I wrote last week about some neglected and hacked blogs. Thankfully that's all resolved now. It's been a diversion I could have done without, but gave me a good reason to clear out some “no longer used” blogs. However I didn't elaborate on the story behind one of them – the free business website I did for a friend.

Working For Free

Cost of a WebsiteA very good friend was starting a small business, and I was just starting blogging. This was several years ago. So I offered to create a free business website for her. A blog of course.

I worked hard on that and came up with a rather nice, if I say it myself, blog. She was duly grateful and together we brainstormed ideas for possible posts – which my friend (let's call her Mary) then decided she didn't have time or inclination to produce, because she was tied up with other aspects of the new business.

So I put the posts up for her. I should have seen the signs….

The blog was locally targeted and achieved a decent ranking. It actually out-ranked Mary's chief competitor which gave us both a giggle, and gave me confidence in my skills.

Still, making blog posts eluded her. So I set up a Twitter account for her and a Facebook account, hoping these would be simpler for her to use. Nope.

As I got busier and busier, I could no longer continue working for free, but as Mary was having family health issues at the time I didn't want to add to her woes. So I made no further new posts and maintained the blog “every so often” when WordPress updates became available.

Mary got customers from her blog while I was actively updating and promoting it, and I hadn't even implemented half the knowledge I've learned in the intervening years. If I were to review it myself now, with my increased skill levels, there's lots more I could suggest to improve it.

But I can, no WILL, no longer work for free.

Free Business Websites Are Not Valued

Err – did I mention that Mary's blog was hosted on my own hosting account and I bought her the domain as part of her birthday present? No, I thought I forgot that LOL.

You may chocoffee-mugose to associate the mug of coffee attached to this post with the one by my side as I write… or you may attach an altogether different connotation to it 🙂

When the site got hacked I spent quite a long time trying to fix it, but once neglected it proved harder than expected to get rid of the intruders and I was back to working unpaid on someone else's free business website – at the expense of time spent implementing plans for my own business and probably at the expense of my health, as I'm known for my late nights in front of the computer.

So I plucked up the courage to tell Mary that her site had been hacked and I couldn't keep on putting time in to repair it. Her response: “Oh well never mind, we can start a new one.”

WE? Err, who exactly was going to “start a new one”?

Of course, being me, I didn't say what I thought – but I did manage to say that there had been hours involved in setting it up and there would be hours involved in “starting a new one”. Hours that I am now too busy to donate for free. So she said “Oh, OK, well get rid of it then.” Just like that. As if it was a scrap of note-paper I'd scribbled a shopping list on. OUCH. I was hurt.

Mary is a very kind lady and a true friend, so I'm sure her intention was to stop me feeling pressured to put in more free hours, but I was left thinking….

So much for the value of a free website.

Revaluing My Skills

This left me feeling pretty down – and, it has to be said, guilty that I neglected her site and didn't “educate her better”.

Then, visiting some of my favorite blogs over the week I came across a great post on Carol Amato's blog about missing your audience by Don Purdum of Unveil The Web. (By the way – thanks for the mention, Carol, for Edward Thorpe of Far Side Of 55 and I.) Cluster of links there – but they're all well-deserved!

In my comment to Don's post I mentioned that I saw “what I do” as “helping small businesses”. Don replied, suggesting that instead of thinking of myself as “helping” (which entrepreneurs might fight – for fear of loss of control) a better thought would be:

“I'm in the business of transforming the experience entrepreneurs have online…” That mindset is more inspiring, engaging and leads to a more passionate statement coming from you to them that they can embrace.

And believe it or not, changing my thinking in that way has, instantly, given me so much more confidence in my own abilities.

So What Changed?

Instead of just taking the blog down – which to me was admitting defeat – I composed an email to Mary explaining that I couldn't keep on working for free and suggesting that SHE takes a paid subscription to WordFence (less than £1 a week) to protect her blog. I also showed her the monthly price of a typical Blog Management service.

If you're expecting me to say that Mary saw the light and stumped up for the paid service, I have to disappoint you here. But the take-away message isn't about Mary's business, it's about mine and maybe yours…..

I have stopped thinking that I need to work for free and have started valuing my online skills. (I already have no hesitation in charging a good market-rate hourly fee in my offline business.)

It's not as if I haven't written before on the cost of running a successful blog!

As I reflect on how my skills have developed since I did the “free business website” for Mary, I now feel confident in charging for my online services too. (Especially armed with the story of the hours wasted by relying on a neglected / free blog.)

A Win-Win Solution

Instead of just “giving up” when Mary suggested taking down the blog, I have come up with a solution that is more tailored to Mary's empty pocket and lack of interest in blogging, but preserves my pride, and uses some of the content from the original blog.

FB_180Another service my business offers is the development of mobile friendly websites. So I am preparing for Mary, a mobile website to replace the blog.

No – she's not paying me for it LOL. But my pay-back is:

  • I haven't left a really good friend stranded with no site
  • I am freed from the free blog maintenance issue
  • I can use Mary's site as a reference site for new clients

In addition to learning to value my skills, in the future I will remember that if a business owner isn't prepared to invest time or money into their online business, it's better to work with them on a different solution rather than leave them with a neglected free business website.

Over To You…

Have you ever done a free business website for a friend or family member and regretted it later?