Writing For Free: Giving To Get

There’s always a lot of debate in the freelance writing world about writing for free. The main question is: should you do it? Before I attract a hailstorm of criticism over the very notion of writing for free, let me say up front that I believe that freelance writers should get paid fairly and promptly for the work that they do.

When Not To Write For Free

Ok, so those are the times when writing for free pays off for you. However, there are some cases to avoid like the plague. The free sample scam is used on many freelancing sites. The client asks for a free sample with your application and gets the required content free. Don’t fall for it. Most reputable clients will be happy with samples of existing work, so publish those samples on your blog, or include them in your portfolio and send the prospective client a link to the work.

However, there are some occasions when writing for free can be a good career development move. Here are some examples:

Creating A Portfolio

When you start out as a freelance writer, writing for free may be the quickest way to build up a portfolio of written work that you can show to prospective clients. There are many ways to approach this. You could:

  • write some pieces for your local newspaper (try to get a byline)
  • write for online magazines and blogs
  • write some articles for free article distribution sites
  • start a blog of your own

Any or all of these strategies will help you to get a wide range of written work to start you off in your search for the perfect freelance writing gig. For me, this is a case of giving writing away in the hope of securing even bigger writing commissions. It’s a calculated risk, which has paid off for many freelance writers I know.

Honing Skills

While you’re doing all this free writing, you are also developing your writing skills. You learn to work to a brief and to think about what your readers need. This is a great time to be writing, because you probably have more creative freedom than you will ever have at any time in your writing career. My advice is to use it – write about anything you like in any style you like. Anything you can’t publish on other sites can be used on your own blog. This will show your versatility as a writer.

Raising Your Profile

Even when you’re a full time freelance writer, there are still some occasions when writing for free can pay off. For example, guest blogging gives you the chance to write for new audiences and get new readers for your stuff. It creates more links to your work that can enhance your portfolio and raise your profile. When clients come looking for a freelance writer, one factor that will attract them is visibility, and you can raise this quickly by contributing to others’ sites and blogs. It’s worked well for me. Although I still write some posts for free, I also have several paid blogging gigs, which is one of my dream jobs.

My Own Experience

When I started freelancing, I had plenty of experience of writing. However, since I’d been teaching journalism for a few years, I didn’t have a lot of recent clips. I created a portfolio site and blog, and used article marketing to showcase my work and drive traffic to my blog. I also used those articles to get other work, which led to several clients who became regulars. Although earning from freelancing is no longer a problem, I still do some writing for free, mainly for profile raising and to get the chance to write for new audiences, which is good for my writing skills. Do you ever write for free?

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