Monday, November 9, 2009

When To Do Things For Free... And When Not To.

With the ever expanding world of social media, blogs, video and online journalism it's obvious that the "personal brand" is really important these days. It's important for your career and it's REALLY important if you want to be a freelancer, location independent worker, or if you want to open your own business because people find you online, so you'll need to have good content out there for visitors to determine if they want to know you, work with you, or meet you. We all agree on this.
I started my company and decided that I would do as much as I could to get my work out there and in front of people. This is probably where a lot of you are right now. So I wrote every guest post that anyone asked me to do, spoke at every event I was invited to, helped on every project, took every call. Let me tell you something though: This is going to make you really busy and stressed out.
I remember having a conversation with a more financially minded person several months ago and I was losing my mind because I was so busy. I wanted my company to be writing interesting articles about social media and I wanted to be doing lots of speeches so that people would know that we knew what we were talking about and want to work with us.
"That sounds like a lot of content to write." My financially minded friend said.
"It is. I can't think of something smart to say all the time. Sometimes I want to write about clothes and I feel like I can't." I told her.
"Well, you need to prioritize this better, which ones are paying you?"
"One of them." I answered and immediately realized how ridiculous it sounded.
"You have got to stop doing so many things for free." She told me.

She was right, I needed to stop doing so many things for free but I still needed to do enough to keep moving forward with my company's online presence. Here are my rules to help you decide what to do and what to turn down.

Do It For Free If:
It's for something that is well marketed on its own. Like a speech or a really large online publication. If the event has a marketing department of it's own and you will be included on the roster it's probably a good idea.
It's something that's exactly the topic you generally talk about. I will guest write about social media, entrepreneurship, work clothing, innovation and inspiration, being creative, and a few other topics. Writing and posting about the topics you want to explore further will introduce you to other like minded people and their audience will appreciate your view (or at least understand the topic). Anything outside of that isn't going to be worth your time.
It's something that's really fun. I have a few really time intensive projects that are currently making me zero dollars but are so much fun that the end is definitely worth the means. Having fun can be a reason to post on a friend's blog or participate in a speech for students, or create a video you just have to keep those in check or you won't make rent.
It could turn profitable at some point. Putting in the time for reward later is also a reason to do something for free. Don't take this as "I'll do every guest blog post I'm asked to do because someone might pay me for it some time." This is more that you should be willing to write content or posts to support your company's podcast series that someone might sponsor at a later date. The difference is, nebulous guest writing doesn't necessarily lead back to a success for you.

Don't Do It For Free If:
It's too small. You need to choose the guest posts, speeches, and videos that you do with care. Blogs and organizations that are the same size or smaller than you should be done in smaller doses. This sounds mean but I used to say yes to everything and I was exhausted from developing content for so many places. Make a rule like: I will do a guest post for a smaller blog or site twice a month. You can book for the next month then once you fill your quota.
It costs you money to help. A speech might seem like a good opportunity but if the organization isn't willing to pay for the flight, hotel, and expenses (as they sometimes aren't) then the speech will cost you money to give. If the speech is for 75 people and it's 7 states away you could end up paying $50 per person to give that speech when all is said and done.
It's ongoing. A friend just told me recently that she'd been writing once a week for a prominent web site for several months and was not being paid to do so. Beware of companies asking you to provide recurring services in exchange for "exposure". Unless of course you really are seeing huge returns on it. Generally, "exposure" just means "please write and work for free".


Blogger Chad said...

This was very informative. Thanks

November 9, 2009 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Royce said...

Wait a minute... is this "friend" posting weekly on a popular site actually you posting on Modite? You don't have to disguise it, it's okay haha.

I like the basic idea here that your time is money... so don't be paying other people with that time unless you really expect a good return on investment.

November 9, 2009 at 3:16 PM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

Royce - haha, not at all but it's an interesting point. I post on Modite because it's really fun, she's actually much bigger than I am, and her topics are what I'm talking about (well, she lets me choose my own topics) so Modite hits 3 of my qualifications. :)

November 9, 2009 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Madelin said...

Great article! This is extremely helpful, especially for energetic, eager recent grads who are still in the job hunting process. It's sometimes hard to distinguish when it's a good opportunity and when you're just being used. I've found that sometimes it's easy to get so wrapped up in "non-profit" projects that you don't have any time to actually look for paid opportunities.

Thanks :)

November 9, 2009 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Grace Boyle said...

I'm with you on this. I do too much for free, too often. I think it's a combination of me being too nice, loving opportunity and also trying to help out.

A startup recently asked me to help with a press release and even offered to pay me (small budget, but still compensation) and I initially said yes. Then I looked at my plate, my current workload and personal life and I came back to say no. I had to be honest and wanted to respect not only my time, but theirs. I have a blog post about this in the queue. You bring up really good points and it's good to hear you're differentiating between free, time and money :)

November 10, 2009 at 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog is very informative and very helpful. Thanks for this.
Web development

November 11, 2009 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger RdGarnet said...

This is so true. I need to stop doing lots of things for free. Especially appreciates it. Great post. Very informative.

November 17, 2009 at 3:08 PM  

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