Working For Fame Or For Cash [en]

[fr] En organisant la journée de conférences Going Solo, je me trouve directement aux prises avec mes difficultés face à l'économie du peer. J'organise un événement qui dégagera je l'espère assez de bénéfice pour que je puisse me payer, ainsi que mes partenaires. En même temps, j'espère trouver des personnes prêtes à donner de leur temps en échange de la visibilité que leur apportera leur association avec Going Solo. Mais je ne sais pas trop comment m'y prendre. Je trouve difficile de rendre les choses claires.

I’d like to introduce this reflection by quoting Tara Hunt, who writes the following in a post titled Please Stop Crowdsourcing Me:

I came and I thought, hey, this is kind of neat-o and it empowered me at first. I thought, “Awesome! They want my opinion! They listen!” and I offered it and the feedback was, “Great idea!” and I watched as you implemented it, then benefitted from it and I felt good. I was great at first, but then after a while, I started to feel a little dirty…a little used…a little like cheap labor, replacing people you probably laid off or decided to save money on not hiring because you were getting so much great value out of my time. Maybe it was because it seemed that you believed you could ‘tap’ my well of ideas or ‘pick my brain’ endlessly? Maybe it was because my generosity goes so far and you overstepped your bounds? Maybe it was because you had a chance to reward my efforts, but dropped me like a wet rag as soon as I asked?

Tara Hunt, Please Stop Crowdsourcing Me

I just came upon her article a few minutes ago as I was aimlessly clicking around in my newsreader. It’s funny, because I’ve been thinking of this post I wanted to write for a few days now, and it’s right on the same topic.

I’ve already felt uneasy about the “Peer Economy” (if I may call it like that before). About the fact that certain businesses actually get a lot of stuff for free from their enthusiastic users — stuff they would have to pay for, otherwise. The point I understood about a year ago is that the fact that people contribute voluntarily to help improve services like WordPress, GMail, Twitter, and countless others is what allows us (the community) to benefit from great tools like these free of cost or way cheaper than what they’re worth. I’m comfortable with that.

However, I agree with Tara, there is a fine line to tread. As a company, you don’t want people to feel used. And like Tara, I’ve had more of my share of people/companies who want me to “take a look” at their stuff and “tell them what I think” — picking my brain for free. And I don’t like it. If I’m passionate about your product, then yes — I’ll give you feedback. You probably won’t even have to ask me. I’ll blog about it. If you’re smart, you’ll point out what I wrote, give me credit and link-love, thank me publicly. But I didn’t do it for that. I did it because I liked your product, or because talking about your product fulfilled one of my agenda, in a way. I’ve given products/companies like WordPress, Dopplr, Twitter, coComment, Seesmic and a bunch of others valuable feedback because I wanted to, because I loved their stuff.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll do it for any product or service that crosses my path. If you’re one of the lucky ones, well, good for you. If you’re not, you’ll have to pay cash (experiential marketing is one of the ways a company can use cash to make up for lack of immediate passion on the part of this particular human being). Just like I’ll help my friends out for free and open blogs for them just because I love them, some companies out there benefit from “free intelligence”. Others need to pay for a similar service.

You get the idea, I think.

Now, here’s what I really wanted to bring up with this post.

As you know, I’m putting together an event for the month of May, Going Solo. (If you’re a freelancer or a small business owner, you should plan to come, by the way ;-).) This is my first event. I’m not going to be doing it alone. Thing is, I realised I’m a bit shy about asking my friends to help me out, because on the one hand, I want to keep the event expenses to a minimum, and on the other hand, I don’t want people to get the impression I’m trying to “crowdsource them” — as Tara expresses above.

This is made worse (and way more uncomfortable for me) by the fact that this is not a non-profit venture. I’m going to be investing quite a lot of time in this adventure, and I hope to be able to pay myself enough to have made it worthwhile. Ditto for my sales and logistics partners. So, yes, we’re hoping the event will make a profit (against all odds, it seems — everybody tells me that if you’re first event breaks even, you’re very lucky).

So, I know that part of the difficulty I’m facing here is my own inner workings. Despite what some people on IRC may think 😉 I’m somebody who doesn’t find it easy to ask for help/stuff. I always feel I owe people (except when I feel I’m owed, in a kind of weird back-swing dynamic).

There are certain things that I need for the conference, where I’m hoping I’ll manage to find somebody who is willing to “work for fame”. Taking care of the website is one. Design is another. Similarly, I’m hoping to strike up a partnership for the WiFi and bandwidth we need for the event.

In fact, there is some similarity between “working for fame” and being a sponsor/partner. You provide stuff for free (or almost), and in return you get visibility. So maybe I need to switch mindsets. Instead of looking for “people to help me”, I’m looking for “individual partners” for the event.

I feel like this is a thought in progress. I’m not exactly sure what I think, or what to do, or what is “right”. I’m particularly embarrassed when I start talking with friends or contacts about this or that they could do for the event, because it’s not clear from the start if we’re talking about a partnership (work for fame) or Real Work (work for cash).

Any insights appreciated. I feel like I need to step out of my mind a bit to find a way out, and you can help me out with that by sharing your thoughts.

10 thoughts on “Working For Fame Or For Cash [en]

  1. As a manager, it is up to you to make up your mind about the deal YOU are proposing, whether work for fame, or work for cash.

    It seems strange to me to see the word “non-profit” attached to an event, because it calls another world. Non-profit is something which is aimed at something else than being profitable, by nature.
    Your “Going Solo” is definitively not “non-profit”, even if the first one will not generate profit, it has to be viewed and considered as an investment.

    OK, I wanted to go on by mail, and I found a real flaw in your design, it’s been over one minute, and I still can’t find the “contact” anywhere.

    Strange, I remember I found it on the previous version

  2. Marie-Aude: thanks for your comment and e-mail. I’m sorry you had trouble finding my e-mail. It has indeed disappeared from the footer where it used to be — I’m not wild about spambots harvesting it, so I leave it on my contact page which gets way less traffic than CTTS. Also, you can find me on just about any social network these days and contact me through there, if needed.

    About what you say. I know I’m the person to make decisions here. What I’m trying to say is that making these decisions is not easy (I think everybody knows that) and that most of the people I’m in contact with around this event being part of my “network”, I value the relationship we have (whether friendly-business or friendship) a lot, and am still in the process of figuring how to “be the one who decides” while respecting their needs.

    This might sound very utopian to you, but it’s the world I live in.

    There are many non-profit events out there. All the barcamp movement. The LIFT conference started out as a pure labour of love (from what I’ve understood) and is finally now, in its third year, managing to pay those who work months a year to set it up. I doubt reboot aims to be profitable.

    So, in a tech world where so much of what we do is driven by passion, I don’t find it contradictory to see “non-profit” next to “event”.

    As to the point you raise in your mail, let me answer it here — because other people are probably thinking the same thing but not going through the trouble of finding my e-mail address to tell me about it (thanks for the trouble). Four months is plenty of time to set up an event (in this case, sign the papers for the venue we’ve chosen, finalize the program and round up speakers — I have the three main ones already, organise wifi and catering, finalise partnerships). I’m not going to fall asleep of course, but this is not a hopeless rush against the clock which is doomed to fail.

    In a fast-moving tech world, I’ve seen commercial events set up in less than 6 weeks from idea to event date, and barcamps are regularly organised in way less time. Often, what looks cool in your program today is obsolete 6 months from now.

    So, I don’t share your concern — though I appreciate knowing that the state of things can have a chilling effect on some people.

  3. What’s the name of the plugin? I use JS to obfuscate it on, and used to on CTTS — but template changes happen way too often and it’s the kind of thing I forget to reinsert in the theme. I’m trying to move this kind of thing into plugins now. I agree with you 100% that customers will not search for you, and you need to stick everything under their nose.

    If I don’t find a suitable plugin, I’ll probably just simply stick the code in the “stats” widget in my sidebar. Thanks for nudging me about this.

    The thing about separating work for profit and work of love is, I think, a problem for many soloists — because I think that many people become freelancers as a way to turn a passion (work of love) into a job (work for cash). So, we’re stuck. The line between work and fun is blurred, private and personal, and it’s not always easy to manage. It’s a topic I want us to talk about at Going Solo, by the way.

    You’re right with your example — this is what I’m trying to do. I’m just not finding it that easy 🙂

  4. One thing – always pay for design work if you can. It’s very hard to find a designer prepared to work for nothing, because they are always inundated with offers to work for free, which often they rightly turn down. And if you do find a designer who’s working for nothing, then you are in a very weak position if you don’t like what they do, or need a change made. And design is so important that it’s worth getting it right.

  5. Suw, thanks — it was kind of what I was thinking. Design is worth putting $$$ in. The question now is how much (as I mentioned, my designer will “adapt” to my budget). By design, I’m speaking “design in general” here rather than just “web design”, which is a part of the package. (Lots of the conference sites I’ve seen are so stiff that there is little chance of looking worse, even if I take a ready-made WP theme and slap a banner with a great logo on top.)

  6. Actually for the email, I found a good plug-in in for WordPress, that obfuscate any email in a page or a post… and I like it very much. You could also put a little bit javascript to hide it from the spammers like I do on most of the websites I author. That's the best solution, because you can also use it in the header or the footer.

    One of my rules for commercial sites is “customers won't search you, you have to give them everything on a tray”.

    Maybe that comes from my past as a financial controller, but I have a strong tendancy to separate non-profit and profit, and I would say, even more at the stage of going solo … which does not mean that immediate profit should be the goal, but that there is a field for real work of love, and a field for professionnal profitable activities. May be not separating them so clearly generates the kind of feelings that Tara – and you describe.

    Now the profit can be something else than cash. It can be visibility, it can be experience… but it's still a profit.
    And it that sense, being the ones who scales the things, because it's the event you are trying to set up does not mean not being collaborative, nor enforcing, it means more bringing a picture people can react to and take their input, which is often easier than ask them something from scratch.

    E.g. “I would appreciate if you could do such and such, I estimate it such amount of work, and I think you could get such or such kind of return, do you think it's fair ?” which might be what you do actually.

  7. (hint: if it is generated by something but displayed visible on the site, it IS harvestable – another reason not to put email addresses online).

    You use cash or fame, whereas I would like to see a third option, the “what is in it for me”. I am very much a fan of the barter system – but only if it is a true win win plus if one does not loose track of earning money.

    I would not label Going Solo non profit btw, because this year it is making no profit but is supposed to be doing in the future. It must be this controlling background which makes Marie-Aude and me cringe at this mentioning 😉

  8. I guess I use “fame” as a replacement for “what is in it for me” — lots of people want recognition in exchange for service, when bartering. That’s basically what sponsorships and partnerships are about, often.

    I didn’t say Going Solo was a non-profit — quite the opposite. I said: “this is not a non-profit venture.” It is a for-profit… even this year, if it’s possible!

  9. You’re right, you did not say it was non-profit 🙂 and interesting enough, I get this kind of feeling from the overall discussion in the post. I think I translated your “work for love” into “non-profit” 🙂

    I also agree with Nicole on this “what is in it for me”, it is better than “fame” because “fame” is just a part of it. Some people would look for example for an experience, and a proof that they can do something, some people would look for the opportunity to reach some others, some people might be interested on starting a partnership.
    For example on one of my projects, which is fundraising, I bartered working for nothing at the beginning, till they get the funds, for a higher price at the end, that pays for my risk they never get the funding…

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