That Woo Woo Money Thing

Diane Gilleland has been writing and podcasting (with Paul over at Dudecraft) about “free” this week, and as always I’ve been reading and listening with giddy excitement because she tackles such big ideas so simply and eloquently.

In her post today over at Make & Meaning, she ends with a point that’s made all the time when people who get Free try to explain the whole shindig to people who don’t quite get it.

Oh Yes! It's FREE
free-sign by Flickr user koka_sexton (CC-Attribution license)

I know it sounds a bit “woo-woo,” but if you’re giving Free for the sake of giving Free, sooner or later the money part works itself out. And along the way, you’ll gain a whole bunch of stuff that’s way more valuable in the end than the money.

We people who grok and love free are totally woo woo about it. That tends to really piss off the hard-numbers business types who like to sit us down and hammer us with questions about profits and expenses and loss leaders and bottom lines (“But,” they demand, “how will you make money?”) and it’s also a little too hand-wavy for people who might want to give it a shot but are a bit risk-averse (“But,” they timidly ask, “how will I pay my rent?”).

I thought I’d elaborate on Diane’s point to take a bit of the sheen of woo woo out of it. If you do Free right, you gain all kinds of intangibles just like Diane explains: you connect with real people and feel satisfaction just from that, and even more so if you develop a further relationship with them; you get praise, and praise feels damn good; you get an audience, sometimes small, but if you do Free right, that audience tends to grow, and if you kick ass, that audience can grow a lot; all these things add up to even more things you can provide to your community (like recommendations and connections), and that just increases the bonds you form and the praise you get.

The money doesn’t really just materialize, though. There’s one thing you have to do to get the money: seize (the right) opportunities when they come around. You don’t need to have an air-tight business model if you don’t want one. Free involves deliberately winging it. With a good emphasis on the deliberate AND on being comfortable winging it.

Here’s how that all worked for me:

In 2004 I started a website on a lark. I didn’t know about Free and I didn’t know about the crafts industry and I didn’t know about editing or publishing. I just opened my big mouth, and as it turns out that’s very much in line with who I am – I’m a big-mouth-opener, and much of my life consists of the usually-positive consequences of that.

So this website. It was free for everyone and it cost me a little money in hosting fees. Oh, and it struck a nerve. I worked hard at it, to the point that I started turning away paying work because I needed more time and energy to focus on the Free. Many people thought I was nuts. But I had a feeling and my partner was supportive, and I went with it.

About nine months after I started the site I got an email from a major book publisher asking if I would like to write a book. That came with money.

A couple of months after that I got an email from a smaller book publisher asking if I’d like to write a book. That one also came with money.

A few months after that I was asked if I’d like to write a magazine column. Yeah, I got paid for that.

Each of the two books had a follow-up book that also involved money.

Then I started talking to a third publisher about writing a book inspired by the website that started it all. I and all the people who had contributed to that website for free got paid for that book work.

Oh, then there was the full-time job I got.

And then there’s the money I made when I sold the website after I totally burned myself out. And now, after nearly six years, I’m on the other side of that adventure, working in a different industry and back to doing free stuff in crafts. Don’t think for a minute I don’t hope that some amazing opportunities might come my way at some point. I totally hope for that. But I do it because I love writing about crafts and I love making stuff, and I do it because I love the community I’m a part of and I love getting to know even more people in it. I do it because I’m just so damn stimulated by the people I get to work with.

So, yes. I’m back to doing things like meeting deadlines I don’t get paid to meet. Those hard-numbers business types probably look at me and see some bubble-headed bleach blonde who threw away a career to do stuff that doesn’t even have a business model. And that’s okay. (I think those business types lack imagination to the point that they probably don’t even think pandas on the internet are adorable. Whatever. I’ll always be an orange to their apples.)

Of course, along the way I turned down some opportunities, too. Not all things that come with cash are the right things. And seriously, if I hadn’t been wearing my giant bedazzled cajones the day I got that first email from an editor – if I’d let my inexperience in the industry keep me timid – I wouldn’t have written the two books that continue to pay me four years after they first came out.

So don’t be frustrated when we advocates of Free tell you not to worry about the money. Of course you’re worried about the money. Don’t quit your day job, okay? But as you continue on your path of Free, keep your eyes peeled for those shiny opportunities, and when the right ones come along work very hard to get them, and insist on getting paid well.

51 responses to “That Woo-Woo Money Thing”

  1. plainsight Avatar

    So true, Kim! I You've really nailed it, I think with the opportunity thing. Free in my case began with my blog, then CrochetMe (yay, thanks!) and then book editors came to ME asking me to write books. I'm a magazine editor most likely because of the free. So, I have to remember that when I go giving stuff away.

  2. courtney johnston Avatar

    Love this post!
    “I’m a big-mouth-opener, and much of my life consists of the usually-positive consequences of that”
    best line I've heard all week :)

  3. Lindsey Avatar

    unfortunately I got laid off from my day job, but I do try to think positive and continue on my path of free in the hopes that eventually things will work out. And I do keep my eyes peeled for the shiny…

    thanks for keeping the hope alive that things can work out :)

  4. Luna Ortiz Avatar

    As always made me giggle, while speaking a truth I know to BE.

  5. SisterDiane Avatar

    Sha-BLAM! Excellent summation of how “the money will follow” really works. Thanks so much for this post, Kim. I'll add a link to this on my post at M&M.

  6. pauloverton Avatar

    “bedazzled cajones” FTW! Werker, you rock!

  7. Kim Werker Avatar

    I'm sorry you were laid off, Lindsey. Do keep thinking positive, and
    remember that staying afloat is far more important than staying true
    to Free. Free, by its nature, is unpredictable.

  8. Kim Werker Avatar

    Thanks for starting and nurturing such a meaty discussion, Diane!

  9. Lindsey Avatar

    Too true. I job search every day, but things are really difficult right now and the more I search the more frustrated I get. But I split my time between the Free and the job searching in hopes that one or the other will work out eventually.

  10. haley Avatar

    Thanks so much for this post! It's a big inspiration to me. I feel like there are so few people in my non-internet world that don't understand me and why I do the things I do. But here, I know there is a place where the people get it.

  11. meetmeatmikes Avatar

    So true. Give for the love of giving. Share for the love of sharing. Teach for the love of teaching. Do it all with good humour and heart and the rest will follow. 'The rest' part is different for everyone, because success has many different forms, money being only a sliver of the 'pie' (all though it would be nice to pay the rent easily just once!).

    For me, success is about being generous and growing as a person. Not just about financial gain.

    One thing really does lead to another. In my case my shop lead me to write a blog, which lead me to write a book, which lead me to write for other publications, which lead me to write another book, all the while giving heaps of Free and Nice.

    I get to meet great people and improve my skills all the time. And I never know what will happen next! Which is great and scary! All this comes from just putting stuff out there without expectation. So do that! Do Free! Just for fun. Not for gain.


  12. Amy Avatar

    thanks for the inspiration today!! i've been turning down paid work to work on “the free” lately – but holding it all in open hands… so whatever happens, happens. i am benefiting big time from being plugged in to the handmade community – just by the great energy that surrounds it – and the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself – with a lot of people who share similar values…. where it's going? i'm not sure… but just being part of things lets me dream and think of ways to partner with others to see certain ideas (even ideologies) move forward – and the good that could result. and i'm happier and more creative for it. thanks again :)

  13. SonyaP Avatar

    Your experience really hits home. I'm a fiber artist and I've done a few local open studios. I've noticed that several times in talking with studio mates, they say things like, “Oh, I'm not going to show, I never make back what I put in.” I sold all of one thing the last one I did. But I gained great exposure, met lots of people and initiated them into the wonderful world of fiber, as well as exposure and contacts. I got an opportunity to curate a fiber-related show and have another exciting potential offer in the works. At least it's all related in my mind – reaping more rewards than just financial. And no, not quitting my day job!

  14. TheCraftyRetailer Avatar

    Brilliant! You nailed it! I blog because I love it. I give away patterns because I am excited about what I am doing and want to ignite the spark in others. Genuine passion—and a healthy dose of hard work— shine through and lead to many good things, including financial remuneration. The deal is…the quest for the cash cannot be the primary motivator for the freebie…totally transparent, smarmy, and ineffective in the long run.

  15. futuregirl Avatar

    I am 100% all about the free. I love posting tutorials, patterns, and other free stuff. I don't sell a thing on my site. I love giving things away, and I love all the wonderful things I've received in return. I am winging it with my whole heart, but I also must say in a loud and confident voice, “The rent must be paid!”

    I feel like a wet blanket at a bonfire party here. Will there ever be opportunitites that I'll be able to take advantage of that will pay off for me? It's hard enough to write my blog and two posts for MM every month. Will my need for rent (and food, etc) hobble me? I hope not, but I fear it will.

  16. Zachary McInchak Avatar

    This post is so inspiring!

    Oddly enough, I think I've been on this 'free' path for a little while now. I've had a lot of success with it as an artist, getting opportunities to show my work at different galleries. The paying opportunities haven't come down the line yet, but I think it will happen soon.

    This is so refreshing to read, though. It's not very often that you read about people who see the other side of the coin and defend it. Awesome.

  17. Kim Werker Avatar

    That's that magic internet thing so many people don't understand — that it's possible to form real, important relationships online. I'm SO glad you feel understood here! I know very intimately how great that feels.

  18. Kim Werker Avatar

    A while back, someone accused me of being fake nice. I can't remember the exact circumstances, but the context was something along the lines of, “she wants something in return, that nice she's putting out there is FAKE.” I was appalled. And then I remember pacing in my living room and eventually blurting out, “Oh for god's sake, I'm just a fucking nice person!” And then I laughed so hard I cried and I let the whole thing go.

    You can tell when someone's being fake; certainly something I love so much about our community online is that so *few* people are fake. It really is full of people who share and have fun and do it because they enjoy doing and because they enjoy doing it with other people.

    At the bottom of that love-heap is an awful lot of smart business thinking, too. Which is, you know, very important too. :)

    Anyway, I think the point I'm really trying to get at is that I'm sending you a big happy hug from a ridiculous distance away, just because I want to and because I'm so enjoying getting to know you better.

    And now I'm a little embarrassed at my public gushing. So I'll shut up now.

  19. Kim Werker Avatar

    Amy, your blog is gorgeous! Thanks for chiming in here. I love what you said about being a part of something bigger than you, even though you don't know where it's going. I feel that way, too. It's like a Ouija board.

  20. Kim Werker Avatar

    What's “right” changes over time. Hopefully, in a few years your day job will be ancient history and you'll be too busy working on your art to participate in shows that don't turn a profit. :)

  21. Kim Werker Avatar

    I totally hear your fear, Alice. I toyed with going into more specifics in this post, but decided to save it. I'll write in the next few days about my thoughts on waiting for those opportunities. They can come out of the blue, but there's also good work you can put in to make them materialize.

  22. knitgrrl Avatar

    And I probably wouldn't have met you if it hadn't been for the books and our editor introducing us and yay internet and hurray! So I love the internet and the free and the everything because it made me friends with you!

  23. Kim Werker Avatar

    Ha! Aw. Love right back atcha, baby.

  24. futuregirl Avatar

    That would be awesome, Kim! I can't wait to hear what you have to say. I'm not afraid of a little work. Or a lot of work! :)

  25. plainsight Avatar

    It can be frustrating, eh, Alice–especially because YOU are bringing opportunities to so many. I know it sounds “woo woo” all over again, but I think it really helps to have a clear intention set about what you'd like that opportunity to be. (i.e. do you want a book deal? Do you want a crafty job with a company?) Having that clear idea in your head makes you more aware when glimmers of opportunities appear. That is not to say that they're always there at the right time!

  26. cynthiaf Avatar

    Awesome post and I totally believe in the free- just with my connection with you back when we first met & I did some illos for you, then on to doing them for your incredible books- you are just too for school Kim! I always like to think of it as building up your good karma bank, help someone out and they'll help you out, like that commercial “and they'll tell 2 friends, and so on and so on…”.
    Some people just don't get it why I do what I do, but doing it my way has paid off, I could finally quit my crappy job and move on to have my own company doing what I do and what I love.
    You are truly amazing and a wonderful person and I'm so glad to call you my friend!
    xo Cynthia

  27. Kim Werker Avatar

    Thanks so much, Cynthia. I often tell our story when I talk about this with people — and your name comes up when friends I've sent to you excitedly show me their new business cards and things! Can you believe it's been – what? – *five years* since we met? I'm glad we're friends, too. :)

  28. cynthiaf Avatar

    Yay!! I always tell people about it too! You never know what will happen….! And yes, wow 5 years!!

  29. Amy Avatar

    Thanks Kim!! A friend shared this quote with me today – and it sums it up so well for me: “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties” (Enrich Fromm)

    I love certainty but these days letting go of some has proven to be worth it! It's great that so many of us have decided to enter this space together.

  30. futuregirl Avatar

    Snap! That was the missing piece snapping into place! I think that's where a lot of my frustration comes from … having an overwhelming desire with no clear, focusing intentions. That gives me something to think about!

  31. plainsight Avatar

    Oh good! I've been doing a bit of soul-searching lately too with regard to
    my blog, and this week's discussion has been a great help. Thanks, Kim for
    the platform!

  32. blondechicken Avatar

    All of this was so spot-on, but the part that will stick with me is that I need to remember to have my “giant bedazzled cajones” strapped on, at all times.


  33. Kim Werker Avatar

    Maybe take them off for bathing and sleeping. Just a suggestion.

  34. Heather Avatar

    Kim, I emailed you shortly after hearing your interview on Craftypod and you responded with such positive enthusiasm. Now, not a month later, I've lost my day job but am really excited. As I pursue finding a job to pay the rent I am also pursuing my dedication to this idea of “free”. I've got a very specific idea for something right up this alley and am just amazed to have listened to the “free” podcast on Craftypod and seen the ad for the upcoming “free” web-event. There's that synchronicity, just have to see it for what it is when it's starring right at you. Then go get those “giant bedazzled cajones”, strap them on and walk through the new open door! Thanks again and I look forward to this continuing conversation.

  35. Kim Werker Avatar

    I'm sorry to hear about your day job, Heather, but your enthusiasm for what
    comes next is totally contagious. I can't wait to learn what you're up to!

  36. michelle hartney Avatar

    Love what you wrote. So inspiring!

  37. Elisabeth Avatar

    Very inspiring, not to mention well-written and informative. While willy-nilly Free might not be the wisest marketing solution, I love seeing that optimistic, calculating, and happy Free have worthwhile outcomes!

  38. averagejanecrafter Avatar

    Oh, Kim! I love this so much! Especially this part:

    The money doesn’t really just materialize, though. There’s one thing you have to do to get the money: seize (the right) opportunities when they come around. You don’t need to have an air-tight business model if you don’t want one. Free involves deliberately winging it. With a good emphasis on the deliberate AND on being comfortable winging it.

    This is exactly how I live my life (and, funny – I never know how to explain it to people, so I'll be quoting you for years. thanks!) I'm a self-described Opportunity Junkie. I worked for years at various jobs, trying to force myself into what I thought I *should* do and what would be best for everyone else in my life. Just a few short years ago, I dropped all that and started living with the supreme focus of …. having FUN and doing what makes me giddy. The opportunities began to fall upon my head more quickly than I could keep up, and I now delight in just kind of living … well, by the seat of my pants. Working hard, being nice, and being open to the opportunities that come my way. It's great.

    The part I have a harder time with, though, and need to work on is this:
    But as you continue on your path of Free, keep your eyes peeled for those shiny opportunities, and when the right ones come along work very hard to get them, and insist on getting paid well.

    The getting “paid well” part always eludes me. I make money, but not anywhere near the range of close to what we'd need to live on. I can do what I love to do, because my husband has a job that primarily supports us. (and, incidentally, makes him miserable) So we're in a strange place: trying to find what can make both of us happy and still – realistically – support the family's financial needs. I've realized I need to get better at not just finding/following opportunities, but finding a way to be paid what I'm worth when I blow them out of the water.

    These discussions have been so fantastic – bless you guys for always being great examples and supporters of community and vibrant discussions! You rock! XOXOX

  39. flyTie Avatar

    enjoyable and very relevant read!

  40. Gracie Designs Avatar

    This was inspiring and incredibly well written. I enjoyed every word. I am not a great writer, I am a talker, and I can't seem to get those two things to dance very well together. I am scaling down on the blogging and using more of the Social Networking, but I hate the “look at me” ways to promote myself. Annnnd I hate to read those types of promotion as well. So, I'm looking for ways to branch out that are a bit different, but closer to my comfort zone. This post really hit a nerve, a good nerve, to focus less on the “marketing” aspect and more on the sharing of me. I stumbled upon this article, and I'm so glad I did. I have a lot to ponder, while I sew my little heart out. Thank You!

  41. Kim Werker Avatar

    Thanks so much for your comment, Gracie. And you know, when it comes to blogging or any other social media, the stuff that's most fun to read is the stuff that's written as if someone were just speaking right to you. So don't hold it against yourself that you're a good talker but aren't as comfortable writing! As you relax into sharing yourself, you might find your speaking voice comes out through letters quite beautifully.

  42. carolbrowne Avatar

    Thank you for this. It makes me feel better. And when you mentioned turning down paid work so you had more time for doing your “free” stuff, I feel that same way, too. I thought I was being irresponsible, but now I think I'm just supposed to be taking photos and blogging. And keeping my day job. Which is something I didn't want to admit.

  43. bridgetb Avatar

    YES!! That's it . . . BRILLIANT!!!

    Thank you.

  44. Leigh Ann Tennant Avatar

    I love this discussion, Kim! I found this post via Craftypod and I can't tell you how powerful I've found the “element of free” to be in my own experience! It only takes one e-mail or call from one person with one great opportunity to change your life! The wider you cast your “net of free” the more likely it is for that fat profit fish to swim into it!

  45. Leigh Ann Tennant Avatar

    I love this discussion, Kim! I found this post via Craftypod and I can't tell you how powerful I've found the “element of free” to be in my own experience! It only takes one e-mail or call from one person with one great opportunity to change your life! The wider you cast your “net of free” the more likely it is for that fat profit fish to swim into it!

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  49. Mary anne Avatar

    Thanks for the inspiration this morning!  Great article. 

  50. ciuliso1996 Avatar

    Recently I was REALLY low on cash and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money.. on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills!! I’m so glad, I did this! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – t6ax

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