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The Problem is that My Job is Your Hobby

As is my habit first thing in the morning I poke around Facebook. I do this in part to take the pulse of the day (being in Los Angeles we’re three hours behind many trends) and I do it because there’s nothing for me to do in the morning except wait for the kids to get ready so that I can take them to school. It’s a strange amount of time, not enough to tackle anything of substance but too much to do nothing.

Facebook is slightly more than nothing but a whole lot less than something, so I log on.

This morning I was struck by Kelby’s post, noticed it and then moved on. I didn’t much care, it’s more of the same. Bloggers are taken for rides every day. There’s no shortage of people requesting free content and there’s no shortage of bloggers who are willing to provide it. I used to care but blogging as an industry has devolved into a mess of semi literate press releases punctuated with ellipses and ! and cartoons of us all. I have some favorite reads but not that many new ones. Blogging as a business isn’t really what I’d consider to writing. It’s more like a series of reviews that may or may not have value. If I don’t know you and trust you they don’t have much value for me. For someone else, perhaps, but not for me. This is why I just don’t care that yet another business is set up to be predatory to mom bloggers.

Then I realized that the business Kelby was talking about has more than 250,000 Facebook fans. If you have 250,000 Facebook Fans the world assumes that you have a budget to pay writers. In this instance the world was seemingly wrong.

Now I’m not digging into Carolyn Danckaert’s finances and trying to figure out why she can’t come up with compensation for writers. I don’t know much about A Mighty Girl. I only know what Carolyn told me today on the phone. I called her because I thought this might be an interesting learning moment for all involved. Maybe not for Carolyn or Kelby, but for you and me. We’re the “all involved” in this instance.

Apparently A Mighty Girl is a site that’s about a year and a half old. It serves as a repository of resources for parents and educators who are looking for media with positive role modeling for our daughters. So far, so good. The site is maintained by a husband and wife team and it sounds as though both come from a non profit background and understand that there’s a model for social entrepreneurship. I understand that it’s a new and exciting model and I understand that it’s popular and people like it. I personally am suspicious but I am distrustful by nature. I expect the world to be populated by gonifs and thieves.

During the course of Carolyn’s year and a half stewardship of A Mighty Girl she’s had volunteer workers. She has one now who has been there since “almost the beginning” and would be a first choice hire if they had funds. As we chatted and she mentioned advertising and whatnot I couldn’t help but mention that people do make a living from affiliate sales.

I found myself liking the woman on the other end of the phone. Like, a lot. She sounds like an altruist and it’s hard to not want to support that. In fact she followed up with an email that included this note. She and her husband Aaron, “created A Mighty Girl because we care deeply about the issue of girl empowerment. We’re proud of our site and the Facebook community we’ve built. We hear from parents all the time about how much they appreciate the resources and information we provide. And, there are many people who want to help A Mighty Girl’s girl empowerment message reach a broader community. I think that’s a very positive thing and it’s disappointing that this small group wants to turn their interest in supporting our girl empowerment efforts into something shameful.”

And this is where I’m going to speak for Kelby. I know that she would question empowering young women while asking their mothers to work for free. In Carolyn’s original post she asked for volunteers. There were about 150 positive messages and then it turned into mud slinging when the pro bloggers got a whiff of a for profit asking for volunteers.

The problem begins with the terminology. Carolyn asked for volunteers and Carolyn is not a non profit. This sends a signal to the mom bloggers who have inboxes that are positively flooded with everyone from Fortune 500’s to startups asking us to work for free. Two weeks ago GE asked me to work for lightbulbs. I am not joking when they asked me to basically reprint their press release in exchange for two lightbulbs. This is why mom bloggers are prickly. Early today I was offered a screener of an animated movie about Jesus. Not Jesús, which might have been an interesting documentary about growing up Mexican in the American Southwest, but Jesus as in the guy that everyone knows that Jews don’t believe in.

Mom bloggers are worn out by their interactions with lazy publicists, predatory marketers and slick website owners. Carolyn couldn’t possibly have known what a storm she was entering when she put out a call for volunteers, or if she did Carolyn is an amazing actress.

Anyone who knows Kelby knows that Kelby has a background in journalism and that her site and now her conferences aim to bring professionalism to the content creators on the web. If you want to be a better content creator you should listen to Kelby. I do.

Here’s the rub. Content creation is a hobby for many people. It started as a hobby for me (or a way to not kill myself – tomato – toMAHto). In the early days of blogging we got pushback for putting up advertising like Adsense. Can you even imagine anyone caring at this point? Moving forward sponsorships crept in and then just splashes of press releases. Things change but things really do stay the same.

When I explained to Carolyn today on the telephone that the kind of content creation she was looking for in the form of well written actionable Facebook posts was actually quite skilled and something that many of us charge good money for she was surprised. When I gave her typical rates I heard her gasp. One woman’s hobby is another woman’s career.

Having a large audience and having a viable business can go hand in hand but they really aren’t one and the same. I haven’t explored A Mighty Girl, I’ve been too busy forgetting where I left my computer. My sense is this. I asked Carolyn on the phone today if it would be fair to state that A Mighty Girl has grown quickly and needs more than one person to keep it running but that it doesn’t generate enough revenue to pay more than one person. She said she thought that was a fair assessment. This pretty much sounds like the same kind of growing pains that every blogger I know deals with.

In private groups today bloggers are asking each other for guest posts and we’re giving them. Why? Because we like, know and trust one another. Because there’s something in it for everyone. Or is there?

I’m not a hobbyist so I won’t be volunteering to build Carolyn’s business no matter how lovely she seems to be on the telephone. Kelby and I think alike and though I lack the energy that vitriol requires I think it’s a squirrely move to ask for free work on a for profit venture. On the other hand I am part of the cast for Listen to Your Mother in the OC, that certainly doesn’t pay me and someone is selling tickets. 

So I’m conflicted because I recognize that I have a strange career. I took a hobby and turned it into a corporation but does that mean no one else should have a hobby?

Finally I got this email from Carolyn just a few minutes ago and I’m going to publish it unedited. I’m going to give her the last word. 

As I mentioned earlier, it seems that an issue for several of those who raised critiques is the fact that we are structured as a social enterprise – that is, a small wife/husband-run business with a social good mission — versus as a non-profit. Many people interested in having a positive social impact have chosen to go the social entrepreneurial route in recent years because they feel it allows them to be more innovative and nimble than with a traditional non-profit structure.

There are social enterprises working on all sorts of issues ranging from international development to girl empowerment. Suggesting that volunteering for a non-profit is inherently superior to volunteering for a small social enterprise doing work you support is akin to giving the IRS moral authority to determine what cause is or isn’t worthwhile. If someone cares about an issue, they should be able to volunteer their time to support it in the ways that they see fit free of criticism. Of course, not all compensation is monetary — for many people, what’s exciting about this volunteer opportunity is that it gives them a chance to make a difference for a cause they care deeply about.

That said, as we grow, we certainly look forward to expanding our staff though we will likely always welcome those who wish to volunteer their time and talents to further the cause of girl empowerment. At A Mighty Girl, we are striving to build a welcoming and engaged community and volunteers are a part of our community. The girls of the world can use as much support as we can all give.

28 thoughts on “The Problem is that My Job is Your Hobby”

  1. I don’t think it’s black and white – instead there’s a lot of grey area here. I know for me, I have relied on voluntary writing early on to help build my personal brand. Over the years, that helped me earn speaking opportunities. Not paid to be there, though they include free access to the full conferences, which itself is a form of compensation. And the networking that came through those led to consulting opportunities and further personal brand building.

    Nowadays, I sometimes get paid to speak, sometimes not. I sometimes get paid to write, sometimes not. In all of it though, because I’m a consultant by trade, and my writing reinforces the brand identity, I get massive volumes of new business. $25,000 and counting in new audit contracts already just from people who saw an article I wrote in January.

    If someone’s not in my situation, with a separate consulting business, they can still write for free to help build and reinforce their personal brand – and simultaneously start their own blog, where they might be able to monetize that.

    Or they could even consider becoming a consultant related to things they write about.

    On the other end of the spectrum though, if someone’s not looking to monetize their effort one way or another, and it really is an altruistic channel like A Mighty Girl appears to be, I personally don’t see anything wrong with that, as long as the call for contributors clearly communicates the reality up front.

    If it’s not stated clearly enough up front, yeah, I can see why it would cause mass rage.

    Now if it really is a for-profit business, and they really do have revenue, at some point they need to find a way to compensate writers.

    Or maybe those same altruistic site owners need to find a way to properly monetize their channel. Even if it is altruistic. Take on advertisers, do quality affiliate stuff, or some other mechanism.

  2. The message of A Mighty Girl is in direct conflict with their actions-that’s what they don’t seem to be able to grasp. It’s not empowering to work for free. You may learn from it, and enjoy the work (as Katherine shared she does) but there is no guarantee that their intentions to pay others as stated will actually come to fruition.

    Additionally, they aren’t clear about their business model. The word ‘volunteer’ is problematic-many people assume volunteer means non-profit, not for profit. Carolyn says in her email that it is ‘akin to giving the IRS moral authority’. I don’t think they have moral authority, but they do provide a process for a business to prove that their intentions are sound. In turn that gives donors and volunteers the ability to write-off their contributions if the non-profit can not pay them. The legality of all this isn’t my concern-but they should pay close attention to the slew of lawsuits that are going on over free labor and unpaid interns at the moment.

    I’m not aware of how their business finances are setup but I find the idea that they ‘have no resources’ as a reason for not paying their writers ridiculous. Whether they are earning income from the site or not there is a budget coming from somewhere, and even if it’s coming from their own pockets or a business loan they should set aside enough to pay a small stipend to their writers.

    If they aren’t earning money consistently with an audience that size (as has been stated by Carolyn and Katherine)they need to bring in an affiliate marketer to help.

    It all just smacks of a lack of business acumen and planning and a lack of financial planning. The vision and mission of the site appeals to me greatly and I have been a fan in the past, but the naiveté they seems to have and the way critical comments were dealt with originally (keeping them in moderation, deleting some) doesn’t give me much hope that they will grow a viable business/resource.

    1. I agree, Kelly. What I have gathered most from the discussion here and on Facebook is that while AMG has an incredible mission and a good heart, they are, unfortunately, not great at business. Luckily, that’s something that can be fixed — and fairly quickly if AMG is willing to join a discussion and not see disagreement as criticism. I know several of us would have reached out to help guide AMG if we didn’t feel that we’d be shut down — and I’ll get to that in a minute.

      I suspect AMG has scaled too fast and weren’t prepared for it. If
      that’s the case (and it does sound like that given the overall
      discussions and reactions), it’s time to step back and get a plan

      Start with a business loan, then pay for help, pay for a reputable business
      coach (you’ll learn a ton in just a few months; it doesn’t have to be
      long term), and I strongly
      suggest paying a community manager familiar with social media
      etiquette. I imagine given the mission, AMG can find someone who is willing to negotiate a much smaller number than the regular per hour cost, but don’t expect that number to be 0.

      Unsolicited advice to volunteers and future employees: AMG doesn’t have to start out paying top dollar, but it’s not unreasonable to expect the company to put in the contract what the expectations are and whether
      workers will be paid based on X CTRs or in a month of doing great work
      with this criteria they’ll get/earn Y, etc. And yes, anyone working without a
      contract should reconsider that (regardless of being with AMG or not) .

      I will say I believe the way AMG handled the Facebook discussion yesterday
      (holding or deleting comments) added to the problem. That was a bit of
      rookie mistake and, for me, reinforced that the company isn’t quite
      comfortable in the space yet. Please, AMG readers, understand that’s not
      a slam. It’s an observation from someone who’s worked with online
      marketing for 20 years. AMG is not the only company to have made the same
      mistake — large companies have too (people have lost their jobs over
      those kinds of mistakes, though; that’s how big a deal it is). Any time you silence a voice, there will be a consequence.

      I want to address the idea that Facebook contributors can’t get recognition. They absolutely can. Many companies have a name at the end of each post (~Melanie). If the owner is doing most of the posting, no name needed. If it’s a contributor posting, name needed.

      It’s a little unsettling that AMG hasn’t already recognized contributors on the About page. That is about a 10-minute job. Each person can contribute their own bio of X characters and you put it up; in the mean time at least put their names up there and what they’re doing for you. I suggest making that a priority just to show how important they are to the business.

      I agree that anyone should be able to volunteer for anything they
      want to contribute to. My caveat being that if an entire workforce (save
      one) is made up of volunteers, at some point it appears that someone is taking advantage of that community.

      Please understand, too, some people commenting aren’t getting jobs or paid what they’re worth because companies hire free or almost free help. Every time someone agrees to do work for free, it undercuts what many of us have spent years building.

      Rather than take any criticism as an attack, no matter how civil, I hope AMG can step back and see the advice for what it is. Many of the women weighing in have been in start-up shoes and are offering solid advice and making solid observations. Not everyone has offered advice, but those who have aren’t being listened to.

      There were mistakes on both sides. In fact, I’d argue a reasonably good case that many AMG defenders have been as vitriolic as the ones they’re condemning. This isn’t a zero sum game.

      1. Again, I’ll start this comment by disclosing that I’m one of the AMG volunteers. I appreciate your balanced look at the situation – thank you for taking the time to consider our side of it as well.

        I just want to reiterate that I, and to my knowledge the others who contribute their time to the site, am satisfied with the amount of credit I receive. When I write a Facebook post, the time involved is minimal, and I don’t expect credit. The blogs that I write, which take much more time, are all under my byline. To be honest, I received far less credit for work I did at my last few paying jobs.

        When AMG put out the call for volunteer writers, we never expected nor intended for this to be considered by professional bloggers. It was an opportunity for people like me, with no previous experience and with no anticipation of turning writing into a career. I’m not sure how the impression came about that this was an appeal for professionals to contribute their time and expertise free of charge, but that was certainly never the idea.

        From the beginning, the terms were clear to me, and I chose to participate in the growth of the site knowing that it was not paid work. However, along with that comes a great deal of freedom which is ideal for me. I have no permanent commitment, so I could tell Carolyn tomorrow that I’m not able to work any more, and that would be that. I can also tell her at any time that I will be working little or not at all for a time — in fact, last summer I did exactly that for nearly three months.

        I appreciate your concern, but please do not assume that those of us who have devoted our time and energy to the site need protection. We chose to contribute; we knew it was unpaid; we were not pressured or lured with promises of paid work. We simply support the cause that AMG supports and decided that the continued growth and existence of the site was sufficient reward. There are organizations that pressure writers to provide free work for “exposure” or in the hope of eventually receiving payment; AMG is not one of them.

  3. Wow, Mean Girls flashback. I followed A Mighty Girl for a while now and saw the “mudslinging” on Facebook and Twitter that Jessica mentioned and was pretty disgusted. It seemed like most of the people attacking AMG didn’t even know anything about the group (just like some of the commenters here) and were just driven there by Kelby Hartson Carr’s attack campaign.

    First off, I’m a former teacher and now a SAHM, and I use the book lists on AMG all the time. I’ve never supported the site and I realize that I’m getting a lot of value out of their FREE resource. If I had time, I would be all about volunteering for them a few hours a week. I like their Facebook content and I think it would be fun to write (it would be a nice change to changing diapers). And, you know what the Kelbys of the world, if I choose to volunteer, it’s none of your or anyone else’s damn business. Seriously, get off your high horse.

    Second, Kelby presented this as a labor rights issue so the curious researcher in me decided to look her up. So she runs a blogger conference which is held at Disney World. Hm… for someone apparently so concerned about labor rights this is a curious choice of venue given Disney’s long history of labor abuses and human rights violations. Guess those just don’t matter to Kelby because they don’t affect her or her mom blogger buddies just poor and largely people of color in the Disney parks and overseas factories. What’s that? Oh, the sweet smell of hypocrisy.

    I mean, come on, do these “pro bloggers” not have bigger fish to fry than attacking a one woman-run shop? Where are your articles about Walmart’s labor abuses? Kaplan’s union busting (which was featured in a Salon article today)? I would love to see these apparent labor activists speak out on some true violators.

    Ultimately, it seems like a lot of this issue stemmed from the fact that people assume that a big Facebook page means you have a lot money or a big organization behind it which is just not true. I’m sure that all of those multi-million member inspirational picture Facebook pages are not pulling in the big bucks. Sure AMG does feature books and movies but I bet a lot of users are just like me – we go to the library and we Netflix the movies. What have we given to them? Nothing but our appreciation. And, I know I should give back because, it’s become one of my favorite sites… heck, maybe I will volunteer after all.

    The former teacher in me can’t help but think what’s really driving a lot of this is the same thing that drove a lot of my middle schoolers’ behavior – simple jealously. Kelby’s nearly 7 year old business page has around 6,000 likes and AMG has, well, a lot more. Ah, the green eyed monster rears its ugly head…

    1. Thank you for saying what a LOT of us are thinking. I have also followed AMG for a good while now, and it pains me to see “professionals” in the blogging/PR world jumping at the chance to bring them down. Geez, heaven forbid AMG is doing something they are passionate about on a shoestring budget. The internet has become a cruel, cruel world, and there are far more bullies here than in real life.

        1. Rhonda is spot on in calling Kelby and co. what they are — a bunch of bullies. Self-righteous bullies at that who appear to believe that, as so-called “professional bloggers”, they get to dictate how other sites are run. A Mighty Girl didn’t toe your line on how all of you think things should be so what do you do – try to tear it down under the auspices of giving them advice. What a joke! With such beneficent souls as all of you, who needs enemies!?!

    2. There are several things here that are not quite accurate.
      1) I don’t think Kelby originally brought up the legality of having volunteers. I’d check to be sure, but AMG pulled the post. No one can verify anything now.

      2) Kelby is a savvy business woman with years of experience. Her conferences have been held at many different venues. It’s true that the one at the end of the month is at WDW. Kelby’s conferences have resulted in many bloggers going from hobby to business. Many women are making money because she has provided the resources they needed. Her speakers and topics have made a huge impact on our industry and she deserves recognition and respect for that in the same way that you deserve recognition and respect for teaching our children. She’s shaping bloggers and businesses; you’re shaping minds. There is value in both.

      3) Having known Kelby for a number of years and having worked with her, I can tell you that she is not the jealous type. I feel confident speaking for her on this particular point: Jealousy was not even a consideration in her discussions. I understand how you could think that if you’re solely looking at numbers, but in this case it’s simply untrue.

      4) I disagree that this issue stemmed from an assumption that the business was larger than it is (based on FB fans). I *do* believe that finding out how small the business is actually resulted in more sympathy because so many of us have been in those shoes. Several people have offered advice that has gone unacknowledged, both on Facebook and here.

      As I say in a comment further down the page, one reason this is one of the “bigger fish to fry” is that some people in our industry aren’t getting jobs or being paid what they’re worth because companies hire free or almost free help. Every time someone agrees to do work for free, it undercuts what many of us have spent years building. Whether it’s AMG or anyone else doing it, women who own businesses will defend that work.

      1. Yeah, well, I’ve known Kelby for a long time too and I think she’s full of it. I already wrote about this above but we all know that she built her own for-profit business off of free labor but, hey, guess that exception to her rule is okay when it benefits her. No hypocrisy there. Pay no attention to that (wo)man behind the curtain.

        1. I appreciate your rational and thoughtful response, Joan. I’m not privvy to Kelby’s business plan. My understanding, having talked with people who worked with her in the beginning, is that Kelby used an ad-based rev-share opportunity. While that’s not my favorite model, it’s not an unpaid model. As I say, I’m going on what people have told me, not personal experience. Which, if I’m reading your post correctly, is about as much information as you have. Can we agree that neither of us is qualified to speak on that point?

          Using Kelby as a scapegoat for this discussion isn’t addressing the issues raised by either side. It’s a classic logical fallacy used to draw attention away from original discussion points.

          And, while I see some thoughtful responses from both AMG and bloggers, the overall discussion has fairly deteriorated to potshots.

          That’s too bad because this is an interesting topic that has opportunities for both sides to learn and grow. Neither is right or wrong, there are nuances.

          If you take emotion out of the equation, the discussion is actually quite good and useful on many levels.

          As I’ve said, it didn’t have to be a zero sum game. There are so many other, more useful things that could have come of this.

          On a personal note, I will say that I’m disappointed that you have such dislike for someone that you feel the need to air that in public.

          There are, of course, one or two people I dislike in this space. It’s the nature of the world. Personalities clash. There are people who dislike me and there are others who like me quite a lot. Either way, it’s all good.

          The difference is that I would never consider dragging that baggage into a public discussion. And if I did, I’d be sure to have a more convincing argument than “she’s full of it.” Bonus points for making it actually relevant to the issues at hand.

          That’s the first and only time I’ll rise to the bait.

          Peach out ladies. Sleep well.

          1. I posted my message again so we’ll see if it stays up this time. And, this isn’t a logical fallacy or using Kelby as a scapegoat. This whole blogger attack started off due to Kelby pushing the issue on her page. Jessica shared one of those posts above and, as Kelby put it,she’s “just about saying it.” Well, I think it’s totally fair to point out that what she’s saying in her oh-so-holier-than-thou classic Kelby form is a load of crap because this is exactly what she didn’t do when she started her own company.

            Kelby relied on free labor and volunteers, including me, to get her for-profit company going. She’s just preaching that classic do as I say and not as I do (or did) hypocrite line. And, it’s not scapegoating her to call her out on this since she led an attack on another company in a public forum for doing exactly what she did.

            Personally, I didn’t mind volunteering to help her, even though it was a for profit. I think people can volunteer for whatever they want. But, Kelby’s hypocrisy around this whole thing really pisses me off.

  4. My issue in all of this is that the work is completely uncredited, so the normal line of “exposure” does not apply here at all. This is, for me, the crux of the issue followed closely by the social enterprise but still for profit idea. Yeah for doing good and all, but you’re still working toward profit as your bottom line. Also, they are seeking highly experienced writers and told Kelby that SAHMs “love” to do this work for free, which makes their stated mission seem disingenuous. Of course, I’ll be writing about this on Babble (ahem Jeremy) as well.

    1. If you are planning on writing about this for Babble, I hope
      that you take the time to check your facts as Jessica Gottlieb did rather than simply presenting Kelby Hartson Carr’s ill-formed and vitriolic perspective. In fact, I never said “SAHMs love to do this work for free” or anything to that effect.

      In response to a question as to why we asked for volunteers rather than interns I wrote: “We chose to ask for volunteers rather than interns because we receive quite a lot of inquires from people, generally SAHMs, who would like to help out the site in some capacity and most have time to volunteer but not to intern (which generally entails a larger time commitment). Given this level of interest, we wanted to let the broader community know about this opportunity versus just the ones who have contacted us.”

      Kelby took this statement and replied, “So you feel like SAHMs should just work for free and volunteer?” Of course, my comment says nothing to that effect — the only reference to SAHMs is the fact that many of those who contact us about volunteering are SAHMs. In short, she and you are entirely misrepresenting what I wrote.

      Furthermore, I don’t know what your basing your assumption on that this work would be “completely uncredited.” While it’s true that, like nearly every other Facebook page, we will not include bylines on Facebook posts (they would also be very repetitive at this point given I write 95% of our Facebook content). However, nearly all of our past volunteers have contributed blog posts on topics of interest to them and they always receive a byline. We have also on several occasions thanked individual volunteers via our Facebook page. Moreover, because we agree that recognizing the contributions of volunteers is important, we are looking into ways to further give them recognition by adding them to our “About” page or via other means.

      If you would like to have a full picture of A Mighty Girl,
      who we are, and what we do for your article, I’d be happy to speak with you as I spoke with Jessica for this piece.

    2. Oh wow, I can’t wait! “Blogger Pillories Underfunded One-Woman Website Dedicated to Making the World a Better Place by Helping Girls!” Definitely first class journalism there — especially since I’m sure that unlike Jessica Gottlieb you won’t be bothered to actually call up A Mighty Girl to verify your assumptions. Of course, fact-checking isn’t an important part of professional blogging — it’s apparently getting paid and being sensational that counts.

  5. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post Jessica. My biggest issue with for-profits asking us to do things for free is that, ultimately, aren’t we all trying to do the same thing? As bloggers who have turned what we do into a business aren’t we all trying to make some sort of living out of what we do? Just as I wouldn’t ask other writers to volunteer their time to help me build my own site (unless it’s my friends and we are guest posting for each other), I would think that others would respect our time and not ask for free work as well. I think the mission of A Mighty Girl is worthy of respect but so are the missions of so many other bloggers who write on important topics.

  6. Wow – so you just took down my post? It’s okay to criticize A Mighty Girl but not call into question the legitimacy of the person who made those accusations in the first place, Kelby Hartson Carr? What was it you wrote below, Jessica, this is about having a discussion about business practices. Well, maybe you can explain to me why my post didn’t apply. Unless, the idea of an open discussion is just a farce and it’s really just about protecting your buddies from taking a little of what they like to dish out.

  7. I’ve known Kelby Hartson Carr, the woman who instigated the social media attacks on A Mighty Girl, for a long time, from back when she was starting out her own business, Type-A Parent, running blogging conferences. I’m out of the blogging world now because I got tired of this kind of self-righteousness (and don’t get me started on the narcissism). But, what’s surprising about all of this is that Kelby isn’t being called out on being the hypocrite that she is. She sent her minions off to attack this site (yes, I follow her personal Facebook page and watched her repeated messages about it) based on her proclamation that “Being a small business (or start up, or mom, or dad, or blogger, or whatever other thing we should sympathize with) does not give a business a pass to ask for free work.”

    And, this, right here, makes Kelby Hartson Carr frontrunner for hypocrite of the year and really bugs me. The collective amnesia – or unwillingness to get on her bad side (cause we all know what happens when she has you in her sights – watch out!) – on how she started her company is pretty astounding. As in, longtimers will recall, her whole conference business was started up because she asked people, including me, to speak for free and pay for our own expenses. And, this wasn’t just a few of us – lots of people spoke for free at her events. Shockingly, if it sounds an awful lot like free labor for her for-profit business – guess what? It was!

    You might try to argue that it wasn’t the same because it was for a good cause helping all those women bloggers get their starts. But, remember, the whole argument so many of you are putting out – mission doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter that A Mighty Girl is helping girls or Kelby was helping women because volunteer labor is always exploitative! Well, apparently, except when it benefits Kelby herself because, of course, it was all between friends. Yes, of course, makes perfect sense. Right….

  8. Great post Jessica! And I must say that I too am a bit confused by this whole thing. I mean, I think we have all done our fair share of free work, but at some point you realize that is not good for your business. I know that i used to write for free for someone wrapped up in this who now profits from their site. I think that A Mighty Girl does need to change their business model a bit. But that is a tough call. As someone below said it is a bit of a grey area. There is a such thing as social good of course. But the problem is that they are making a profit. It may not be much right now as they are only a 2 person team. I profit from my site, and it is now my full time business. Could I afford to pay someone to write for me? No way. I am struggling enough to pay my bills. So, as Kelby put it on FB I suck it up, struggle, and work my butt off myself.

  9. Jennifer Maciejewski

    Based on the long responses from A Mighty Girl on FB (which have now been deleted, so I can’t re-read), it appears that they’re operating under some assumption that they are a “social enterprise” & can essentially be a for-profit non-profit without all that messy paperwork that gets in the way. However, it doesn’t quite work like that. Whether or not it’s their intent, they are, in effect, engaging in interstate commerce based on the DOL’s very broad rules. And tbh, with numbers like that, they *should be able to make money, & since the site is monetized, that is part of the intent.

    The “social enterprise” category is totally new to me, but best I can tell from a bit of Googling is that quite a few “social enterprises” are truly local, and those that aren’t local-focused appear to have a hybrid model that is part non-profit & part retail/sales or have a straight for-profit model but designate a portion of profits to a cause. It’s still a business though, and they’re not pretending it isn’t…they’ve just separated the things that make money from the things that advance the mission. That approach would make sense for A Mighty Girl if they opt to actively disseminate that mission in the community with camps or seminars or whatever. But that’s not what they do…they creatively package the sale of books & clothes around “empowerment”…that may make the task of aggregating that info monumental & they may face diminishing returns, but that does not exempt them from the rules the rest of us have to follow.

    I could arbitrarily call my online business a social enterprise, and it wouldn’t be hard to spin it to make it fit. But even that wouldn’t justify me looking for free labor for my for-profit business that also happens to be a great resource for my community. When it wasn’t making much money, I was the one that invested my time & resources into it to grow it. When it grew enough to support help, I paid people a living wage–not minimum, but living–to be on my team.

    And now that the economy is what it is & other things have taken a toll, I’ve had to downsize. I, like so many brick-and-mortars & online entrepreneurs, had to take a hard look at the business numbers & make cuts to stay afloat. It’s not a pass for free labor. And my brand is all about free & cheap. A Mighty Girl’s brand is not. It’s about empowerment. And I find it downright insulting that a for-profit company with that as its mantra would actively solicit a labor force that is anything but empowered. You can spin it any way you want, it’s downright demeaning. It’s been enough of an issue in the media industry–companies take advantage of writers all the time, and I know that’s where some of the pushback is coming from. (And, btw, they’ve cleared some class-action lawsuits against some of these media companies who have exploited unpaid interns for years). We are sick of it within our industry, and we sure as hell aren’t going to tolerate it from a for-profit company doing the same damn thing, only this time with an official job posting & a shady “volunteer” request. Live your mission.

  10. According to an interview that they gave to the Washington Post last year, “Danckaert said the response since the site launched a few weeks ago has been encouraging. She has tracked about 360 purchases, more than 500 members and more than 40,000 unique page views.

    Their companion Facebook page has about 3000 fans, many of them vocal about gender-stereotyping and quick to share particularly egregious products or advertisements.”

    It seems like they should be making plenty of money.

    1. I’ve run affiliate pages before and 360 affiliate sales are nothing, especially if it’s on an inexpensive product like kids’ books which it seems is A Mighty Girl’s main focus. You’re making maybe 6 or 7% per sale for an affiliate commission so that’s about $250 in total sales if you’re selling $10 books. Not exactly rolling in it if that’s your only source of income. And, that’s not even counting site expenses like hosting fees. If that’s ‘plenty of money’ to you, I should move to your neighborhood because that wouldn’t come close to covering my mortgage payment. In my experience, you have to have a very high volume to make an affiliate system able to support just one person and from reading the comments above it sounds like a lot of their users just use them for library research which, of course, brings them no income. If they wanted to bring in more income, they could be using ads, sponsored content, and so on but it doesn’t look like they are.

      1. Actually, that interview was almost two years ago (April 2012) right after their launch. If you take into account just the Facebook fan page growth since then (3,000 to 260k+), it is reasonable to assume that their website traffic and therefore adsense revenue and affiliate sales have also growth quite a bit since then.

        I find it rather difficult to believe that there are months when not one single affiliate sale is made, as has been stated by the AMG folks, considering the size of their audience. But even still, there is adsense revenue coming in from the traffic to their site.

        In all honesty (and I’ve said this before) if things are really going that poorly then they need to sit down with someone that specializes in affiliate/blog revenue and see what changes they can make.

  11. Speaking as an outsider: For professional bloggers who are conflicted between paid or free: Even celebrities work for free or volunteer to discount their usual fees if they believe in a project. Couldn’t this be a parallel? We’ve heard award winning actors/actresses granting cameos for free for indie projects. Jonah Hill was offered $60K for Wolf of Wall Street – instead of being offended, he asked them to fax him the contract right away. If he hadn’t believed in the project, I guess he’d just given them a middle finger and walked away.

    Anyway, I should not even be commenting on something I have no idea of. I just want to leave a comment because I like Jessica’s writing – I think she writes extremely well and yes she’s a professional.

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