I see a lot of people these days working for very little money. I’m not talking about minimum wage work; that pays a fortune compared to the work I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who write blog articles for content aggregator sites for a dollar for 400 words, take hour-long surveys for $0.50, or do small tasks through sites such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk that pay pennies. In most cases, this type of work isn’t worth your time. If you need to make money, you would be better served by going out and getting a part or full time job, starting your own business, or finding ways to save more money. (If you cut out a $1.00 coupon from the paper for a product you will use, you’ve already made more than most content aggregator sites will pay you for 400 words on a topic and it took you a lot less time.) However, there are cases where working for pennies can actually pay off in the long run. When is it a good idea to work for pennies?
You really love the work: If you have a passion for whatever you’re doing, whether it’s writing or taking surveys, then the tiny amount of money you’re making isn’t the point. You may not be making money, but you are doing something you love which is worth a lot. Even if it takes up a lot of your time and doesn’t pay much, doing something you love is important in life. There’s value in it that goes beyond money.
You’re trying to promote a product: Many people start writing blog articles or doing other activities that don’t pay well when they are trying to promote a product. Maybe you’ve designed a whiz-bang gadget and the only way to get the word out is to write blog posts that mention your gadget. Maybe you’ve written a book and writing blog posts and reviews on your book’s topic helps to get the word out. Maybe giving low paid or free demonstrations of your product will help sales. If your low paid activities move your product, then the pennies you make aren’t the point. You will eventually make money when your gadget sells. The penny work is a means to an end, not the end itself.
You’re trying to build up your name and platform: If you’re trying to become a recognized expert at something, you need to get your name out there. You may do that through low-paid blog posts, giving away your services, or doing low paid or free speaking gigs. Again, the money isn’t the end goal. Your efforts will pay off when you become an expert and you are hired for higher paying jobs and asked to write pieces for high paying publications. The pennies you earn as you build your name are not the reason you’re working. You’re building something for the future.
You believe the work serves a higher purpose: Maybe you write or speak on a topic that you believe the world needs to hear about. Maybe it’s religion, the environment, government issues, or speaking out against a disease or dangerous activity. Whatever the topic, you believe that your efforts can make a difference or change the world. Even if you’re paid pennies it doesn’t matter because what matters is getting the word out. You do the work because you believe there is a higher purpose to it and any money is just a bonus.
You are trying to earn a little extra for a specific goal, not as a
“job”: Sometimes working for pennies can be worthwhile if you’re trying to save up a little extra for a specific goal like a vacation, a new TV, or something else that you just need a little help to get. If you funnel all your pennies into an account for that goal, the work will help you reach your goal a little faster. If you continue to rely on penny work as a source of income, it’s time to think about getting or creating a higher paying job. Penny work is good for making short term goals, but it’s not a good “job.”
When you’re doing penny work you have to remember that your time is worth something, too. We have a limited time on this planet and, for most of us, spending an hour on a survey for $1.00 isn’t worth the loss of other opportunities. There are tons of things you could be doing in the time it takes to do a thirty minute survey that will pay you at a far higher rate, either in actual money or in other ways such as personal fulfillment, time with family, or learning. However, there can be cases where doing penny work is worth it. You just have to understand what it is you’re going to get out of the work that will make it worth giving up other, potentially more lucrative opportunities. If you can see that there is long term value in what you are doing, then it’s worth it. If you can only see that you’re spending an hour writing an article for $1.00, or forty-five minutes doing a survey for $0.75, then it’s time to ask yourself how you can better use that time to either make more money or to enjoy other aspects of your life.