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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About Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall has been mentoring writers here at Get Paid To Write Online since 2005 to help them improve and build sustainable and successful writing careers. Check me out on sharonhh.com. Feel free to connect with me online on Google+.


  1. Sharon,

    Good tips all. Though I have to say I have a bit of experience writing for local newspapers and I would suggest that ANY newspaper, even the community weeklies made up of 8 folded pages, can afford to pay something. I’ve worked for a few papers that fit this description and writing for free was never even brought up.

    In fact, a few years ago as a college student trying to build my portfolio, I contacted my local paper and offered to write for free. After querying a few times and mentioning that I was only interested in getting clips, the editor finally contacted me and said “Yes, we’re interested in publishing this, but we can’t pay you much.” Much, not at all. And I was young and protested “But I don’t care about the money, I just want to see my byline” but thankfully they paid me anyway.

    This is getting rather long-winded, but the point is that I think local newspapers, at least the ones I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, realize that quality content has value and they are willing to pay for it. It might not be much, but it’s better than free.

  2. Certainly, anything is better than writing for free, Rachel, and it’s great that you’ve been able to get paid for all your writing work. I believe that writers should be paid for their work; writing for free may help some new writers get published. Other writers volunteer their services to achieve the same goal. It’s still writing for free, but at least it helps someone else at the same time.

  3. Great article! I never write for free for “clients.” (True clients would never call themselves that if all they want is something for free, IMO). I do, however, write for free for myself. I call it “advertising.” ๐Ÿ™‚ I love article marketing and of course there’s blogging. I have no problem giving stuff for free if it’s mutually beneficial. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. ‘Advertising’ – I think I’ve heard of that ๐Ÿ˜‰ Article marketing is one of my favourite strategies, Hope, and I agree – if you’re getting something from it then it isn’t free.

  5. I do article marketing, which is technically free but I don’t really look at it as writing for free because it gets returned to me by driving traffic to my blogs and websites. That’s the only time I really do it unless it’s pro bono work for a charity- but I still take that as a tax deduction so that’s not really free either… good post!

  6. sharon,

    i find these tips very useful. your wide array of talents are commendable and are helping writers like myself gain insights on many things relative to writing. i hope you won’t get tired providing guidance to your readers. i love your work.

  7. There is a big demand for article writers for web site owners. If you are new you can offer to write either free or low priced articles to build up a client base. If you offer good quality then you will find work for sure in the right places.

  8. If you are new then you could find clients in the Internet Marketing area by going to the forums, they always need people to write anything for them. Start off with a low price and then build up.

  9. Thanks, Katherine. It’s nice when you get something for your unpaid efforts.

    Jessie, I love writing about writing, so I plan on doing it for a long time. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for your tips, John and Paul.

  10. Hi Sharon,

    I think I must not have been clear in my original comment.

    I totally agree with you that writing for free is a good way to gain experience. But local papers may not be the best outlet–there are other ways, like blogging or writing the newsletter for your company or another organization, to get those much-needed clips. By the time you’re good enough for the community paper (because they ARE discriminating), you’re good enough to deserve pay.

  11. I’ve reached the point where I’ll only write for free if there is a serious benefit for me. As you’ve said, ‘clients’ should pay and it doesn’t make sense to develop a client who will always expect freebies.

    Clips are important but I’ve found most of the time these can be gained while being paid at the same time. It’s worth taking a chance and querying the paid opportunities.

    There are fantastic reasons to write for free as you’ve mentioned. I think it’s important to keep a balance so that you don’t feel like you’re being taken advantage of. Remember to value your time and experience. This really is a tough job and we deserve the recognition and respect that goes along with it.

    • I totally agree. You determine how much your work is worth.

      Of course, if you are just getting in the game, it makes sense to do some free work to build up your reputation and create a portfolio. Though when you think about it, even that isn’t free, you are still getting something out of it.

  12. Well said, Rebecca! I find that if you don’t value yourself, no one else will. It’s important to know what your time, experience and skills are worth, even if you don’t always ask for the full value.

  13. Ahh, the days of sitting around fretting over putting together the perfect client proposal or post for my blog.These days I barely have time to update my blog and submit a few articles to article directories. So, I guess the answer is no. And I thank the high heavens for it!Great post Sharon.

  14. I know what you mean, Yuwanda. The busier you get, the harder it is to find time for the tasks that brought the work in. ๐Ÿ™‚