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

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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