Free. It’s a term we’re fond of hearing when we gain something for nothing. A free scone with a cup of tea. Free entry to a theme park. A free gift with any perfume purchase. It’s a nice word and often an incentive to take action.

But when you’re a freelance writer, the word free can be enough to send you back to your 9-5 job. Often, family and friends will learn that you’re a writer and will automatically assume you can sort out their small business website copy free of charge or, in generous cases, in exchange for a product or favour you don’t want or need.

It can, of course, be incredibly civil to offer loved ones free copy. If Aunt Betty has written a particularly shoddy leaflet advertising her ironing services, it would be a bit mean of you to correct the typos and then invoice her for £50. So, where do you draw the line?

Here’s my view on the value (and burden) of offering your writing services for free:

Advantages

  1. If you haven’t got a portfolio yet, offering freebies can be a great way of adding content. You needn’t take on big jobs and the results achieved can help you gain paid work in the near future.
  2. Your family member or friend can give you a testimonial in exchange for free work. Testimonials sell you to prospective clients and will help add credibility to your portfolio.
  3. You gain experience. Experience gives you the confidence and ability to pitch for bigger and better jobs.

 

Disadvantages

  1. Taking on free writing work means you risk get bogged down in big projects which take up your valuable time.
  2. There can often be an expectation that if you work for free for one person,  you should work for free for another. Aunt Betty might have several friends who also need free work – and so, you see the problem.
  3. If you’re short on cash, freebies aren’t going to pay the bills.

 

As you can see, working for free isn’t completely bad. There are advantages for both you and the client. But there are also some warning signs to look for. A case in hand below:

One of our members was introduced to a glass making company not long ago. She pitched her writing services for an entirely reasonable price. In fact, she could have asked for a lot more money than she did. The response she received from the small business was alarming. They tried to get her rate down to 1p per word, and commented on the fact that many writers out there will work for free to ‘gain the experience’. I should add, this wasn’t for a one-off job. It was an ongoing, long-term job that would have financially benefitted the small business enormously. This made me cross.

Any freelance writer taking his or her job seriously will not work on a long term basis for nothing (or for pennies). There is value in our words. Newspapers use stories to make significant sales, businesses large and small use content to drive traffic and sell products. Events use newsletter copy to attract paying customers. Why should you, as a writer making a contribution to a publication or website’s success, not have a slice of the pie?

Here’s my advice:

Offer your services for free with caution and care. Ensure that you always benefit from that type of transaction. The freebie you give out should lead your business somewhere great. It should not hinder you or place you in an impossible situation. And finally, only ever commit to doing free work for a very short period of time. If you’re serious about becoming a writer, you must adopt a business mentality. Your local deli might give out free cheese samples to get you talking about their offering – sure – but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a lifetime supply of free brie.

Be wise, keep good boundaries and always look to improve your business.