Because you generally can't barter for your living space, food, and utilities, the following items do not count as proper payment for the use of your time, skills, readership, and social media following if they are not also accompanied by a decent paycheck:
#1: Self-satisfactionYou can find enough self-satisfaction doing volunteer work or donating to the food bank without dedicating your time and skills for free to spreading the word about a company's water purifier or their vitamin-enriched jams, no matter how much you believe in the product ethos. If they're trying to manipulate you into free work with an appeal to your personal ethics, you should question the ethics of their PR tactics.
#2: Product picturesStrange but true fact: PR companies send bloggers pictures of products with the offer to send even more pictures of products if they write about them. Ooh! Coloured pixels organized to look like images of meal replacement bars! We all know that pictures of products we don't own will keep us warm when we can't pay the heating bills, right?
#3: ProductsIt depends on the product in question, but if a company offers you something akin to a notepad or soap for dedicated weblog space — let alone the use of your time, skills, and readership — they are looking for suckers, and they think you might be one. Your platform is worth far more than a ten-dollar water bottle, let alone the work and time you put in to promote it.
#4: Event ticketsAs with products, it depends on the event in question, but once you work out the food, travel, and other costs associated with going to the event, you are often poorer than you were before you traded your skills for a mid-afternoon advance screening of a mediocre film or a luncheon paired with a thinly-veiled sales pitch for a blender.
#5: CouponsThe coupons a company offers as payment are usually for that company's merchandise, which means that, in order to redeem their so-called payment, you have to give them money for a product that they likely spent less than the coupon discount to produce. So, now you've not only done work for them for no actual cash, but you've also basically paid them for the pleasure of doing so. The coupons-for-work deal is often a shady bait-and-switch that not only sells you the product but also gets you to work and advertise for them for the low, low cost of nothing whatsoever in your bank account.
#6: Links back to your weblogIf a company promises you a link back to your weblog in exchange for your work, be suspicious. If their website actually gets enough traffic that an appreciable number of their visitors would find and click on your link there, then you have to wonder why their own site isn't generating enough revenue so that they can afford to pay you for their space on yours. Chances are that if it benefits them so much to have you link to them, their traffic is not so great.
#7: Giveaway trafficA giveaway of an electric toothbrush or what-have-you will win you some extra traffic for a few days, but that's usually where it ends. A company gets free use of your time, skills, and readership while you get to write, host, link to, and promote their product across your social media networks for little more than a brief rush of one-time visitors and zero cash in hand to compensate you for your labour. Even if the company does give you product to keep, take note of how much that product is worth compared to your hours of work, the skills you bring to the job, and the value of handing over your social network connections to share the company's message.
#8: ExposureExposure to who? Where? To how many? For how long? They could write your name in tiny print on a bathroom wall in Poughkeepsie and call it exposure. Exposure usually amounts to a bare mention on their website, if you're lucky, and you have to wonder how much exposure their website actually gets if they need to get space on yours for free.
#9: Future workDon't let a company's offer of possible future employment lure you into agreeing to do free work for them now. If a company won't honour your contributions appropriately now, then they've given you no reason to believe that they will remunerate you appropriately in the future. Heck, they haven't even given you reason to believe that they respect your time and work in the first place since they valued it at all of zero dollars.
#10: Good referencesAny reference given based on your willingness to work for less than peanuts is a reference which comes with the assumption that you will work for cheap or free again. Not only will employment based on that reference often come with the expectation of cheap labour, but your work will be treated with less respect, because you get what you pay for, right? Act cheap, and you'll be treated accordingly.
I pulled all of the above from my own experiences. It's true. I've been offered a veritable smorgasbord of incentives such as pictures of cat toys, coupons for paper, chapstick, and my favourite, as one who both cannot have and does not want children, a book on potty-training. If I took advantage of all of these fabulous opportunities, I could work all day to live in the cardboard box from the coffee machine they sent me that I can't afford to plug in.
And you? What fabulous opportunities have you been offered?