Saying no to free money
I find it intriguing that on a regular basis, I get comments, enquiries and outright offers from people about how to monetize my sites. Mainly, they are referring to my PolyWogg site, and the HR content. That it is free money that I’m not “grabbing”. With suggestions of how to turn the site(s) into a consulting business or to sell the content as training, most often. I find it intriguing for two reasons.
First and foremost, I find it amusing that they think that I have never considered it myself. I have, I admit it, but it is always more of an abstract idea than a serious option to consider.
Which brings me to the second reason. I view my site as my words upon the waters. I write it, people read it. It’s not poetry, it’s not hard-won, it’s not a book. I have a well-paying job already. I don’t see any compelling reason to charge for the content, even if I could. It almost offends my sense of honour to suggest that I should profit from it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely altruistic. I have a desire to write fiction, and I would absolutely write that content for sale. There are a couple of areas I might write after I retire that again, I think, would be amenable to book format and sale. Yet for most of my content, the idea of profiting from it seems wrong.
A recent article came my way from WPBeginner.com and it lists nine types of ways to make money from your website. The categories blur a bit for me, and so I would group it by four headings as I try to organize my thoughts.
The most common suggestion for any site is to run ads. You can do it with Google AdSense or sell your own advertising directly if your site is popular enough. I get a few nibbles from time to time asking if they can pay me to run an ad on my site. It is the crassest of the options and turns my stomach at the thought. I never want ads on my site, not now, not ever. I hate them on just about every site I visit, even when done tastefully. It also strikes me as a stupid question. If they had actually visited my site, they would know that I don’t run ads ANYWHERE on the site now. Is their product so compelling or the pittance big enough to say, “Oh yeah, let me change my entire approach?”.
I did consider affiliate marketing for my book reviews. If someone read my review, liked the book, and clicked on it such that a few pennies went into an Amazon account for me to buy more books? That seemed okay to me, more or less. It wouldn’t affect my review in any way, it was so removed from the review writing and wasn’t enough to push me towards the ugly side of reviews i.e., paid reviews. But it was too much work to maintain, and I didn’t really generate any revenue from it. I just don’t write enough book reviews, and I wasn’t going to put lists of books on the site just to get clicks. Meh.
I have been approached by people wanting to exchange posts or “sponsor” certain blog posts, and that is way too close to paid reviews in my book. My site, my name, my opinions, my reviews. Period.
There’s one other area that the article talked about, but it doesn’t really apply to me. The idea is to create a site, get some traffic, monetize it, and then sell the site to someone else. “Flipping” sites, they call it. The third circle of Hell would be closer in description, if you ask me.
The short version of this is that you sell “memberships” and people get members-only content. A private forum, or articles only they can see, or maybe a Q&A section. A few enquiries have been aimed at this, partly because I already have the content. So lock it down, make it more interactive, and sell regular subscriptions or even one-time only subscriptions. Separate from the icky feeling I have of only sharing with certain paid subscribers, there is a lot of overhead in managing memberships, payments, and privacy. Pass.
A heavily-related version would create unique content, like a job board for example, or some sort of posting where people pay to post their content. Could be a job board, could be Ebay for certain products. Or people could pay to list their company. Or events. But instead of the site being private and people paying to access the content, it would be public with people paying to post. Except I have no desire to post other people’s content.
Sales and Services
These generally fall into five categories, one of which I’ll hold to the end.
For services, some people suggest offering consulting services, or coaching, or even freelance services in whatever field you do. I have no interest in starting a side hustle nor particularly in continuing to “work” after I retire. My brother has a gig that would be far more likely for me to embrace than this.
A second service people often suggest is to sell physical products online including standard stores, online t-shirts, dropshipping, or simply as a full-scale Amazon affiliate store.
The third is very similar to the job board idea, where you turn your website into a platform to host other sales, like an online marketplace or auctions site where others can post their goods.
Finally, if you build off that “flipping” option earlier, there are suggestions to go hardcore with the WordPress material itself i.e., plugins, themes or graphics tied to WordPress layouts and look/feel. My skills are NOWHERE that good, and again, it’s just a side hustle consulting business. I already have decent skills in other areas, but again, I have zero interest in using the site to build a business.
Things that don’t offend my sensibilities
Obviously, I could turn the content into a book (for the PolyWogg HR Guide), and I like that idea. It makes sense to have a book option, people can read it online or if they want a copy of the book, click and order. Very popular, doesn’t offend me. I’m a wannabe writer and I spend a LOT of time writing on the sites. If it was fiction, I wouldn’t hesitate to charge. Why not charge for non-fiction if it’s in a book?
My hesitation, like my initial intrigue, is two-fold. First, I want people to have access whether they pay anything or not. I don’t like the idea that someone could benefit from my approach, but doesn’t because they don’t have $10 or whatever to pay for a book version. Or that ordering just adds friction. I want as many people to read the stuff as possible. Charging for it kind of restricts that goal.
But I also hesitate because I wasn’t charged to GAIN the knowledge. I asked people about their experiences and a lot of what I write is not just my own experiences but theirs. If they didn’t charge ME, how can I justify charging others? It doesn’t feel right.
If I go sideways for a second too, I also feel like it’s part of my duty as a manager in the public service to help other public servants figure out how to prepare properly for selection processes. And I already get paid to be a manager. So wouldn’t I be asking someone to pay me for something I should already be doing as part of the duties in my day job? Not as part of the day job, obviously, but as part of my obligations to help others in the community.
Once I retire, my position will likely shift a bit in that regard as it will take more work to stay current on stuff, and I won’t be an “active” manager. No residual duty to “help” would be in the way of charging. I already said I don’t want to do consulting that much, or even really coaching. Too time-consuming in my view. I might for some occasional cash or to keep my hand in the game. But not as a major function tied to the website.
I have thought about changing the content from a static website into more of an online course option with modules. And some people have suggested doing so as a full training course that is “sold” by subscription. But I have the same hesitations in whatever form it is provided, video or text.
And yet there is one area where I’m more open to the idea. If, after I’m retired, someone wanted to pay me to make a presentation to a group, I’d be willing to do that. Truth be told, I love the idea. I don’t care particularly if I get PAID to do it, provided there isn’t much cost to me to participate. Reimburse me for my out-of-pocket expenses like parking or a coffee, and I’d likely be good to go. I do have another area of expertise where I could see it being potentially lucrative to get hired to present in various locales around the world on two or three specific topics where I could develop a stronger content base on my website.
The article I referred describes it as “paid engagements as an influencer”, although I prefer to think of it more as speaking engagements for expertise. If someone in Boston wanted me to speak to their Board about one of the topics, I’d be happy to do so relatively cheaply, so long as they pay for my travel. I just don’t know if I want to hustle that much to seek out those options.
Last but not least
I have zero interest in setting up a Patreon account to attract donations. I am not interested in “patrons” sponsoring me or whatever. And yet, I love people who set up donation buttons to “buy them a coffee” for a variety of different sites or services. It is the equivalent of “shareware”, which is another concept I love. Completely free to use, full versions of whatever, but if you want to send me a couple of bucks, feel free to do so. As long as I’m working FT, I won’t do that. I might consider it after I retire. I haven’t decided yet. But it does interest me at least a little.
And yet NONE of these are things are attractive to me anytime soon. Nor, if I do have interest in the future, do I need any help doing it. Yet, like I said, I get enquiries that intrigue me, even if my answer is a polite but firm “no”.
I completely agree.
Back in 2007 I had the blog to find my sister and it was likely getting lots of hits, and I wondered if I should monetize it in some way to generate funds for the search, but it would have been so crass to have ads all over the place. Like you, I hate/despite them on sites.
If only Patreon had existed then, or “Donate” buttons (maybe they did but I didn’t have the tech skills), then that I would have added to make it easier for people than mailing cheques to the trust we set up. I suspect Patreon subscribers would make you feel guilty for not publishing enough and it starts to feel like work – trying to do daily and then weekly blogging eventually felt that way and I was doing that for free!
I would be skeptical of people who want to cross-post – that feels like SEO scams to make websites go up in search rankings because of the range of links. I could be wrong though.
I like your ethical stance on providing HR advice while working as a government. It would certainly seem odd if I charged for advice on getting business licences given that I am deeply involved in processing them, so I see where you’re coming from and I like how you abstract it up to manager responsibilities – finally an example of something managers actually do while the rest of us are busy producing!
I think a lot of people do a GoFundMe now rather than Patreon, but I find them a bit sketchy a lot of the time. Too many people set them up as “Hi, I’m Joe Nobody who lives in the same town, and I’ve never met these people, but I’ve set up this GFM…”. And I agree with you on cross-posting. It happens a lot in writing circles, with guest bloggers, and while it isn’t quite gaming the search results, it is about getting person A’s readers to consider person B’s offerings. Lots of people like it, but I’m reticent to make a formal arrangement of that sort with anyone. I vetted my wife for 16y before I let her blog on my site. 🙂
I agree re: the business license thing. I’m in a slightly different world in that I am not “in” the HR world for my day job. I did talk to the ethics people at work who worried that I could be seen as “forcing people to buy my book” (if I sold it) when I was running a comp. If I give it away, nobody cares, generally speaking.
The weird part is I have almost three versions in mind of my HR stuff. The “short version” that people can download; the full text version that is on the site; and the full text version in book form. In the short-term, it will be PDF; longer term? Who knows…The update process is taking me forever to get mobilized.