Jul 20

No More Whuffie Please. Just the Kind That Pays My Bills

whuffie:
A slang term coined by Corey Doctorow in his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom to describe reputation-based capital.

This is also described by Tara Hunt as “social capital” (i.e. cred that isn’t money).

At Volusion, I never felt like I could use my talent. I wasn’t writing with my voice. It’s a very hollow feeling to come home and feel like your work isn’t really your own.

Lynn at GeekAustin suggested I write for him. He’d had the site “in the garage” for a while and had had some success with the GeekAustin Happy Hours. We decided we’d do some interviews of geeks in the Austin area. Although I never felt I could write in a way that appealed to geeks, Lynn watched as the RSS subscriptions went up.

Lynn felt that writing for GeekAustin was a way for me to show people my talents and build my “whuffie” so that I could get a better job. Although I wasn’t happy at Volusion, I couldn’t be aggressively looking elsewhere because my boss told another employee that if we were caught, we could get fired. It was the best shot I had at establishing myself.

What ensued? I wasn’t pummeled with job offers I wanted. I was pummeled with people asking me to write for their own organizations for free.

Since writing for GeekAustin, I’ve been asked to write for or help with:
1.) RefreshAustin
2.) Green Technology Alliance
3.) SharingHope.tv’s blog
4.) AIR
5.) Conjunctured’s blog
6.) League of Technical Voters
7.) NetSquared
8.) Practical Ecommerce
9.) TakesAllTypes

I know I’m missing some here.

I’ve been asked to head up NetSquared Austin. I’ve been asked to be more active in Austin Social Media Club. People remind me of their events completely out of the blue. I’ve been asked to “pimp” a design firm who said they’d swing work my way, but never did. I’ve had random startups calling to pitch me their product ideas, saying, “Yeah, we could use you later on”. I’ve been told my face is on every Facebook event in the Austin area.

I don’t have health insurance right now. I haven’t been on a vacation in over a year. I’m worried about paying my bills.

Man, whuffie sucks.

I lost one client already which I blame on my extracurricular Web 2.0 activities. I have others lined up which may or may not fall through. I will not volunteer for anything again until I know I can take care of myself. Whether this is with a series of clients I help freelance or at a company that actually understands that I work well with little supervision and with adequate compensation, that’s up in the air.

I’m even looking at two positions in Houston. Houston, people!

I love the Austin 2.0 community. I love Austin period. That’s why I take pictures and write posts with tons of link juice and throw people’s resumes around. But I have to learn to say no, and this post is my first step to saying no.

I’m revising this blog complete with all my services this week. If you know someone who needs help with website branding, copywriting, press releases, blogging or social media, have them contact me at michelle(at)michellesblog.net. Just make sure they pay me in dollars and not whuffie, because I don’t think my landlord takes that yet…

  • http://www.scribkin.com J. Phil

    Hi Michelle,

    Great article! I definitely want to dive into the Austin 2.0 community, but I guess I’m a bit shy. I do have my own blog though, and I’ve been following yours (and of course Lynn Bender’s stuff) for a while now.

    Just wanted to make an introduction. Great post.

    J. Phils last blog post..Advanced FriendFeed Tip: The Imaginary Friend

  • http://www.sipsnblips.com/ PJ Brunet

    What’s your strategy?

  • http://geekaustin.org Lynn Bender

    You’re a good writer, and I knew other people would recognize that as soon as they saw your work. I was happy to help give you a kickstart.

    I hope you understand now why I always seemed so burned and suspicious of all the requests. Every day my inbox has multiple solicitations from people demanding that I promote them or their event — and accusing me of being anti-community when I don’t give them or their organization free press. It’s the same with your writing. As you develop a more recognizable name, the number of people asking for your time, writing, and the use of your name to attach to their organization will only increase.

  • http://www.scribkin.com J. Phil

    My face is a bit red.. I did a bit too much skimming when I read this the first time.

    I totally know how you feel about the volunteer nature of the 2.0 community these days.. I was out of work earlier this year and I consider myself very lucky to get a paying consulting gig (which has nothing to do with blogging).

    Good luck, and I will be promoting you and other Austin social media folks wherever I can.

  • http://whiskeykitten.vox.com Andrea

    I know how you feel.
    My photos are used everywhere, for everything from For Sale adverts to entries into competitions!!
    And here I am, having to give up my passion in life, because i can’t pay my bills.
    While i _love_ to be recognised as the “friendly” photographer who doesn’t mind people using her photos… surely SOMEWHERE along the line, something beneficial, besides the Popular Vote, should come my way?

    Andreas last blog post..a coin

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    BTW, this is total truth about Lynn. He has his parties to promote socializing among geeks in Austin. I don’t think people understand that when they ask for something, they are one of MANY people who ask for things.

    Here’s the solution. If you are having an event, don’t just go to the most visible people. Go to the people who actually have interest in that particular type of event. People like Lynn and Whurley are bombarded by requests all the time. We want to help, but we also want to get our own stuff taken care of.

    People WANT to be part of the community. Be a leader. Engage others besides the most “notable” people. You’d be surprised what you can do.

    Andrea, that is a bummer. This seems to be a big prob among photographers. Seems like a good dialog to open among photographers online.

  • http://www.horsepigcow.com Tara Hunt

    I don’t know if this is a Whuffie issue as much as a downturn issue.
    Sorry to hear that you are only working for free these days…I get your frustration. I’ve been there, believe me. The point that I try to make is, “What can you give away that won’t leave you broke?” And it sounds like you’ve given past that point. :(

    Cred is important and becoming more important everyday (I get Googled at the borders), but, no, it doesn’t currently pay the rent. However, I bet if you continue to grow your reputation and network, you will land a dream job. :)

    BTW…Steve Gillmor didn’t coin the term, Cory Doctorow did in his book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. :)

    Tara Hunts last blog post..The Dark Knight and Darker Questions

  • http://liz-henry.blogspot.com Liz Henry

    I really hear you on this! How many people keep asking me to do things for free in the Web 2.0 world “to build my reputation”. Hey, if you think my voice (and, not trivially, my face) are going to help your event, company, or cause, then my services must already be worth something.

    In my opinion it can swing past “whuffie” and online marketing and right into tokenizing, and exploitation of younger women in the field.

    Pay up, Web 2.0 geeks, if you want our skills, our social networks, and our diverse perspectives, then pay us as consultants.

  • Laura Alter

    I hear ya, girl. The other day I asked a friend to do some graphics work for me, and the default first question was, “Are you going to pay me?” It would sound harsh if I didn’t expect it given the way things often work. (And yes, it was a paying gig.)

    Keep your chin up. Things come around in places that you would least expect…

    Laura

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    Tara, it is true that this is certainly a downturn issue. Establishing one’s reputation helps establish trust among the community.

    I do not mind openly giving. To me, it is selfish to hide one’s talents. If anything comes from this post, it is that we are now seeing that everyone is in the same boat.

    I guess this stems from my desire to be rich without being famous. I like skiing. I like playing tennis. I like being able to support causes and thinking I can retire and send my kids to good schools. People need to realize that people like us care, but there’s only so much we can give before it becomes self-destructive. Learning to say no is step #1 for me.

    @JPhil thanks. I promise not to disappoint ;-).

  • http://www.LabanJohnson.com Laban Johnson

    It hurts to lose a client for any reason because we often blame ourselves. But I wouldn’t consider it a loss to lose a client because you’re hip to new trends in technology.

    You’ve got huge whuffie. I saw you working your whuffie via twitter for a recent blood drive, which as I understand it was highly successful, was it not?

    Also ask yourself this: If the US dollar and other currency were to go bust tomorrow, and money had NO value, how would you survive?

    You would undoubtedly HAVE rely to some degree, possibly heavily on the value of your inter-personal relationships which have been previously established and maintained – The People You Know! Isn’t it all in who you know?

    Are you networking now? Getting anything out of your personal network is similar to planting a garden, right? You get nothing from merely planting a seed in soil, and if you don’t protect the little sprouts which push through the ground and nurture them it may never grow to the point of producing fruit (or a veggie).

    Similarly, you have to meet new people always and you have to keep in touch with people and be there for them in ways which only they can properly evaluate.

    The saying “There is greater joy in giving than in receiving” is cryptic, in a way, especially when you find yourself in a position of need – because only after giving in different ways do you begin to enjoy the “fruits” of the relationships you maintain.

    How much value do you put on a friendship? It’s hard to say and highly subjective, thus the “whuffie” factor, but its VERY real, and at some point it does equate to transactions which have real value. Like the free $40-50 Astros ticket I got for showing someone some tricks in excel. 😛

    Sales gurus have been using “the whuffie” for ages. It’s the difference between farming and hunting. Companies are often hurt hard at the loss of a seasons sales person because they take all their relationships with them to the competition, or to an entirely different industry all together. “Whuffie” works across multiples lines of business. 😉

    If you’re reading this, and I know you are 😉 I highly suggest you make a list of everyone you’ve ever met (I use a CRM called SugarCRM because I keep up with thousands of people). Get back in touch. Keep in touch. No man or woman is an island. Rebuild bridges. Who cares who stole who’s man / woman / client? They weren’t worth the friendship 😛 (Stealing does negatively impact your whuffie, tho…)

    Also see: Golden Rule; Rule of Attraction; See as many people as possible, as often as possible, see a new movie, and just keep being the awesome!

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  • http://www.justwriteclick.com Anne Gentle

    Michelle, one writer to another, this is an awesome post. And the comments are great also, which is an excellent measure of the post. :)

    I too get requests for writing or other expertise, and haven’t yet figured out how to return responses to requests or questions into “yes, I’m very interested in working with you, and after the first half hour I’ll be sending you an invoice for the value I’m adding here.” Ha, it looks unnatural for me even in typing it! :)

    You probably have this feeling too – sometimes I wish the trade value of the kinds of services I could offer would say, diaper young children, or provide food to those families who are suffering food insecurity. I can only hope that the whuffie factor pays forward… but I guess that’s where money comes in to play.

    Sure hope Austin doesn’t lose you to Houston! (shudder) Hang in there and thanks for this honest post. :)

  • http://www.cs.utexas.edu/~jsequeda Juan Sequeda

    Love the post.

    Now, read this: http://blogs.zdnet.com/Foremski/?p=288

  • http://www.debutaunt.com debutaunt

    I learned that I do have to say no sometimes. My biggie is that sometimes I just don’t have the energy for it anymore.

    I am sure that something will work out soon. You have such winning ways! I work for HEB or Sixbucks gift cards now 😛

    Love you!

    debutaunts last blog post..Hey!

  • http://sharinghopeblog.org Kara

    Hello Michelle. As a professional volunteer myself, I feel your pain. Though I do also suffer from an inability to say no (I’m learning), I do have the benefit of having a spouse who is the main income earner. Giving back is a wonderful thing, but the best thing anyone can do for the world is to be sure their own basic needs are met first. Like they say on the airlines, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help that small child next to you.

    No doubt, once you find the right job(s), you will use your gifts to help others, as is your nature. Sharinghopeblog.org can wait!

    I was shocked to learn how little talented writers get paid for posts (sheesh, I can’t even cover babysitting), but I guess that’s been the story of the writing life since the dawn of time. {sigh}

    Good luck with your search!

    Karas last blog post..Sitting with Death and Celebrations of Life

  • http://www.codehooligans.com Paul Menard

    I agree with you post and also feel your pain. One of the biggest issues with the Austin startup scene is the volunteer mentality of the “If you do this work for me I’ll put a link to your site on my site”. Link Love is nice and all but as you’ve found out is not a substitute for monetary reward.

    After a year being on my own it took a few months to learn to stop giving away my time and focus on more traditional clients who pay in hard cold cash.

    And I think this pretty much sums things up
    http://freelanceswitch.com/freelance-freedom/freelance-freedom-50-2/

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  • http://www.localmarketing.net Nick Kusnir

    I’ve been a full time Austin web marketer since ’03, and I agree with the direction of this blog post (by the I stumbled upon this through the Conjunctured opening event on facebook – I went to highschool with David W)

    Good, steady clients are hard to find, and it takes a lot of work (too much work IMO) to get them. Too much time answering questions, giving out information, etc, and less time working on actual projects. So if I may suggest what works for me, why not look into affiliate marketing instead? I keep a very basic “client site” that I sent people/potential clients if they ask what I do, but the affiliate marketing that I do on my own time pays the bills…. and you can sell literally anything online as an affiliate. Anyways just a suggestion. If I see you at the conjunctured event I may say hello 😉

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  • http://christen.dybenko.net Christen Dybenko

    Hi Michelle,

    I think that was a great article. I know I’ve been so focused on how to increase my whuffie, I’ve never thought about how over stretched one might get. You seem like a giving person, but I guess there’s always a time to say “no”.

    I look forward to being in your overflowing whuffie state one day!

    Cheers!

  • http://Mini-News.com Beloy

    I’m sure you will find a good job!
    I’m sure you will find it even without Internet.
    At least, you are American.

    When I graduated a University in UK with distinction (only few people did), practically all students around me had future job contracts already. Excepting me, – because I had no work visa …

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  • http://www.whuffie.esaukessler.com Esau

    Michelle I think I know how you feel. Don’t give up on looking for great opportunities. I would like to hear your thoughts on what I am seeing.

    Esaus last blog post..Whuffie Bemaoned?

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  • http://google.com/uzkbs sandrar

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  • WM Brodeure

    Creative commentary ! I learned a lot from the specifics ! Does someone know if my assistant could get access to a fillable TX VS-142.21 document to complete ?