I read a post today on MomCrunch today entitled Five Reasons to Just Say No to Unpaid Work. The post cautions against the perils of bloggers accepting “exposure” and “opportunity” in lieu of cash for their work. It’s certainly not a new discussion in blogging circles, but it comes up often. Because there are often new bloggers. New bloggers who are willing to work for “exposure” and “opportunity”.
Probably not coincidentally, my inbox has been jam packed with opportunities for exposure this week. That and chances to win a gift card in exchange for a post. Most of the gift cards are not even close to what I’d charge for an hourly rate. I expect these are the some of the same opportunities that prompted the post on MomCrunch.
Yes, this post really resonated for me.
As someone who has always made her living as a freelance writer, I’m sickened to admit that having this blog has had a negative impact on my earning potential.
It seems a little crazy but the moment I became a “Mommy Blogger” (ie: a blogger, and a mother) was the moment my hourly rate nosedived.
The reason for this is simple.
Mom Bloggers are willing to work for free.
As a professional with a mom blog, I’d like to boast that I’ve never been compromised with my writing, but that wouldn’t be true. I’ve certainly been there. I’ve painted myself into some of the same corners as every other blogger, except perhaps my friend Jessica Gottlieb who has an uncanny ability to spot and call brands on bullshit.
I know (and can relate to) some of the reasons why so many Mom Bloggers are tempted to accept the bogus opportunities that more seasoned and self respecting writers find so repugnant.
How can we avoid falling into our own traps? By being aware of the Five Stupid Reasons Mom Bloggers Work for Free!
1. Moms are used to doing all kinds of crap for free.
When you become a mom you become a person who willingly cleans up someone else’s shit. For free. Literally. You clean crap. For free. Ask a teenager or a middle aged man how they feel about doing that.
When I add up the number of hours I spend daily cooking, cleaning, shopping and driving for my offspring, I sort of want to cry. I love my children, I truly do. I chose to have them and realize it’s my lot. I won’t give them up. But long hours of (generally) thankless and unpaid work sucks. There’s no sugar coating that.
Long hours of unpaid and thankless work however, are part and parcel of motherhood. If you don’t suck it up and accept that, you are going to be one bitter and unhappy mother.
Which leads to the next concept:
Who better to ask to do a thankless and unpaid job, than someone who has already been conditioned to accept her work will be thankless and unpaid?
Your blog is not your baby. Your blog is the one place you do not have to work for free, you do not have to conform to anyone else’s schedule. Write what YOU want for free. But someone else’s shit? They have to pay you. Only your actual baby gets you to work for free.
2. Motherhood is lonely.
Many new bloggers get sucked into working for free because they are lonely. It’s sad but true. So many of the worst “opportunities” out there are dressed up as invitations to join a community and “earn perks” for sharing. Once in, you can compete with other community members for even more questionable opportunities. If you are getting “chances to win” in exchange for your work and the group owner is getting paid, you may want to consider how much value this group has to you and your blog. Blogger beware.
Remember the adage “you lay down with dogs, you get fleas”? Joining needy communities of non professionals ensures that you will never be a professional. If you’re really just looking for friends, join a special interest group that doesn’t ask you to perform tasks for free, engage in promotional activities for anyone other than yourself. If you want to be part of a group that asks you to work for free, volunteer for a charity you truly care about. Don’t let yourself be used.
3. Motherhood is mind numbing
Hours and hours of programming aimed at two year olds, doctors and teachers who call you “Mommy” in a singsong voice and explain elementary things to you, the brutal reality of momnesia plus sleep deprivation that makes you forget the times table… Wait, what was I saying?
You were charming and witty once upon a time, right? Or did you just imagine that you used to be a clever and intelligent individual?
Writing is a chance to rediscover your adult voice. It’s the way to prove to the world (and yourself) that you are still a vibrant and opinionated intellectual even though you can’t remember 7×9 and can remember every word to the Spongebob Song.
Brands are very good at coming up with challenges and ideas for you to use your voice to benefit them. Writing prompts, contests etc. But do you really need a brand to tell you what to write about?
It’s a little like a friend who asks you to come over to help clean up her house, and organize her closets. Because you’re so darned good at it. And what the heck, you enjoy it so much. You don’t mind doing it for free, do you? You should! Perhaps it’s flattering to be asked. The request may get your creative juices flowing. But you don’t need a brand sponsored excuse to use your voice. Clean your own closets.
4. Moms need validation.
I think this one is the biggie. This is the one that makes grown women cry.
I’ve been one of them.
Earning a salary is wonderful. Hearing praise from your co-workers and being told you are doing a great job, is equally wonderful. Moms are unpaid and lucky though they may be to get a thank you from their kids, it’s just not the same as a glowing eval from a boss and the admiration of their co-workers. Some Moms claim they are content to serve their family just for the satisfaction of serving them well. But for many women, particularly those who have grown accustomed to receiving praise for a job well done, the sudden lack of validation can be somewhat crippling.
We all have a need for praise and recognition. It can make us do stupid stuff. It can even make us compete with each other for the chance to do stupid stuff. I’ve seen it happen in blogging communities
Few bloggers can resist the siren call of an established and respected brand who is willing to take them into their esteemed fold and sing their praises to their untold masses of followers. Suave promises to link to their sites and promote their expertise are heady stuff.
Let me ask you this though: When was the last time Brad and Angelina “partnered” with Sony to make a movie for free? How often do you see chefs running a kitchen in exchange for a tee shirt and a badge naming them best burger flipper? Does you dentist do crowns in exchange for a shout out on your facebook wall?
Bottom line: If you want praise, seek it from a role model, a parent or a professional organization. Do not seek validation from a company that wants something from you for free, that they would otherwise normally pay for. If you’re not being paid a fair wage for your work, you are actually being INvalidated as a professional.
5. Oh it’s just a hobby, I’m doing it for fun
This last reason is a doozy of an excuse and the one I can relate to the least, unless I think of it in terms of PTA volunteering.
It seems like it would be fun to be the room mom. You’ve got a little spare time. Before you know it though, you’re doing all sorts of work for a few other classes and writing the gala auction catalog. How did that happen?
What starts out as a fun hobby, turns into hours and hours of work and you just do it because it’s your “thing”. Your thing keeps you up till 3 am, and feels a lot like a job. It makes you feel important. Yet since you’re not paid, it’s really not a job.
If you are a blogger who has a hard time saying no, and a desire to please others, then you probably should avoid most unpaid offers, posting press releases (and joining the PTA). Because before you know it, you will have landed yourself in a sweatshop of your own making.
Labeling a laborious pursuit “just a hobby” is not an excuse for working for free. If you are working for free and calling it a hobby, I would venture to guess that you are actually doing it for the validation you seek and/or you’ve been played because of your altered post motherhood expectations of non-compensation for work.
Calling your work a hobby does nothing for you. It demeans you and your effort. Furthermore, many serious hobbyists pull in a serious side income from their efforts and expertise. They don’t spend weeks building detailed ships in bottles and then give them away. Neither should you.
Many thanks to Momcrunch for getting me thinking tonight and to Debbie Goldberg and Eva Smith for bringing this topic to my attention via MomsLA. It’s a topic we all need to keep discussing. What do you think? What is your writing worth?