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Kelby Carr

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.