When it’s OK to Work For Free (Really!)

There have a been a flurry of articles in the mom blogging space over the past year about mom bloggers who work for free and how you should never, ever do it.  I wrote one myself for Mom Blog Magazine.  You’ve heard it before: You cheapen everybody’s work; you make it harder for anyone to be taken seriously and get paid; you are a chump building someone else’s business without getting anything in return.  And, all of that is true – sometimes.  One of the things that bothers me about this dogmatic approach to the topic of being paid is that often it is hurled by people I know have worked – and continue to work – for free in some instances.  The other thing is, it’s not so clear-cut.  I’ve written previously about why you shouldn’t work for free – but taking stock of my year and really my last four years since I started blogging – I think it’s important to talk about when it’s okay to accept work that doesn’t come with cash compensation.

  1. YOU ARE NEW TO BLOGGING – It’s a big, wide blogosphere out there and building readership and traffic is daunting.  Joining a blog community where you are posting with a group of other women can give you an automatic group of colleagues and support.  You will not drive a ton of traffic from these sites – no matter what they say to the contrary – but you will start to feel like you belong, meet other bloggers and build links back to your site.  I started out writing for Silicon Valley Mom’s NYC Mom Blog site and then for the Yahoo! Motherboard and those two communities gave me the connections and friendships that are far and away the most valuable I have today – both personally and professionally.  I don’t regret writing for them for free for a moment.
  2. YOU WANT TO BUILD YOUR EXPERT REPUTATION:  There are sites that can provide a much bigger soapbox for your views than your blog.  Again, they will not throw you tons of traffic, so don’t fall for that, but they can give you a platform and a legitimacy that your blog alone will not.  When the Washington Post asked to re-post an education piece I had written I did not hesitate to say yes.  It enhanced my standing as an education writer and advocate and gave me a great byline to point to when applying to paying gigs in the field.  As long as you own your content and you are seeing the benefit then you should consider it.
  3. YOU WILL GET EXCLUSIVE ACCESS TO EVENTS OR INTERVIEWS: Let’s face it, you are just one of many bloggers trying to get press passes, invites and other access to brands and events.  If you don’t have the clout (or Klout) to obtain those on your own then having the byline and credentials from a much larger site can help.  I have attended many conferences, expos and events thanks to my affiliation with Yahoo! Motherboard.  It’s a name those outside of the blogging world understand.  To me, that was valuable.

Like I said in the beginning, nothing is black and white.  You have to go with your gut and you have to feel like what you are contributing is being respected and acknowledged accordingly – cash or otherwise.  You also have to be realistic about your worth.  Only you know what is right for you.  What do you think?  Would you or do you work for free?

Writes Like an Angel – Lisa Belkin Dishes with the Blogging Angels

There are certain women journalists who have inspired me as an essayist and writer waaaay before the word blogging was invented.  Anna Quindlen was one and Lisa Belkin the other.  Aside from writing for The New York Times both women had a voice that spoke to me as a young woman starting out in the world – in college and afterwards – as they wrote frankly about work/life balance, feminism and in varying degrees, motherhood.  As a Film major and American Studies major in college I was steeped in the cannon of feminist literary, social and film criticism.  But few mainstream journalists were talking about the real issues on the ground in a way that made “women’s” issues a normal, worthy part of the public discussion.

I always looked forward to Lisa Belkin’s New York Times Magazine stories and later her Life’s Work columns.  When she launched The Motherlode blog on the nytimes.com site I was thrilled.  Not only is it an enormously vibrant community but it gives further discussion to so many of ideas and stories in the paper that normally would be a “lifestyle” piece and nothing more.  It also has a way of really tapping into the current ethos (and neuroses) of our current state of parenting like nowhere else.  Last year I was such a fangirl that Amy Oztan took pity on me and swung me an invite to a lunch Lisa Belkin held for parenting bloggers at the New York Times cafeteria.  We’ve been trying to get her on the Blogging Angels podcast ever since, but coordinating schedules is never easy.  Then, last month at BlogHer, Nancy Friedman luckily attended the same session as Lisa Belkin and jumped a the chance to have her record with us right there in the hotel in San Diego.  Unfortunately Heidi had an outrageously fabulous event to attend at the same time and couldn’t make this podcast, but we did our best and Lisa Belkin was a guest angel extraordinaire!

Listen in and hear all the scoop on the New York Times and bloggers, the future of journalism and all sorts of dishy stuff on parenting, mom blogging and what it all means.  Really, all that in a mere 40 minutes.  She’s that good.

Lisa Belkin Podcast  or listen on iTunes!

The Phrase That Makes Me Cringe – And it Includes the Word “Mom”

super mom cartoonA few months back I wrote a post called Mommy Blogger is Not a Dirty Word about the term “mommy blogger” being derisive but needing to claim it in order to take the power back to the moms.  I had a huge response from that post both here, in real life and on Twitter.  Mostly women want to be recognized beyond the label of Mom and Mommy and as the writers, bloggers and savvy business women they are.  For brands and PR companies however they find the label useful because what they are after is the mom consumer demographic and what makes sense more than using mom bloggers to speak to real life moms?  That’s fine.  I get it.  What I can’t stand however is PR or Marketing people, or talk show hosts for that matter, trying to win me over and show me empathy by saying the most patronizing phrase in the world, “Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”    YUCK.

This is the topic I’m harping on this week on our Blogging Angels podcast.  But it goes even deeper than the condesension we talk about on the show.  What bothers me most of all is that sure some days being a mom is hard, some days it downright sucks, and some days it’s really not that difficult at all but the thing is I don’t need someone nodding their head at me and trying to sell me on something by paying lip service to work of motherhood.  What they’re trying to say of course is “I get you.”  When all I want to ask them is “Really, what about it makes it the hardest job in the world?  Is it because I don’t own your shiny new set of appliances?  Or your fabulous floor cleaner?”

Here’s why being a mom is hard:  You aren’t paid, you aren’t appreciated most of the time, you never know if you’re actually doing a good job, it can be physically and mentally exhausting especially in the beginning, your time is never your own again and it never, ever ends.  OK.  Some new iphone app or laundry detergent isn’t going to change any of that.  And you know what?  Women have been mothers forever.  Some people are good at it and some people suck at it but there it is. In the end it has an intangible reward that cannot be quantified.  I don’t need an outside person hyping it, promoting it or using it as a come-on – or god forbid a tagline.

You want to have a real discussion about motherhood being the hardest job in the world? Put away your swag and coupons and  show me healthcare, childcare, public education, universal Pre-K and after school on the topic agenda.  Then we’ll talk about how much you understand that being a mom is the hardest job in the world.  Until then, retire that tired empty phrase and talk to me like the businesswoman you need me to be to work with you and your brand.

Getting Your Share of Blogging Dollars

Money, money, money – there is no escape from the discussion lately about women bloggers (and mom bloggers specifically) and what/if they’re getting paid.  Though thankfully the talk seems to have moved from IF to WHAT more often than before.  I was inspired this week by a survey request from Kim Moldofsky of Mom Impact and Hormone-Colored Days that asked for all sorts of payment information from bloggers in order for her to gather information to be used in an upcoming panel at Blissdom later this week.  We often talk about compensation in general, nebulous ways – not wanting to attach a dollar amount to ourselves publicly but also not sure if that dollar amount measures up to what others in the industry are getting.

This week I have takes on this topic.  My first is my latest piece at Mom Blog Magazine, Someone’s Getting Paid- Why Aren’t You, where I actually give dollar ranges for various assignments.  I can’t wait to see the comments and if any bloggers out there will chime in on the amounts I cited and dispute or affirm them.  My second go around at compensation (and where we name names about who is NOT treating bloggers right) is on my weekly podcast, The Blogging Angels.  We had an amazing guest this week in Nicole Feliciano of Mom Trends.  If you haven’t checked out her site you must.  Continue reading

MomBlogger is Not a Dirty Word (No Matter What Some People Say)

I admit I’ve cringed when someone has introduced me at an event as a “mom-blogger.” I purposefully didn’t pick a blog name with mom in it because I was hoping it would encompass more than just my mom life.  You know, that child-centered, boring life filled with nothing but grocery shopping, meal preparation, cleaning and playground politics?  Who would want to be that?  I wanted to talk about politics, travel, culture – you know all of those things that made my life and me interesting before I had kids? Before I was a mom.  Or worse -  a mommy.  But of course that’s just stupid.  Because the one thing I realized as I’ve gotten over the insecurity of being a Stay-at-Home-Mom and embraced being a Blogger-at-Home-Mom is that being a mom colors everything I do and write, just as all of my other interests color who I am as a mom.

Over the last year the title of mom-blogger has taken on a particularly nasty and dirty connotation.  You’re a brand whore,  a swag hag.  You will write for free for anyone who asks because you’re just soooo excited that someone actually asked.  Aw shucks, you’re just happy to have the honor of hosting a giveaway and being a brand ambassador because you are gullible.  You are a little Sally Field running around declaring, “They like me they really like me!” And then someone (usually a woman who was once a “momblogger” but is now leading the charge to declare mombloggers an immoral, insipid bunch)  will pop up on twitter and declare that you dear momblogger are actually a sucker.  You are a cog in the PR machine and you don’t even know it.   You have brought shame upon womankind because you are a…MomBlogger.

This is ridiculous.  You can be whatever the hell you want to be online.  It’s also insulting to every mom who happens to be a blogger and every blogger who happens to be a mom.  I guess if you called yourself a parenting blogger that would be acceptable.  I just wrote about the power of women bloggers and the incredible experience I had at The White House Project day at BlogHer.  There is strength in numbers and the online reach of moms who blog is exponential and real.  Sarah Palin isn’t making viral videos aimed at online moms for nothing.  Deride her if you will, but it will be a scary day if she is more successful at coalescing moms’ online power before the more liberal among us do.  I don’t want to hear another blogger putting down mombloggers in the name of feminism when it’s really just good old-fashioned misogynistic self-serving BS.

So I propose taking back the name MomBlogger and wearing it with pride.  Names have a way of losing their derogatory power when they’re embraced by the very people at whom they are aimed.  This is true whether its women taking over “chick” and “babe”, Bitch Magazine or the Jewish magazine Hebe.  Turning a dirty word on its head tends to disarm the people hurling the insult in the first place.   So yeah, I’m not going to shy away the next time someone calls me a momblogger, I’m going to smile and say yes I am.  They can read my blog and see who I am and where my interests lie, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let somebody else make me feel bad about the mom part of me.

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If Women Ruled the World: BlogHer and The White House Project

I spent a good part of last week with 2400 women from all walks of life, from coupon moms to political activists.   Women bloggers descended on The Hilton in NYC for the BlogHer10 Conference. This was my first BlogHer and I didn’t know what to expect.  Would it be cliquey?  Would it be overwhelming?  Would it be inspiring?  Well, guess what?  It was all those things, and much more.

What did I learn at BlogHer ’10?

  1. Women bloggers have serious reach and influence, but they’re not using them to their fullest power.  Forget brands and coupons and all that “stuff” what women need to do is take their voices on the web and turn them into political reality.  I spent a day at The White House Project, a series of lectures and hands on learning about getting women to run for office and get where the real power lies.  I don’t know if I will ever run for office, but I walked out of there thinking I could.  And so should you.  Want to know how and why?  Check out The White House Project - it will change the way you think about politics and female politicians.  I’m still thinking about how I can implement this at a young level for my 8 year old daughters.
  2. The Food Revolution Ain’t Happening.  I’m sorry but the amount of processed food crap at BlogHer was really appalling to me.  Entire brand suites filled with chemical, corn syrup and hydrogenated oil laden products that were being packaged and pushed on moms so they can go home and serve this junk to their kids.  It was really disappointing and disheartening.  And yes, I know these companies are big sponsors of these events but shouldn’t bloggers be using their power to influence these brands instead of the other way around?
  3. There are so many funny, interesting, smart and witty women writers in the world.  The Voices of the Year celebration highlighted many of these amazing women, and you should read all of them.  But I feel like my faith is restored in the blogging world just by going to BlogHer and being exposed to so many new bloggers.
  4. My friend and fellow blogger, Amy Oztan, might be a “SelfishMom (yes that is her blog in case you don’t read her – and why aren’t you reading her?) but she is a kick-ass friend.  Amy actually wrangled me an unofficial invite to lunch at The New York Times with Lisa Belkin because I basically told her I was a crazy weird Lisa Belkin fan.  And luckily Lisa said I could come rather than seek a restraining order!  It was a BlogHer highlight hanging out with The Motherlode mistress and a few incredibly funny bloggers in the gorgeous New York Times Building.
  5. I actually like meeting new people. This is shocking to me because really I hate group things.  I would never go on a cruise or even a tour.  I detest bed and breakfasts.  I dread small talk.  But BlogHer was different.  When you’re a writer you lead a solitary work life.  When you’re a blogger you lead a solitary yet virtually connected work life.  And so to meet women in real life whose faces I usually see in a teeny tiny square on my twitter feed or read in the ether was thrilling.

So even though there were too many people I never got to meet, and not enough time to get to the panels and parties and brand meetings all happening at once, it was worth it just for the experience of being a part of something big and just in its toddler stage.   And it inspired a whole new project for me and three other fab women bloggers -FromHip2Housewife, Coast2CoastMom and SelfishMom – that will launch shortly, stay tuned…

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