What's the Payoff?
The problem with the enthusiastic view is that you won't determine if the venture does offer your business anything. As I've mentioned, exposure for its own sake does nothing. It only makes sense as part of a planned business if your potential clients (whether a corporation or an editor or someone who might be part of your audience) see it and if the exposure helps to positively market your work. If the venture is simply low paying, then you must decide if there is really something of value, or if you are wasting time that might be better spent elsewhere.
Now that we've spent some time I've worn the glasses of the pessimists, let's look at the other view. It's great if you can predict that a venture will turn into a significant revenue stream, or lead to better paying work, but sometimes there is no way to know in advance. At best, you may only be able to use the clips as examples of your work and/or expertise in a given area, which might lead to better assignments, or the connections you make in covering an area may pay off in other venues. There is also the question of whether you just want to write about a given area for your own pleasure and don't care about payment.
So, when it comes to speculative ventures, I'd suggest the following approach:
- Determine if the subject and format are ones that you would enjoy doing anyway. If the answer is truly yes, and not an affirmative that is really rationalization, then you have some benefit no matter how the money comes out.
- Take a look at the venture and determine what skills and knowledge areas you might gain, and then do research to see if there might be some advantage to them. For example, learning to use a blogging system in a mechanical way isn't of that much value. But if you pick up how to embed online references, control such aspects of formatting as italics or bold, and learn how to set up tables and embed images, then you have skills that will make doing online work easier, and possibly increase your marketability with clients.
- Consider the market for this type of work. Are the rates reasonable? Or are you effectively learning to use a word processor to become the high tech equivalent of a typist? If there is the opportunity to make significant money, then you might have a solid financial reason to start. However, realize that most new undertakings don't succeed. You need a realistic estimate of the chance that the venture will thrive and deliver what you anticipate. That means don't throw yourself completely into it unless you have the resources to carry you and your business in the meantime.
- If the venture is a new business that you will own - maybe publishing your own blog or specialty web site - then ask if you've factored in the need for marketing the venture as its own entity. You might make money or you might not, but you certainly won't if you aren't promoting the venture to its potential audience. That will require time and could even demand monetary investment. That becomes a counter balance to what you might gain from it.
- Finally you get to the question of the promotional value to you of the venture. This is not an area for feel-good guessing. You must be able to pinpoint what prospects will see it and potentially contact you to do work.