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Nothing Is Better Than Something: Why to work for free

Photo by Flickr user "Images_of_money"

I’m not going to make fun of the arrogant little prick who suggested that Lanae and I should move Sexxx Talk Radio to his startup (all porn) internet radio network. Or the fact that he suggested that we should produce 36 shows for him, with original and exclusive content for a paltry $120, which works out to less than $1 a show for each of us. Or the fact that he suggested it was a better deal for us than the Progressive Radio Network, which doesn’t pay us at all. I’m not even going to make fun of the fact that he told us it was a “good offer.”

But I am going to use it as a really good example of why, sometimes, it’s better to work for free. And it’s always good to know what value you bring, on both sides of the equation.

So, let’s be clear about a few things first. I have asked people to deliver content to NotSoSecret for free. And they do. Happily and proudly. I have delivered content for free to lots of places, including NotSoSecret and Sexxx Talk Radio (which is on The Progressive Radio Network,) for free, and done so happily and Proudly. My work has appeared, for free, in countless places, including The Seattle P-I, The New York Times, Role Reboot as well as tons of magazines, newspapers and blogs of all sizes. Hell, I co-founded Seattle 2.0, and covered the Seattle entrepreneur scene for years, for free, until it was acquired by Geekwire, and never saw a penny from any of it, and don’t regret it because I valued the community and it valued me.

I am a firm advocate of freely sharing content and ideas in the name of building understanding, movements, change, community and the swell of ideas necessary to further progress. I’ve done it both ways, and I will continue to.

HOWEVER, there are a few key points, that every startup out there needs to pay good attention to, because if you know the basics, you will not only get great content, but great supporters – together, you will have great success.


Even if you think you’re Jesus returned, never, ever, EVER approach the “will you work for free” as anything other than someone doing you a huge fucking favor. You need to drip with gratitude. Ideally, it would be genuine, seeing as you are using someone else’s talent, for free, to build your company and brand. If you aren’t enormously grateful, then you, frankly, don’t deserve them. So if you have to fake gratitude, then do it. Because even if you don’t deserve them, they deserve your gratitude.

This is not a time for hardball. This is a time for fluffy cotton candy balls filled with ganache and coated in edible gold.

We have bloggers working for free at NotSoSecret, including ourselves. So we make sure that they know how grateful we are for them and we bend over backwards to not only help them, but to make sure that they know we appreciate them. That we see ourselves as people working together for a common cause. That when we are successful, they will be too, and we will have – together – created a social movement that is better than any of us could do alone.


Ideally, you have found people who are thought leaders in the market that you are trying to reach. That means they have a body of work out there that you can look at to know how they think, what they want, what their primary motivators are.  You should also know who their target market is, so that you can begin to see how your relationship would be MUTUALLY beneficial.

Want a hint? In this day and age, in which media companies are opening and closing like the mouths of baby birds in a spring snow storm, “we hope to be able to build audience” is not enough. Either you have it, or you don’t. If you don’t, you have to sweeten the deal with something. (Manners and gratitude are a good place to start.) What do they want? How can you help them get it?

It’s not a deal-breaker, at all, but you have to know what THEY want, so you can help them get it. You are not it, you are a stepping stone, and you need to be very clear about that. Chances are good they want to build their own brand, can you really help them do that? At the very least, don’t hinder them by stealing their content!


I am not sure what crazy suppository caused this ass-thinker to think that we would do 36 original and exclusive radio shows for $120. That’s an hour on the air, and about 6 hours of prep, per show. Divided by two. That’s WAY less than a dollar a show.

But that wasn’t the bad part. He asked for ORIGINAL and EXCLUSIVE. Meaning we couldn’t use the content we created for any other purpose. Hello! This is the 21st century. We ALL build brand by getting our content out to as wide and credible a market as possible. So not only are you insulting us with less than $1 for a full day’s work, you are telling us that you own the content?

When we work with bloggers on NotSoSecret, we tell them that not only do THEY own the content they create, but that they can and should promote it wherever they want. Further, We will often use content that they’ve already published elsewhere. Not only does that make it easier on them, it gives us access to THE BEST content out there.

Why don’t we want to own it? Well, because that’s an asshat arrogant move that screws content creators – which we are, ourselves. But also because our own brand isn’t about owning the content, it’s about curating the best so that people know if they have a question about anything related to sexuality, they can find it on our site. Sure, they could painstakingly do all their own searching for it, but it’s easier to trust us. We build our brand on trust, brains, respect and integrity – with our consumers and our creators.


The delusional douche who reached out to us did so with nothing to offer us. But let’s look at what he THOUGHT he was offering us.

  1. Access to lots of listeners. Well, first, those listeners were hypothetical. Second, those listeners didn’t do us any good, because we don’t know anything about them – who they are, what their interests are, education level, political leanings etc…

  2. Visibility on his platform. Ya, well, visibility in and of itself isn’t always good. His platform was filled with porn, sex talk lines, and other stuff that doesn’t necessarily align with our brand. We have no objection to it, but we’re approaching human sexuality in a very different way than that, and as such, his “brand” doesn’t really serve us.

So, why do we do Sexxx Talk Radio for free for Progressive Radio Network? Lots of reasons.

  1. We own the content and can do whatever we want with it.

  2. They came with about 200 thousand listeners in our time slot.

  3. We can learn about those listeners, in any way we want.

  4. They have a PR department that will soon be promoting our show in other media outlets.

  5. They have a speaker’s bureau that will soon be promoting us as speakers.

  6. They are kind, grateful, intelligent, committed and helpful. (Manners, they get you anywhere!)

Why do people blog on NotSoSecret for free? Because we all share a common goal of promoting healthy human sexuality and we all know that it is easier to find 1 gigantic strobe light then to hunt out one small candle in a sea of online crap. We offer them many of the same things that PRN offers us – or are at least communicating honestly and openly about where we are in the process and trying to serve our contributors first. We know that making them happy will make us successful.

Further, the amazing content they create for and with us, is theirs to use to promote themselves. We’re about to start working on some video animation that should be crazy expensive, but this amazing guy is doing it for free because he wants to build a name for himself, knows that we can help him do that, that we will do a lot of the creative work for it, and we will promote the hell out of it. Which will, in turn, promote the hell out of him. Win / win!


We know we’re asking for free content, so we make it easy. First, we love getting stuff that’s already published or written. All they have to do is send it to me in an email and I do all the posting and production on it.

We don’t ask them to do anything special or hard for us.

If they have questions about tone, content, editing, or anything else, I am at their beck and call. I’m working a billion hours a week, so sometimes it takes me a day or two, but I’m only human, and I freely admit that.


When you are asking someone for help – or free labor with which you are going to build your own empire – it is all about them. Their content, their talent, their brains, their generosity. It’s about what they’re doing for you. What you hope you can do for them is just that, a hope. What they’re doing for you is very real. THAT is where the value is, and you damned well better know it.

So ya. Keep tuning in to Sexxx Talk Radio and Not So Secret and we’ll tell you what type of lube, and what angle, is best for inserting that $1 bill up your ass, as soon as you pull your head out of it.


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