Starting your freelance writing career can be very daunting with many challenges along the way.
One of the most challenging aspects is landing work; gaining clients; winning writing jobs.
What can sometimes make this difficult is that potential clients want to see your portfolio. But hang on! You don’t have one because you’re just starting out! So how are you supposed to get work without a portfolio? And how are you supposed to create a folio without any work?
So, you decide to write for free for a while, until you build up a worthy portfolio to show your potential clients. Right?
Problems when you write for free
While it may seem like an easy solution to your problem, writing for nothing can actually lead to more problems — for you and for your fellow writers.
Problem #1: You set the precedent that you will continue to work for free.
Once a client or editor realises they can get writing from you without paying for it, guess what they’re going to do next time they need something. Yep. Ask you to do it — for free. Why would they begin paying you when you didn’t request payment the first time?
Problem #2: You tell people your work is not valuable
When you don’t place a monetary value on your work, you send a message that you don’t see value in your work. And if you don’t see value, why should they?
Problem #3: Exposure means nothing
Many potential clients will offer you something called ‘exposure’. That is, they will promote your work on their social media channels, etc. While that sounds appealing, ‘exposure’ rarely leads to paid work, because their target market is usually not YOUR target market. Besides, most of us write to make money, and last time I checked, you can’t pay for your groceries or your mortgage with ‘exposure dollars’!
Problem #4: Writing for free actually costs you
You might think you’ve got nothing to lose by writing a few articles for nothing. But how much time do you spend doing that? Time is money. And if you’re not earning money with your writing, then you should be spending time working on tasks that WILL bring you money, or building your business. Don’t use your precious time or your talents making someone else successful at your expense. You’d be better off getting paid employment.
Problem #5: You encourage the exploitation of writers
Every day, in every city, around the world, writers are asked and expected to write for nothing. In short, this is exploitation. When you agree to work for nothing, you’re sending the message that it’s okay to exploit the writing profession in general. Stop doing that.
Problem #6: You undermine the value of artistic industries
Artistic and creative professionals have always struggled to be considered as valuable as other professionals. When you agree to work for free, you contribute to this misunderstanding and perpetuate the problem.
Problem #7: You make it harder for other writers to earn a living
Each time you say ‘yes, I will write for free’, you empower that editor to ask the next writer and the next writer the same thing. Soon, there is a belief amongst editors and businesses, that it’s not necessary to pay for writers, and so they stop investing in the industry.
Problem #8: You contribute to poorer writing standards
You may be a top-notch writer, but not everyone is. When clients no longer believe they have to pay for writing services (see problem #7), they will go looking for people who will write for nothing or for very little. Those who are willing to work under these conditions are usually those who can’t write very well or simply sit and churn out article after article with little thought to the quality of their writing or their target audience. What we are left with, is a bunch of hacks writing content, and poorer writing standards.
Problem #9: You waste your education, experience and talents
How much time and money have you invested in gaining your skills as a writer? How long did your education take? How long have you been honing your craft? Remember, the whole point of gaining professional writing skills was so you could make a career out of it. So why would you suddenly agree to work for no pay, now you’re out on your own?
Some final warnings…
Before I move on to when it is okay to write for free (because sometimes it is), I want to warn you about a couple of tricks found in job ads for writers.
Trick #1: “We aren’t in a position to pay right now, but there is the potential for payment down the track”.
Don’t fall for it. The likelihood of you ending up being paid later on is remote.
Trick #2: “We aren’t currently making a profit right now, so we can’t pay our writers, but you’ll get your work noticed”.
Don’t fall for this one either. That’s like you going into Officeworks and telling them you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, so you can’t afford to buy all the office equipment and stationery you need. So, instead of monetary payment, you’d like to write an article about how awesome they are. Yeah. Not going to happen. Besides, if you landed a position at a not-for-profit organisation, they would still pay you a salary for the work you’d do.
When should you write for free?
Even though there are numerous problems when it comes to ‘gifting’ your writing services to others, there are a couple of circumstances when it is okay.
- You donate your services in-kind for a charitable or community organisation that you feel strongly about.
There is nothing wrong with doing this. Many professional writers donate their services to support charities and their local community groups. It’s no different to volunteering or donating money.
- You provide free writing services as part of an internship.
An internship is a great way to gain experience as a writer and to put together a portfolio. However, under the guise of internships, the person performing the work should be getting the main benefit of the arrangement. Further information about internships (paid and unpaid) can be found at https://www.fairwork.gov.au/pay/unpaid-work/work-experience-and-internships
Finally, I came across this video which may help explain it in real life terms.
Don’t sell yourself short. Your writing is valuable and so is your experience.
If you’re not a writer, but would like to hire me (for money), please contact me. Not only will you receive high-quality writing with exceptional customer service, you’ll be entering a partnership with me which includes a promise to never take your business for granted.