Yes, I Write for Free. Here’s Why.
“Creatives should be paid for their work.”
“The stereotypical starving artist is a myth that needs to die.”
“You can’t pay your rent with exposure bucks.”
I couldn’t agree more with all of the above statements.
I have a very big bone to pick with very large publications that can afford to pay their writers, yet choose not to, because they know they can get away with it.
Having said that, I do write for free, and I believe that there’s a time and a place (actually several times and several places) where writing for free is OK and could even benefit your career. Here are those times.
1. Your Own Blog
I don’t get paid to write this blog. Or this one. But I also get to write however I want about whatever I want. These blogs are places where I hone my writing skills while helping other people start their careers or learn more about topics I’m interested in.
In my opinion, these blogs are more than worth writing for free. And eventually, the blog you’re currently reading will be monetized and will bring some income as well. For now, I’m still working out the kinks (thanks for your patience).
2. When You Need Samples
These days, to get a decent job anywhere, you need to show you have some experience in the field. The way most people get this experience is by volunteering somewhere. Writing is no different.
In order to consider your pitch, most publications will want to see that you’ve been published elsewhere first. That’s when writing for free can come in handy. It’s usually easier to get into a publication that does not pay than to get into one that pays well.
Having said that, there are definitely places that will pay writers who don’t have previous experience, but your pitch and article need to be absolutely excellent. Thus, make sure you self-edit and hire an editor if you can.
3. When it’s for a cause you believe in
Doing good for a worthy cause is good for the soul. If you have a cause that you strongly believe in, offering your writing services for their blog can help them and will make you feel good about yourself to boot.
You can also help to write brochures, posters, advertisements, web copy, newsletters, or manage their social media. Use whatever writing talents you have to make a difference in the world.
Whether or not you get a byline should’t matter here; the point of volunteering is to gift your time while expecting nothing in return. To help where you can, not because you’ll get something out of it, but because it’s the right thing to do.
4. When you want to reach a wide audience quickly
If you have a timely piece that you want published quickly because of its social importance, this is a good time to write for free—particularly if you have a contributor account that does not require editor vetting.
Here’s an example: for mental health month, you could whip up a quick article telling people where they can get help if they feel suicidal, then publish on a site with a large audience for the greatest impact. The importance of getting that message out beats earning money.
I used this strategy when I wrote an article about grief that I really wanted people to read, not because I wanted to get paid, but because it’s an issue that I feel is of extreme importance. Since I had a contributor account on the Huffington Post, I was able to publish and send out that message to a larger audience immediately after publishing.
5. When you want to start in a new niche
MultiTalented Writers tend to move back and forth between several niches, and are constantly adding items to the “things I want to write about” list. The best thing for a MultiTalented Writer to do is to get a contributor account on a site that allows direct publishing (e.g. you don’t have to go through an editor).
When you want to pitch a new publication, it’s always wise to include samples related to their niche. But what if you don’t have a relevant sample? Easy. If you have a contributor account, whip up a quick article and publish it on someone else’s large publication. Then send in your pitch linking back to that article.
I’ve used this strategy numerous times, and it’s helped me gain new clients and get more writing gigs.
6. When you’re promoting a product
If you have a product you’re selling, sometimes it makes sense to write a guest post that you won’t get paid for. Consider it a barter agreement: you’re writing a post and getting advertising in return. You need to be smart about this and have a strategy.
For example, let’s say you’re selling a course on freelance writing. You can write for writing publications and ensure that your byline points to the course you’re selling. What you write about in your blog post should in some way relate to your product.
Here’s another example: let’s say you’re a make-up blogger and you’re selling a course on make-up artistry. You could write guest posts containing mini tutorials and pitch them to beauty blogs. In your byline, link to your more extensive course. If you can link to your course right in the body of the article, that’s even better.
Having said all this, if you can find a way to promote your products while getting paid, that’s many times better than writing for free. Most decent-paying publications will allow a byline, so you get paid while also being able to point to the products you’re selling.
There are several reasons for writing for free. But don’t get into the trap of writing for free all the time, or you’ll never be able to make a career out of this.
Any time you’re about to ask to be published without getting paid, consider the return on your investment of time. What do you think you’ll get out of writing for free? If it’s more traffic to your site, make sure you have a way of checking that (install Google Analytics and check the numbers, for example).
Always ask this question before giving up your precious (potentially earning) time for a publication that does not pay: what’s my return on investment? This question should apply to time as well as money.
Do you write for free? Why?
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