Our First Annual “Shareholders Meeting”

September 2nd, 2010 - filed under: Furthermore » Feedback

It could be the turning of yet another season, or maybe it’s because my entire world has changed this year. Maybe it’s just this summer bug I’m fighting, but lately I’ve found myself especially reflective. And since it’s officially Get Out The Bonzai month, I figured it was the perfect time to share some of my thoughts. Afterall, I’ve always said that my role here is just to facilitate discussion. My goal is to create community and a safe space for growth. And the way to accomplish that is to be as honest and forthright as possible, yes?

It’s sometimes difficult to balance this blog, which is my passion, with other aspects of my life – namely earning income. It goes without saying that my family comes first, and mothering/partnering will be my number one priority. If only this blog could always be number two!

In the past I’ve been open about my ambition to monetize BA. It’s not my driving purpose here (of course), but I sure wouldn’t shy away from it. Every dollar required to live my life is time taken away from this space. If BA could do a bit to earn its keep, that would change a lot. And becoming a mommy has made my time more precious than ever. Sometimes I find myself asking a very difficult question: is blogging like this really sustainable for me?

I firmly believe in NPR (National Public Radio), PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service), and CSAs (community supported agrigulture), which is why I’ve been operating under a model I call USB – User Supported Blogging. That means that I’ve eschewed advertising dollars and instead relied on contributions from my readers (via my wishlist and the tip jar → ). I am so incredibly grateful for every gift I’ve received, but the undeniable truth is that donations won’t really bridge that financial gap.

Right now I work for my $crilla and I blog for love, and those two investments become competing factions in the ”War On Sayward’s Time”. And since family always come first, and since the sad truth is I do *need* to make money, in the end it’s the blog that suffers.

My ultimate dream is to someday marry my income obligations to that which brings me true joy. In other words, I’d love Bonzai Aphrodite to become lucrative, so that I could channel all of my extra energy right here. I have such Big Dreams and Grand Plans (yes capitals!) for this project, if only I could devote the time!

I’m not trying to get rich. I don’t make much money right now and I don’t need that much to maintain my lifestyle. But, well, a girl’s gotta eat. (And this girl’s gotta eat organic!) Life costs money, and I do need some.

So here’s where I would love some input. I’m decidedly disinterested in hosting advertisements, but I have been considering ‘sponsorship’. Essentially, featuring a company whose product and ethics I can completely get behind.

Do you see a distinction between advertisers and sponsors? Do you think allowing sponsorship would compromise the integrity of the site? (Or conversely, would you appreciate being exposed to responsible, green businesses?)

I’ve also considered other avenues of income via BA, such as selling quality merchandise like tees and totes. (Which, personally, I think could be so fun!) How would you feel if I offered BA-inspired garments and goodies? Would you be interested in buying them, or do you feel like our relationship would change if I were “selling something”?

My integrity is more important to me than anything. I always want you to trust that I’m operating above board and in honor of the principles I advocate. So I put it to you, my readers, my community, my ‘shareholders’ – what do you think?

This meeting is now called to order . . .

  • Saundra

    Many of these ideas are great I know that I couldn’t afford a monthly fee but if I had any extra I would donate to ur site for the quality info I get on here. And I might buy some merchandise and would def. be ok with ads or sponsers kinda like PBS/sesame street has with companies that u could consciencly back like ur giveaways are say what u like don’t like about the company with like a special sponser button area? Maybe u could have a po box where those of us who don’t have bank accounts and can’t do electronic purchases could send donations/things we buy or make for u… Just a couple ideas

  • Melisa

    I am a podcast addict, so I’d be down with that. And I’m old-fashioned in that I’m not big on Ebooks, so a real, live zine would be spectacular! And shirts! Hurry! Shirts!

  • http://twitter.com/erosan erosan

    @Melisa: a bit offtopic, but… what kind of podcasts do you hear? so far I’ve only found 3 podcasts I enjoy enough to listen to them on a constant basis: Buzz Out Loud (Cnet’s tech news), Radiolab (THE best one out there, science) and Olallo Rubio’s podcast (in spanish, its funny, but I think they are not producing new episodes).

    I’d love to discover some new good ones… recommendations?

  • Kelly H.

    Whatever you create to sell, YES please Upcycle, Recycle, organicycle and…100% American please. No foreign-made tees for example. We need to support our own economy and creativity! You have inspired so many of us to be minimalistic and keep things local…I trust whatever you do you will keep all those things in mind.

    I am also impressed by this feedback. Thanks everyone!

  • Melisa

    @erosan: I LOVE RadioLab!! I also listen to: Studio 360, This American Life, E-Town, Savage Love (this one is only for those who don’t mind saucy talk), Rachel Maddow, Fresh Air, Planet Money, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a few of Slate magazine’s podcasts, The Bugle (this is a HILARIOUS one, in my humble opinion), and The Moth.

  • Kate

    Here on my thoughts on paid portions of the site:

    If it’s structured like BackyardChickens.com, it’s probably ok: http://www.backyardchickens.com/gfm.html
    (“Member” is a registered user of the site)

    As for new features requiring membership, it depends on what they are. If it’s content related, then I would be upset. If it’s things like a fancy username, or more of a ‘trusted user’ (where you get to be an admin or something) I could care less about that stuff.

    As for honor system….I wouldn’t like that. :-( I think it’s either some one is a member and pays for that, or they are not a member. Like you said, your time costs money, and the whole reason you are monetizing your site is so that you can live off this. As generous as it is that you would like to offer those who can’t the ability to be ‘exclusive’….well…it just doesn’t sit right with me. I feel like sponsorship, or a pledge drive toward a goal, is something that’s ‘sliding scale’ in nature. Perhaps today I can give $50, but tomorrow I can only give $1. I feel the only way to be generous to those who can’t afford is to provide the true essence of the site for free (ie, the content). That’s why I would rather not see content be in the ‘exclusive’ part of your site. Does that make sense? I hope so, it’s tricky to explain why it sits weird with me…

    Yes, charge for your ebooks, absolutely. If some one can’t afford it, and they REALLY needed it, and couldn’t figure out the book from your site, then I’m sure they’d reach out to you to let you know they’re in a bind, but would appreciate your generosity.

    Also, as for Organic Cotton – it takes a LOT of water to grow cotton, and the dyes are often very toxic. There are much better alternatives to cotton! When sourcing….I’d love to see hemp clothes! Hemp the wonderplant, yay! :-D

  • jenny b

    Hi Honey,
    Check our Soul Mama’s Blog, if you haven’t already. She has put together two books and makes money that way…very cool books,
    I own both. http://www.soulemama.com/

  • http://indiearsenal.com Farmingtheburbs

    Trust your instincts, take what your readers say and weigh it with what your goals and needs are, and take the plunge. I like the allrecipes.com model where basically everything is available but advanced functionality and searching comes with a very small subscription, 2 years is 22 bucks and there is a little “gift”, a shopping bag.

    My husband and I are in the same space with our business, Indie Arsenal which is my husband’s passion, not his main source of income (a freelance website designer and developer). We are going to roll out paid membership (everything has been free for 2 years). We have online and offline components and we do have some overhead. We have over 500 members, almost 6. My hubby has a hard time finding time for it because it is not paying the bills.

    We do anticipate some members leaving as there are always folks who hope to get stuff for free but to be honest, I don’t think it will be that bad. Of course, membership with our organization will be a business expense and will be so minimal that I think there is an understood value for what we offer.

    All that said, there has been a big push for free content and I think that era is coming to a close. With so many sites trying to keep their doors open, free is becoming a thing of the past and users are slowly starting to cough up some dough.

    My only warning is to make sure your product is sustainable and within your ability to produce, aka the one of a kind t-shirts. I would consider more passive avenues at the start (like paid membership (what is 1 dollar a month to basically all of us?), or a pledge drive.

    I didn’t read all the other posts but I was getting the impression that most readers are all for you making some dough on this awesome sight. Don’t worry, whatever you try may not work or may need tweaking but you will surely find out how to make this work for you and for all of us.

    Thanks for all the work and your passion.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Melisa – omg <3 that podcast list, can’t WAIT to check some of those out!

    @ Kate – Thanks so much for elaborating. Totally makes sense. I can see I have a lot to think about, but I’m certain I can come up with something that pleases everyone. One thing’s for sure – content will always remain free!

    @ Jenny B – Thanks lady, I’ll check those out!

    @ Farmingtheburbs – Awesome comment, thank you. And good luck to you! It sounds like you’ve got a great plan though, so hopefully no luck needed. =)

  • Melisa

    Oh, Sayward, start with the Bugle. (Timesonline.co.uk)