted out, “Every time you say no to working for free you strengthen the business of blogging.” Then I saw someone tweet your post. Thank you for writing this.

    • Bobbie says:

      I’m gonna go stalk your twitter until I find this and RT the heck out of it. Then I’m going to tweet the heck out of Jenny’s post. Then I’m gonna eat bon bons.

  6. Lu says:

    Preach it. Free is not really free. I am more selective in how I spend my time and whose products I share. There has to be a genuine connection.

  7. It’s funny because it kinda hit me the same way one day. I was thinking what the heck am I doing? And in that moment I realized the value of what I’m doing. Now I’m sure I still undervalue myself. In fact, I know it, but I’m getting a heck of a lot better about saying no.

    PS. See you tomorrow in St. Louis!

  8. lorrie says:

    thanks for such a great post makes me think and i know if i can get contact information for the sponsors i conect with at blogher im thinking of sending thank you notes and also to the speakers but then id be spending all day sending notes lol

  9. Michelle says:

    YES! You do that math, sistah!
    We all fall victim to the lure of “free” at one time or another.
    I guess not falling for it makes us wise. Or old.
    No. I’m going with wise.

    LOVE to you all.

  10. Bobbie says:

    I love this beyond love. It is so true. I had a PR person tell me the other day that she needs me to do a free (to me) giveaway and review post for one thing of soy sauce because she is just starting her business. So if prove to this brand that I can do a great job, she can grow her company and get better offers. I’m not going to work for free so she can make money!! hello! The brands that I want to work with are the ones that will see me as worthy of compensation and they want to work with me. Plus coffee addictions get really expensive and momma needs coffee or nobody is happy. I’m gonna share this with the Houston Bloggers and TxBloggers group.

  11. FFW says:

    All I can think is, Holy shit, some day I will be asked to write about hemorrhoid cream, or lube, or some crappy sugar bomb cereal. And then, I will know I’m truly badass.

  12. kerry says:

    I just spent 4 hours arguing with my kids over reviewing smelly pencils. Four hours of arguing, 1 hour of taking and editing pics, 30 mins typing up something fabulous to say about smelly pencils. 30 mins tweeting and facebooking about it. £1 per hour paid in horrible smelling fruity pencils. 2 days recuperation. I shall do this NO longer!!!

  13. Erin Lane says:

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this post. I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE it.

  14. Love your post!! My thoughts exactly!

  15. Dang, I wanted to say this post is SPOT ON but that would be lame since you’re Jenny on the Spot. So I’ll say this post KICKS ASS. You’re soooo right and I cringe a little every time I hear people so excited about working their A off for “free stuff.” Rock on, girl for your math skills. 🙂

  16. Great post!!! The people who think you have to do stuff free to get started? No way. I’m living proof you don’t need do to that AND that you don’t need huge pageviews to charge higher rates. Just quality work and a demonstration of influence. Have I done favors for brands b/c the experience was worthwhile? Sure! But I beg bloggers to set your value HIGHER!

  17. Carol Anne says:

    Oh,Jenny! I am refining my blogging in hopes of branching out to work w/ PR/brands. What an instructive post for folks like me! Pinning this article to my blogging helps board, sharing on f/b, and tweeting as a HUGE thank you!

  18. Kerri Olkjer says:

    LOVE this. What is frustrating to me is that so many of us have spent years building our social media reach, our blog traffic, and the trust of our readers. Our readers often go out and BUY what we talk about. I take that very seriously these days and have gotten much more careful what I’m willing to post about.
    Companies/brands are benefiting hugely. It’s less than free, if that’s possible. 😉

  19. katie says:

    Jenny this is such a great post. So true–I think this is a rookie mistake every blogger makes a few times until they know their worth and what “free” really equals.

  20. YES. You are so right. We get so many of these requests that we’ve begun to resent the time it takes to even answer them politely. They get huffy when we send our rates, so why are they surprised when we get huffy that they want us to work for them for no pay (oh, unless you like those crackers). We definitely have some brands we love and with whom we have a relationship. But that 1:15 ratio sounds about right.

  21. Terry says:

    Brilliant! And so true!

  22. Love this post. Such a good reminder to value ourselves and our time. If a brand wants to send me a product that I think/know I like, I’ve learned to just say that I would be happy to give you a social media shout out or perhaps a mention in one of my blog posts but nothing beyond that in exchange for free product. 🙂

  23. Amen and hallelujah! I actually have a dollar value on ‘free’ stuff and giveaways I don’t go below…I’ve had my $6 cracker moments and realize that it is never that deep. It’s like when you are offered a glass of free beer, but once you drive down there, fight traffic, pay for parking and stand in line for an hour it’s not so free. 😉

  24. […] Have you ever thought about the definition of the word FREE I saw that this post from Jenny on the Spot was shared in many places online this week. Jenny hits on a dilemma and predicament that many bloggers encounter and comes up with a pretty damn good equation for what equals FREE. […]

  25. Di says:

    Yep, what she said! Agreed.

  26. Yes to everything you said. No to free crackers.

  27. Here’s the other problem with the “free” thing. As long as there are bloggers willing to take free, companies will continue to pitch “free”. There will always be the ones that try to hide their review/pitch site behind the mom/life blog mask. I use similar guidelines as you as well as commit to myself the 10:1 ratio.. no more than 1 review per 10 true stories.

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