Why “Free” Products are Never Truly Free

Disclaimer: this information is meant for Canadian creators. You should consult an accountant before relying on this information.

With the number of digital influencers growing each and everyday, we’ve become accustomed as consumers to seeing our feeds filled with “free” products.  We’re constantly bombarded with unboxing videos, mail day hauls, and product reviews; but are all of those “free” products really free? The reality is, nothing is ever really free, especially when it comes to influencer marketing. Here’s why “free” products are never truly free, even for influencers.

You’re essentially accepting “free” product in exchange for “free” work.

Every piece of content an influencer creates has a monetary value tied to it. Three major things to consider before you accept “free” product in exchange for a post? The amount of time, effort, and money that will be spent creating it.

When managing your time, remember to factor in how long it takes to plan, travel, shoot, and edit. Is a $10 mascara really worth 3+ hours of your time?

When managing your money, remember to factor in the cost of photographers, props, and travel. Every post is different, and some will require more cash than others, but always make sure to take a quick inventory of what you’ll need to complete a post before committing. If you’re spending more money on creating the post than what the product is actually worth, you may want to reconsider.

Last but not least, how much effort will creating this post take? Is it something you can shoot in the comfort of your own home, or will you have to go to a specific location? Is it a still photo or a video? Does this post require you to do something specific, like cook something? Just like money and time, you’ll have to evaluate exactly how much effort you plan to spend on a post before deciding if it’s actually worth a “free” product or not.

Legally, “free” products are considered part of your income.

If you’re receiving free product in exchange for a post, you’re technically being compensated for your work, even if it’s not in cash. As a result, you’re legally required by the Canada Revenue Agency to include the product’s value as a part of your income once tax season rolls around. What exactly does that mean? You have to pay taxes on anything “free” you accept in lieu of payment! Does that “free” $200 hair curler still sound worth it to you?

Sometimes posting in exchange for free product is a great way to build a relationship with a brand and show the quality of your work. Other times, it is simply a brand taking advantage of your time, money, and effort. Know the difference! And don’t forget to ask yourself these questions before committing to any sort of “free” campaign.

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Jessica is a fashion and lifestyle blogger at Diary of a Toronto Girl. Find her on Instagram @jessicailam. Jessica is a member of #ThePaidCrew editorial team.