Monday, February 08, 2010

Blissdom Wrap-up: Should You Write for Free?

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Blissdom was fabulous! There is so much I could rave about. The crowd, 500 bloggers strong, was just the right size, the schedule was busy without feeling packed, the sessions were interesting and useful, the sponsors were appreciated and set up in such a way that attendees didn't feel like we were in a massive trade show. And the women- such an inspiring and talented group! For details and links, I'm going to send you over to Christine Koh's thoughtful and thought-provoking blog for the Biggest Blissdom Link Love Lovefest Ever.

If you've never been to a blogging conference, one of the smaller events like Blissdom, Evo, TypeAMom or Blogalicious is the way to go. Not only will you learn a lot, but you will make more connections than at the larger events. Paradoxical perhaps, but true.

{stepping off soap box}

One thing that stands out in my mind was a whispered conversation (or five) on a topic that was not addressed in any of the panels I attended- should bloggers write for free?

This was touched upon somewhat in my session with the fabulous Alli Worthington, Barbara Jones, Audrey McClelland and Nancy Smith in which we discussed earned media (such as writing unpaid product reviews) vs. paid media (running ads or sponsored posts).

I believe it was Alli who spoke up to say that even though you write free content for your blog, a corporation should not be reposting it on their website without compensation.

But what if a blogger contributes to sites like Alli's own Blissfully Domestic, or TypeAMom or powerhouse Silicon Valley Moms Blog Group? Sites that have large audiences and run advertisements? Should you contribute to those kind of sites for free?

Only you can answer that question.

{stepping back on soap box}

In many cases, though, I say yes, you should.

First off, keep in mind that the hosts of those sites are likely not striking it rich just yet (and quite possibly never will). And even if the site owners do seem to be rolling in money now, well here's what my husband likes to remind me in regard to my consulting, "If you take into account the thousands of hours you've spent online in the last 5 years, you're billing rate is under $10 an hour."

{No, he's not nearly as jerky as he sounds.}

It generally takes a lot of sweat equity to build a successful site. But enough about the site hosts, what about you?

I mean, what about me?

I've been a volunteer contributor to the Chicago Moms Blog since it launched in 2007. Joining that blog not only introduced me to a wonderful group of local bloggers, but it instantly connected me to dozens (now hundreds) of other mombloggers. One of those bloggers hired me for a problogging position which later brought me to a consulting gig, another sent me on my first blogger junket which also led to other great experiences, and yet another might be publishing on of my essays in her forthcoming book. Hell, I went to Club Med because of a post at Chicago Moms Blog.

On top of that, I've developed lasting friendships, both personal and professional.

I'm just a click away from great advice, both personal and professional.

I've built my platform and reached a heck of a lot more readers than I would have at my blog alone.

Honestly, since I have more demands on my time, I debate my continued involvement, but for now I'm staying. I still reap something from the effort I put in and I feel little is asked of me in return.

If only more of life worked that way.

It often doesn't.

In fact, if you're not in a win-win situation, then you are most certainly the one on the losing end of the deal. If you don't feel valued, or, even worse, feel you are being taken advantage of because of your willingness to provide free content, stop doing it.

{stepping down again and tucking my soapbox under my bed}


MelADramatic Mommy said...

You nailed: it has to be a two way street. Everything we post for a company or brand does so much for their SEO. One of my takeaways from Blissdom is not to undervalue what we do. Don't be afraid to walk away, no matter how good the opportunity looks.

Kristi said...

What a great wrap-up! I love it! I need to go visit those links soon. This hit home though. Since selling my biz four years ago, I've been stay at home - yet I ITCH for other things sometimes...

Anyway, I adore to read and submitted a guest post to a popular bookstore last week and they asked me to be a monthly contributer! For free! I'm totally doing it. I figure if I put my nose to the grindstone, kick some butt, and actually DO SOMETHING good, I can show how awesome I am and maybe make something of it. If I want to. Maybe I do, maybe I don't. I guess we shall see.

But I'm excited about it :)

I'm excited for you too! Hopefully more ClubMed trips come your way :)

Tanis said...

The way I feel about this is everyone needs to start somewhere. Unless you are really lucky, most people aren't going to know who you are or value your work when you begin. So build your name, your brand and with that the opportunities will grow.

And like you said, if you aren't feeling your work is being valued, then walk away. Because monetization or not, it's not worth it when you feel undervalued.

Rachel said...


Yes, yes yes ;-)

Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) said...

Thanks so much for this. I've considered and reconsidered my involvement in Ohio Moms Blog. Hearing from someone who's been at this a lot longer than me that sometimes the social capital returns are worth the unpaid work reinforces my decision to stick with it.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@Mel and @Tanis- I've stuck with Chicago Moms Blog, but I've walked away from other low/no-paying gigs. And frankly, when I've determined an opportunity is not right for me, I'm more confident trying to negotiate a better deal or walking away. It's a great feeling and I know I couldn't have done that years ago.

@Kristi - good for you. You sound really enthused! If it's fun and you're getting great clips, writing practice and exposure go for it. That said, you might want to give your self a time limit - like 6 months to re-evaluate and see if you're ready for something even bigger and better or if you're happy continuing on as is.

@Rachel Hounds in the Kitchen - To be sure, in my years with Chicago Moms Blog, I've seen other writers come and go. It fits for me, but we all have to make our own choices based on our interests and goals.

Boston Mamas said...

Yes, very astute. One thing I have said time and again is that a blog itself might not make a ton of money but if you put out quality work with consistency and integrity, it will lead to other things. Yes, consulting gigs. But also amazing relationships. You're right on the money here (pun intended).


Rachel Boldman said...

I loved your wisdom and insight during that panel discussion. I feel like a lot of blogging right now is about product reviews, trips, and what-can-i-get-for-free-or-how-can-i-get-paid. But what I love about blogging is reading about people, not products. Products are nice every once in a while, but I LOVE stories. And crafts. I really like crafts. :)

Thanks for your kindness during Blissdom. I'm glad to have met you!

melanie said...

kim, i really appreciated this post! thanks for sharing your thoughts. i have been thankful for contacts (like i have with you!) that i have received from chicago moms. i would love to be paid for writing but, for now, i'm just trying to be content getting whatever benefits might come my way...

Kimberly/Mom in the City said...

This is a thought-provoking post Kim.

I don't know. From a business model view, there is just something that doesn't sit right with me about companies that are making a profit expecting all of their writers (who are bringing in their readers, which bring in the ad dollars) to contribute their writing for free indefinitely. That is why I started paying (although it's minimal) my reviewers once I started accepting ads on my site.

Overall though, I agree that the set-up must be mutually beneficial. I have written for free in the past and (given the right fit/timing/etc.) I probably will do so in the future. In the end, I guess that each blogger has to make that decision for themselves on a case by case basis.

Kim Moldofsky said...

A gut check is definitely involved and there are many questions to be answered. For example, what is the required posting schedule, what is the required length of post, who retains rights to the published material, can you cross-post to your blog, etc.

These should be spelled out whether in the form of a written agreement or full-out contract.

I once wrote for a large national parenting blog and remember a conversation that made a little light go off in my head when I realized that much of what I was doing was merely creating cheap content pages on which to run their ads. That was really depressing.

Alli Worthington said...

I am a firm believer that the recent onslaught of PR companies offering a free camera/product in return for multiple vlogs posted on the brand site is just wrong.

Content creation to lessen the impact on the PR team/Marketing group's bottom line goes way over the line.

As for large group sites with large numbers of writers? I can only speak for myself, but it's not a great business model. I'm planning a 180 degree turn on Blissfully Domestic. It's a labor of love.

Great discussion, Kim.

Tired Mom Tesa said...

Glad to hear Blissdom was wonderful. I would love to be surrounded by people who knew what I was talking about when It come to these kinds of topics. I think you made great points about never quite knowing where volunteering can lead you - sometimes it might be better than the money!

Mom101 said...

I've always believed that sometimes writers write to prove themselves, and you can't always demand money. Sometimes you have to look at the opportunity and what it buys you in terms of exposure, credibility and other opportunities.

That said I do see a difference between SV Moms (or Momocrats, which I contribute to) which gives bloggers a forum to write what you'd like, and something like Blissfully Domestic or BlogHer which have posting guidelines and editors and essentially function like online magazines. (Or that's my understanding at least - I could be wrong!)

It's great to contribute an editorial somewhere worthwhile and get kudos. But we should be careful not to be so honored that someone likes our writing that we give it away for an ego boost.

Jodi - Mom's Favorite Stuff said...

Great post Kim! I have a lot to think about in general and this just validates my thought process.

I agree that we all have to start somewhere, and if there was a Boston edition of the SV Moms Blog Group I'd be right there posting on it.

By the way, your panel was my favorite of the weekend!

The (Un)Experienced Mom said...

I absolutely agree with the points you made! And am inspired by how one thing led to another for you.

Btw, my husband says similar things about how many hours I spend on blogging vs. how much I'd be paid. ;-)

Thanks for linking up and sorry it took so long to stop by!