What I’m listening to: No News by Lonestar
What a week. I’ve chipped away at the latest workload, and I’m now down to two projects from the seven I’d started the week with. One is due today, the other on Monday. I’m in a good place with both, so I’m able to breathe a little and do some admin – the small pile on this desk is starting to look a little unkempt again. Time to file.
Between project interviews yesterday, I browsed Twitter and a few blogs. There was one topic that getting some good discussion, so I decided to search for it on Bing, digging a little deeper. There it was — people advocating for working for free. Again. Always.
I’ve said before I truly don’t care if people work for free — it’s your time, your decision, and your revenue stream. Yet there’s another thing I don’t care for, and I’ll just state my thoughts right here:
People should not be advocating working for free to the freelance masses.
I’ve seen it in plenty of instances – from a post on The Atlantic‘s website to Salon articles to blogs of what I can only assume are the uninformed.
Justifying working for free as anything but giving away work (or accepting it) does not make it right for everyone.
That’s where I get worked up about it. Blogs and articles that promote writing for free as some great way to build a freelance writing business or portfolio are missing the larger picture. Building a professional portfolio may start with some free work (in which case I suggest volunteering for a favorite charity or local event or group), but it shouldn’t be one of the foundations of your business model. Giving it away in order to get clips — I get it. I don’t agree, but I get the idea. However,
You can’t build a strong business on a weak foundation.
For that reason (among many), I suggest we writers limit just how much “free” we do. Myself, I’d rather get paid for what I do, so I don’t write for free. That’s me. And so far, it seems to have paid off — literally.
Another disturbing trend: I’ve also seen a few blogs, tweets, and articles that say writing for places like Huffington Post are great, but don’t you dare write for free for any other entity, including other blogs or even comments.
Here’s the screwy part of that kind of logic:
- The first is an entity making oodles of money for its owner.
- The second is a method of self-promotion for your freelance writing business.
Here’s what I think:
Writing for free on any ongoing basis for a for-profit organization is not a fabulous career move.
Writing for free for a blog in which the traffic and comments will net you more of an authoritative voice and some name recognition with the very audience you’re trying to appeal to is a bit smarter.
And honestly, guest posting isn’t “free” work in that it’s marketing. Do you charge yourself to write that brochure? Do you pay yourself to write your own blog posts or sales letters? No. Why? Because it’s part of marketing yourself.
I wrote for free once. I volunteered at the local Alzheimer’s Association and wrote a business proposal for them. In fact, they paid me a stipend — 30 bucks, which I donated right back to them. From that point, I managed to build a damn solid career in writing, a strong client base, and name recognition. All without ever writing for free again.
Still, if you insist on working for free, I suggest this:
Give free work sparingly and to respectable entities.
Writing one article (possibly two) for entities that make a profit (and are respected) — okay, you got your feet wet, got a clip or two. Writing articles or blog posts regularly and still not getting paid? Now you’ve entered into the ridiculous. What are you gaining? More to the point, what are you losing when you add up all that time spent writing for people who will never pay you?
Writers, how much free work did you give when you were starting out?
What’s your policy on guest posts?
What do you consider acceptable free work? Unacceptable?