Earlier this week the New York Times ran an opinion piece from Tim Kreider addressing a topic that many bloggers can relate to: Being asked to create content for someone without being paid. Have you ever been invited to write a post or series of posts for a blog or site? Or maybe you’ve been asked by a local, regional or perhaps even national event to speak.
The idea is, you create content for someone else that someone else can use, and in exchange you get….exposure, contacts, leads, experience and a lot of other things that aren’t called ‘cash’.
I’ve been there, I bet you have too. In 2008 I spoke at my first social media industry event, South By Southwest. Yes, my first time presenting publicly on the topic of social media was at the Super Bowl of the space. Throughout the rest of 2008 and 2009 I got more and more speaking requests and by the end of 2009 I was getting decent exposure at national events.
Then in 2010 I started getting a lot more speaking requests. But something curious happened: Almost none of the events could afford to actually pay me to speak. Well of course this was completely unacceptable, I reasoned! If you can’t pay me then I don’t speak for you!
I stuck to my guns, either pay my ass or I sit at home. And guess what, I spent a lot of time sitting at home in 2010! I think I spoke at two industry events, and it was the same one, once in the Spring and again in the Fall.
I realized that there are two types of people that don’t want to pay you for your work in this space:
1 – The people that want to take advantage of you and use your work and content for free for their own benefit (This is the minority)
2 – The people that don’t understand that your content is worth paying for. (This is the majority)
Let’s assume that the first group isn’t worth your time (they aren’t). So if you want the second group to pay you, there’s two things you can do:
1 – Help them realize the value of your content and why it’s worth paying for.
2 – Learn to accept a form of compensation other than cash.
Let’s talk about the first option and then the second:
Making Sure Others Realize the Value You Create
In 2010 when I started getting a lot of ‘we want you to speak but can’t afford to pay you’ offers, I had a lot of time to think about why I deserved to be paid. I started making lists of everything I brought to events and the value I created. So in 2011 when I started getting asked to speak at events, when I responded I would tell them that I needed all my travel covered and a speaking fee. I would then add what else I would give them. Things like:
- Promotion of the event before and during on Twitter.
- Help the event obtain more registrations, after all if the event is a big success, it looks better to be speaking at that event, right?
- That I would review my experience at the event (no promise made of reviewing favorably) on my blog later.
- I mentioned that I would stay for the duration of the event and would attend other sessions and participate as much as possible.
- Offer to make myself available for on-site interviews with any interested media, blogs, or attendees
- Whatever else I thought the event might need that I could provide
With a list like this, suddenly it becomes easier for an event organizer to see paying for me to speak because they are getting a lot more value than they expected.
Now let’s switch gears and say someone requests that you write a 500-word post for them, for free. You figure the post will take 1-2 hours, and you want $100 dollars.
So in order to get $100 for your post, you need to show how your post will be worth at least $100. For example, you could tell this person that you want $100 for the post, and in exchange for that money, you’ll do the following:
- Offer them an SEO-optimized 500-word post on the agreed topic that will help drive relevant search traffic to their site.
- You will promote this post on your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Make sure they understand how many followers/friends you have.
- Promote the post on your own blog and link to it. This will also give the site a valuable link.
By adding more than simply writing the post, it becomes easier to see that you are creating at least $100 worth of value for this site.
So put together your ‘compensation package’ when someone requests that you create content for them. Tell them what you need to be paid for the content, but also see if you can offer them something above the content itself.
Now let’s talk about the second part of getting paid for the content you create:
Accepting Compensation Other Than Cash
In some situations, it does make sense for you to consider taking a form of compensation other than cash. Here’s a few examples:
As I mentioned earlier, often when I am asked to speak it will be by a group that really doesn’t have the budget to pay me. So one thing I can do is require that the group by X number of copies of Think Like a Rock Star. If the group says they can’t afford it, I point out to them that all they need to do is pass the cost of the book along to the attendees via the registration price. Or if you have an ebook that you are selling, you could ask that the event buy a copy for every attendee and have it preloaded on the flash drive that will have the presenter’s slide decks.
Or another option for a speaker could be that you waive your speaking fee if the event will record your session and give you a copy. A high-quality audio and video recording of you speaking does have value for you, and will help you get more speaking engagements.
Here’s another example: Let’s say a marketing website wants you to write an original article for them on how companies can get started using social media, but they don’t want to pay you. The site itself gets around 10,000 visitors a day, but it’s weekly newsletter has 250,000 subscribers. You could agree to write the article for free for the marketing site, but only if they also promote your article in their newsletter and in the newsletter also include your bio, that you are available for hire, and with a link back to your site. That article being featured in the newsletter might send a few hundred qualified leads to your site, which could easily make it worth your time to write the article for free.
Finally, what about bartering? Let’s say a company that offers website hosting wants you to write a white-paper for them, but doesn’t want to pay you. You could offer to write the paper in exchange for say 6 months of free hosting. Or perhaps you could write a how-to article on social media for an electronics retailer in exchange for them sending you a condenser microphone that you need to start podcasting.
The key is to think creatively. Think about the things that you need to take your blog or your business to the next level. Maybe you need better hosting or maybe you need a premium theme or a designer to make your blog a bit prettier and more functional. Maybe you need a new laptop for when you travel or a new carryon. Remember that if a company can’t or won’t pay you $250 for an article, they might happily give you a product that retails for $250, that only costs them $100 to make.
Your cheat-sheet for getting paid for your content and work:
1 – Make sure the value you create is fully understood. If you are asking a company to pay you $100 for an original article, help them understand why your article will be worth $250-500 to them.
2 – What can you offer above the content itself, such as promotion of the content, promotion of the company/event you are creating the content for, etc. This shows the company that they will be getting many additional services/benefits from working with you that they weren’t expecting. Which makes it easier for them to justify writing you a check.
3 – If possible, accept something other than cash. Look at each person/company that asks you to provide content, and consider what they could offer you besides cash that would have value to you. Maybe it’s increased exposure, maybe it’s a free product or service. The key is be creative in finding a solution.
If you follow this plan, you’ll likely see that the person or company that you worked with will be thrilled with your content and very well may want to talk with you about writing more articles for them or doing another presentation. I’ve turned several one-off articles into regular writing gigs this way. The key is to think creatively and not shut out an opportunity simply because they aren’t willing to pay cash at first. Make it impossible for them not to want to pay you.
UPDATE: Kerry Gorgone makes a fan-damn-tastic point in the comments: “Fantastic post, Mack! Really great tips. I find it helps to demonstrate your reach, and estimate the cost of obtaining that same level of exposure through PPC or press releases.”
BINGO! Show them how you can give them more exposure and reach for less than they are spending now on other marketing efforts. Great point!