When Should You Write For Free?
Did you know that the main reason why word-nerds are deterred from becoming writers and bloggers, or why current writers feel compelled to give up on their craft, is because of the excessive amount of unsolicited requests asking you to write for free, or for “exposure”? Your instincts tell you to run away and hide, knowing full-well that there is no exposure, and that the assurance of “future work” is nothing more than empty, misleading words. It's quite demeaning sometimes, actually.
But, when paying clients are reminiscent of a tumbleweed in a lonely desert, when is it time to leave your pride at the door and take up the offer of free exposure?
Short answer: never.
Longer answer: it depends.
Long-but-actually-short answer: okay, let’s discuss this is more detail.
When there really is exposure
99% of the time there simply is no exposure, I’m just going to confirm that for you right now. Of course, some companies do have a large following, but they do little to ensure that your work receives a fair amount of exposure and praise, because their main concern is marketing the article/content itself (that you wrote…for free).
Yeah, not very nice.
Don’t automatically say “yes” to big companies expecting terrific results, because this is rarely the case. Ask them what kind of exposure you should expect and what do they do to generate this exposure for you. Exposure is not automatic.
“What about smaller blogs/companies?”
Most of the time they have nothing to offer you — walk away.
“But what about that 1%?”
Okay, well, some large companies really do appreciate their writers. They’ll share the content on social media with your @twitter handle — they’ll make your author bio stand out — they’ll let you mention your website in the article as long as it’s relevant.
Do your research first!
When you’re building a new blog
Sometimes, the client will want you to write about their company/service on your blog. If they’re a well-known company with a huge following, then it's very likely that they have the money to pay you, so the next question becomes this:
“What’s in it for them?”
If you’re a small-time blogger, the answer to that is quite obvious — almost nothing. Your article could be a little bit of PR for them, but that’s pretty much it. So, if they ask you to write for free, or even if you approach them, make sure that you go about it the right way. Remember, if you have nothing to offer, the big company is taking as much risk as you are, so come up with a solution that works for you both.
- Write the article on your blog, not theirs
- Ensure that the exposure is worth it for you
- If you’re distributing a product, offer it to subscribers only
Tip: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying "no" and walking away from the big guys, but leaving the door open for a future collaboration.
When you’re going the extra mile
If you have a client that’s been treating you exceptionally well (i.e. paying invoices on time, showing genuine excitement, collaborating with you, etc), but your contract is coming to an end, writing some free content is a show-don’t-tell way of letting them know that you have more tricks up your sleeve. Example: I once wrote an ebook for a client, but after writing up an article that was very well-received, I secured an ongoing gig writing for their blog, long after the ebook was released.
You deserve to be compensated fairly for your hard work — if that compensation is exposure, make sure that it’s good exposure. If you’re finding it hard to secure work, try these methods first. Exposure should be an occasional benefit, not a last resort.
Advice #1: write about a company that you've always wanted to work for — this will steal their attention — bonus points for high-traffic!
Advice #2: outright ask for work in Facebook Groups — clearly state your desired salary and remember to back up your fee by articulating your value.
Advice #3: reach out to companies that you want to work for with a small collaborative idea — this will lay the groundwork for an ongoing contract later on.
Hope this helps!
Last week I created a Slack community for writers and bloggers. So far, more than 2,000 messages have been exchanged, two writers have been hired, and exciting friendships have been made. Want an invite? drop me a message with your email.