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Working for Free??? When You Should and When You Shouldn't!

By 5MinutesForMom |

Woman Working at DeskNothing can start a fiery discussion like Mom Bloggers working for free! But when should a blogger work for free and when shouldn’t she?

I am a dinosaur. I roamed the blogosphere back when wearing a Google Ad in your side bar was shocking, splitting bloggers into camps of pure and dirty.

Yet slowly, (if anything in social media can be described as moving slowly,) bloggers realized that they were “working.” They hadn’t noticed at first — it had been too fun, too gratifying.

But as spouses clocked their hours and hosting fees showed up on their visa bills, more and more bloggers decided to challenge this “selling out” concept. Why was it wrong to earn a livelihood from their craft? How was blogging different from any other pursuit or product?

And so bloggers began to learn the art of monetization.

Bloggers tested the waters with Google Ads — it didn’t require too much commitment and hey, everyone was doing it, right? And when BlogHer opened their own ad network and popular bloggers began sporting their ads, it was like the skies had opened up and declared advertising “good.”

Yes, it was game time. Mom bloggers were now “allowed” to earn money on their blogs. No one would trash their sites or click away in disgust.

Since those primitive beginnings, bloggers have discovered a myriad of ways to earn a living online. From integrated campaigns, to e-products, to consulting, and beyond, most professional mom bloggers have multiple revenue streams allowing them to turn their online assets into a reliable income.

Yet, the questions linger — should a mom blogger ever work for “free” and if so, when and why?


First, Let’s Define “FREE”

I am going to take a stand here and say that no blogger should work for free. BUT, “free” is in the eye of the beholder!

When one says that something is “free” it generally means that there is no charge, that one has not “paid” for the transaction.

And by that definition, I do not believe that a blogger should work for “free.” She needs to be getting something out of the arrangement — she needs to have her ROI, her Return On Investment.

This ROI will range from blogger to blogger and project to project. And that fluctuation is key — what is a profitable ROI will vary!


“You Have to Build a Product Before You Can Sell It.”

Let’s take a new photographer for example. She is an artist, just like a young blogger, learning a craft and developing her talent.

She doesn’t have a huge portfolio, let alone clients. First she needs to learn. She needs to grow.

So, she shadows a professional photographer or works as an underpaid assistant, shouldering camera bags and handing over lenses like an operating room nurse. She gains experience. She increases her worth.

Eventually, she steps out on her own, portfolio and client list strong and growing. She has paid her dues. She has arrived.

Likewise, usually bloggers have to work for months, if not years, before earning a decent living. (If they can at all!)

I always say, “You have to build a product before you can sell it.”

So, a blogger must learn her craft, build her traffic, grow her network, expand her contacts.


How Does A Blogger Build Her Brand

In order to build their product, (their blogs, influence, etc.) bloggers may have to work for months on their own sites before they begin to earn an income from ad sales, affiliate sales, sponsored posts, integrated campaigns, etc.

To gain page rank, improve their SEO performance, and gain exposure, bloggers may choose to guest post on various larger sites or join group blogs.

For traffic and reader engagement, bloggers may run non-compensated giveaways and reviews on their sites.

Any of these decisions, and many others, can be wise moves as a blogger strategically positions herself for her future as a professional blogger.

So, would I define them as “free?” No, not necessarily. They have worth for that blogger.


Newbie or Veteran — Count the ROI

Just as the new blogger works for an ROI that doesn’t necessarily ping her paypal account, sometimes veteran bloggers make the choice to barter their work for something other than cash.

While I caution professional bloggers to proceed carefully, each blogger has to determine herself if there is a sufficient return on investment for a project.

Generally, for bloggers like myself with considerable overhead and staff to pay, most of the work we do needs to be compensated in good old fashioned cash!

I can’t pay my hosting fees, my assistants, my designers, my developers, etc., in cereal or hand soap, nor do I usually need to work for a company to build my site or my network. I have already invested years and tens of thousands of dollars developing my product. Now I must sell it.

Having said that, there are definitely times when I DO negotiate and work for “less” than I would usually. I don’t need someone questioning the details of my deals, besides NDA’s are often in effect.

I KNOW my worth and I WILL make sure my ROI is sufficient!


So, Let’s Recap — WHEN Is it OK to Work for Free?

Companies are measuring their ROI — and so should bloggers! A blogger needs to determine if a deal has a reasonable Return On Investment. Is this job “paying” her what she needs at this point in her blogging career?

In other words, if what you are doing is building YOUR business, then it may indeed by “paying” you what you require.

If what you are doing is primarily building a COMPANY’S business and taking value and time away from your business, then you need to renegotiate or decline the project.

The ROI needs to be sufficient on both sides, for company/advertiser and for the blogger. Bloggers shouldn’t be losing out, nor should companies/advertisers be paying too much.

When in doubt, just ask, what is my ROI?


Check back here tomorrow to find out, “Why Companies SHOULD Hire Mom Bloggers.”

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About 5MinutesForMom

janicecroze

5MinutesForMom

Janice Croze and her identical twin, Susan Carraretto, are the founders of 5 Minutes for Mom – a mom blog committed to promoting and connecting the online mom community. Janice is also a photographer who specializes in children's photography. You can find her photography work at janicecrozephotography.com.

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0 thoughts on “Working for Free??? When You Should and When You Shouldn't!

  1. Miss Britt says:

    EXCELLENT advice, Janice. I love the measuring sticks you use for determining if something is valuable to a blogger.

    1. janicecroze says:

      Thanks Britt!

  2. Lolli @ Better in Bulk says:

    This is my favorite quote: “You have to build a product before you can sell it.” I completely agree with this statement. I have built my brand for the last several years, and expect to continue to build (I have so far to go!!) for years ahead. But even still, I’ve had so many fabulous opportunities. Yes, some of those opportunities have been paid and some haven’t. As long as they are moving me in the direction I want to go, building my brand and building my reach, then I think it’s ok to do some work for free. I’m just glad that I can do something I love and make some money for my family at the same time.

    1. janicecroze says:

      Perfect attitude Lolli – you are doing an incredible job!

  3. earthlingorgeous says:

    I so love this post! very well said! You said everything right!

    1. janicecroze says:

      Thank you – I appreciate you taking the time to give me your feedback!

  4. Ina Mae O'Connor says:

    Very well stated. Nothing is free – someone is paying including your family. If you are providing information for me or entertaining me, I would like you to get paid.

    1. janicecroze says:

      Thank you! Now if only everyone felt that way! ;)

  5. Clark Kent's Lunchbox says:

    Excellent points. I’d chip in by saying, for me, it’s a matter of “reciprocal value,” or in other words, it has to be win, win. As you mentioned, “free” has to be defined, as does “paid.” A straight-up paid deal is easy, of course, and I have an absolute bottom dollar number in my mind for these opportunities. But for the deals that don’t involve dollars the definition of being paid may be a new networking opportunity, a prestigious brand to add to my press kit, a speaking opportunity, a cause I believe in, or a product/service I would be interested in regardless that is equal to my time. So, the brand/firm/organization gets my services and audience while I am “paid” in a manner that is commensurate to my services or to the furtherance of my brand.

    Great, great post. Thanks.

    1. janicecroze says:

      Yes – “reciprocal value” is a great way to define it! And in most cases, it really can be win win if everyone comes to the table fairly.

  6. Mommy Jes says:

    This is a great post! Very well said!

    1. janicecroze says:

      Thank you – I appreciate you taking the time to let me know. :)

  7. Crunchy Carpets says:

    Exactly…it doesn’t have to be $ but YOU or your site HAVE to get something out of the deal. So truly think before saying yes to a PR firm. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask about links, online promotion…SOMETHING.

    1. janicecroze says:

      Yes – definitely! Thanks!

  8. Kim @ CoffeePotChronicles says:

    I’m not a mom blogger but I understand the points made about working for free vs. being paid for what you do. I struggle with this as a photographer with people who expect my time, talent, and expertise for free and a finished product for free.

    Just like they need to be paid to feed themselves and their family in addition to handling other expenses from operating a business to running their home, I do as well. It does tend to irk me that some people feel they’re entitled to “free” or dirt cheap without bothering to consider what exactly goes into that work.

    My current blog is still young (just about 6 months old) but I’ve been blogging for nearly a year now. I’m just now starting to realize I need to change my content a bit, consider monetization, and hone in a bit on a niche. I write about my own life and experiences for the most part but it has been all over the place in recent months.

    By reading things like these I realize it’s time to start considering my blog a business and grow it accordingly and not just a hobby that gets me nowhere. Thanks for the wonderful insight. It’ll help me re-define my goals and plans for the next 6 months and beyond.

    1. janicecroze says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Kim. Being a photographer is one of the most difficult for people trying to get your time and talents for free. It can be so challenging.

      It sounds like you are approaching your blog and your plans purposefully — which is great. So good to reexamine where u r, where u want to go, and how u r going to get there.

  9. Cindy Ratzlaff says:

    Such a great post. I’m involved in sourcing bloggers for clients projects and there are many things to consider such as: 1. Will this website bring new fans and readers to my brand (as in yes, I did blog for free for Oprah.com) 2. How much promotion will this website put into my work and do I feel their audience is a good fit for my brand 3. As you so wisely said, if I grow my readership, how will I keep them engaged? Do I have something else to offer them. Thank you!

    1. janicecroze says:

      Thanks for your feedback and thoughts Cindy! And yes – blogging for Oprah.com probably had some ROI for ya! ;)

  10. Toni @ A Daily Dose says:

    Perfectly written! I have always said if you do something for “free” or if you get “paid” you aren’t ruining for anyone who chooses to do the other. Those both having different meanings to each person. To some free is getting nothing and others it could be doing a review without charging. To some getting paid is getting product and other’s it’s money (with or without product). So what something means to one blogger could totally mean something different to another. Each person individually knows their worth and what they want and deserve to take and it is a personal decision. No one should ever judge or belittle another because they choose to go one way or the other. Just my thoughts. Now if I could just get every company to always realize the worth I believe I have all would be perfect in the blog world LOL.

  11. Mommyteaching says:

    Perfectly said. I also love your comment, “first you have to build a product before you can sell it.” Also love your perspective on how we define value.
    There are different forms of payment for work and it’s not always monetary.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Mommyteaching.com

  12. mommyteaching.com says:

    Stated perfectly! I love the phrase, “You have to build a product before you can sell it.” It’s so true that monetary payments are not the only recompense for hard work. I agree that people put different values on the various forms of compensation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Mommyteaching

  13. Kelly says:

    Such sage advice, Janice. Thanks for sharing this piece now I know where to point someone when they ask for advice on starting a blog, or whether they should work for free. I’ve been known to work for free for causes I believe in too, but like you said now that I’m a business taking on those projects means my other time has to be spent being compensated to balance that.

  14. Alison Shaffer says:

    Your post was really helpful to me. I am a newish blogger, working for payment mostly in products and occasionaly some $. working on the product is where I need to focus! thanks for all the great tips and advice.

  15. Courtney @ The Mommy Matters says:

    Great post. I love your quote: You have to BUILD a product before you can sell it. That makes so much more sense than just trying to dive into making money when you don’t really have anything of worth to offer as a blogger just yet.

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