Just because you run a community focused business, it doesn't mean you can't pay people who help you build it.

I had strong ethics when building up Ministry of Testing and always felt uncomfortable asking people to do stuff without being paid. Now that the world has gone community crazy, I look around me and see everyone expecting people to donate their time for free.

Now, I'm not saying you should charge for everything you do. And doing stuff for free is ok, typically for non-commercial, or non-profit type situations. But if you run a community, that is making money, or you plan to make money, please don't expect to build real value on free labor. There are just so many reasons this is a bad idea.

As a community strategy, can we all agree that this isn't the way to go?

But I live in hope, after seeing the below tweet.

Hopefully, as communities become more valuable and get more budget behind them, the businesses behind them can truly invest and support the people that help them grow.

Examples of free labor

The most popular kind of things that I see as free labor are:

  • speaking engagements
  • delivering workshops
  • writing or content creating
  • hosting events
  • jumping on a call for an hour for advice ("can I pick your brain")

And not paying for time is often justified by saying things like:

  • the exposure is priceless
  • but you get an inbound link and can promote your thing
  • we don't pay people, but we make up for it by giving scholarships away

Why paying people just makes sense

There are so many good reasons to pay people, here are some that come to mind:

  • When people are paid, they become more accountable and are much more likely to put in more effort to do a great job. This means an easier life for you
  • It actually helps diversity, not everyone can afford to do work for free, by paying people it levels the playing field.
  • It shows you have respect and value the people you work with
  • It will keep people coming back, especially if you can create an overall positive experience
  • And honestly, it's just the right thing to do

How we paid people at Ministry of Testing

At Ministry of Testing I always felt uncomfortable making asks of people unless I was paying them something. In my view it just felt wrong that I was not sharing the financial rewards with the community. It was far from perfect, but we tried and it was part of our culture.

We did things like:

  • speaker expenses: we didn't have keynote speakers, every speaker was the same, every speaker had their travel expenses covered
  • hosting online events: we've consistently done at least a couple of online events per month, most of these have been hosted by a community member and had guest speakers. We've always paid both of these people and had paid staff to help manage the technical and marketing aspect of the event.
  • conferences collaboration: as we grew our conferences we worked with people from the community to help us bring the events to new locations. The people we worked with got an agreed profit share.
  • online course revenue share: our community creates courses and they get a share of the revenue.
  • paying our conference hosts: each of our conferences had a host for the day, they've always been paid, it's a big role
  • workshops and training courses: always paid, always, always! We experiemented with profit sharing and set fees over the years. A set fee is much easier to manage.
  • giving scholarships: this isn't strictly paying, but it's also something we've openly done.

Some things we learned along the way:

  • in the testing world many people can just expense their costs to their company, many speakers did this over the years and also were never interested in money.
  • when expenses or money was turned down, we would put it into a 'scholarship money pot' so we could pay it forward
  • people took note of our generosity and copied us, often pooling together as a community to buy tickets to give away. This often took place over Twitter, which doubles up (imho) as 'good feels marketing', even if that was never our intention.
  • often instead of payment people would request free tickets to give away

Creating a Community Rider

There's been a trend over the past few years for speakers of conferences to create a 'Speaker Rider'. These are basically their personal guidelines and requests for accepting to speak at conferences. Mostly people create them with the intention to try to create a fairer and more diverse conferences.

Here are some examples:

Really, what I think we now need is a 'Community Rider', or some kind of declaration of how we would like to engage with communities and the kind of things we are striving for.

I definitely think there is room to do this both from the community person's perspective and from that of the 'community owner'.

I haven't personally done that just yet, but I think I will make it a future little project. πŸ™πŸ½

How can we build better communities?

We are on a quest to learn and explore what makes great communities.


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