Write for Free: Is It Ever Worthwhile for a Freelance Writer?

Writing for free is a waste of time. You’re better off writing for pennies than nothing at all.

That may be something you hear a lot. It’s something I heard a lot when I started and unsurprisingly usually from those who favored content mills rather than finding their own clients.

Should you ever write for free? Image by Bright Meadow
Should you ever write for free? Image by Bright Meadow

Don’t get me wrong; I do think content mills can be good. They’re not perfect but they offer a lot of opportunities for new writers. But I still believe you need to branch out and find your own clients. That means gaining experience and a reputation as a good, solid writer. And writing for free can help with that.

I’ve just recently written a piece for The Huffington Post for free. I’ve also offered a free guest post to someone for their blog.

But writing for free doesn’t mean I go around offering free samples. If someone wants a specific sample, they have to pay for it. I already have plenty of samples on the internet to show off my writing skills and expertise that I’m not willing to offer one for free.

Writing for free has to give you exposure or another benefit for your writing career. Before you agree to do anything for free, you need to find out what you’ll gain from it. Here’s a look at how it can help you if you choose the right publications.

Note: This post was originally published on May 14, 2013. It has been updated on May 9, 2017.

When Is Writing for Free Worthwhile?

Writing for free has caused quite a storm on the internet. Many writers blame freelancers accepting pro bono work for the reduced rates and businesses expecting people to write for nothing at all; to be happy with a backlink.

Personally, I don’t believe it’s the writers who are at fault for this. It’s a business’ unrealistic view that they can get good quality work without having to pay for it. It’s the devaluation of writing, based on the idea that anyone can do it. The ability to set up blogs easily and poorly written websites that have simple scraped content and reworded them extremely badly have led to a world where web owners think they can get something for nothing.

It’s also a problem with writing being international. Someone in a third world country has a lower financial outgoing compared to me (and the rest of the first world). Depending on where you live, $5 per day could feed a family of four three meals. You’d be lucky to find that happening in a western world. I’m not saying that writers shouldn’t offer what they want for business, but I’m saying that because these writers do, businesses expect other bloggers and writers to do the same.


Write Your Way to $1,000 Per Month and More!: Support Your Family With Your Writing Income

But enough of that. This isn’t about why businesses expect content for nothing. This is about why writing for free is worthwhile.

It is if you want to break into a new niche with no way of doing it. I opted for The Huffington Post when I wanted to break into a new niche. I’ll do the same again now that I’ve rebranded one of my websites. I’ve also written for a charity for free in return for a testimonial.

I’ve guest posted on blogs for free for the exposure. The blogs have a large following and it’s helped to get my name out there. I always make sure I get a backlink to my site or a social media page when offering guest posts.

So, yes, writing for exposure can be good. But you do have to limit it. Three or four pieces (each one on different sites) is more than enough.

Write for Free for Experience in a Style of Writing

When I want to break into a new area of writing, I’ll do my research and find a company that I can write for pro bono. This gives me the experience of writing in that style and a clip to send to other businesses.

I ask for testimonials afterwards and will set it in the contract that they don’t inform anyone that I’ve written for nothing – I don’t want to set a precedent. The pay has never really come up, so it may not be a problem but I’d rather it not be.

I find this better than creating a piece to place on my own website. Pieces for companies will go through an editorial process and show that I can work with editors. Pieces on my own blog don’t quite go through that – I decide when they’re done.

Write for free, but only when its worthwhile

Writing for Charities I Believe In

A popular option when I write for free is when there’s a charity that I believe in. Not only does it give me exposure and experience writing, but I help a cause that I really want to stand up for.

I don’t make this a regular part of my month since I do need money to live on and feed my family, but it’s great every now and then. Charities are always looking for writers to offer them free content – not because they don’t want to pay but because they don’t have the budget. I truly believe that if the charities had the funds they would reward their writers more.

I’ve also been on radio shows for free to help promote a charity I believe in, based on an article I’ve written for that charity. This is my time that I’ve used, but I’ve gained exposure.

There are certainly times that writing for free is worthwhile. It’s all about doing it carefully and effectively. You won’t want to give out free samples to business owners. You want to create backlinks to your website and offer content that will help you gain a good private client base. Consider the benefits and offer to write for free at times. You’ll be surprised at how exposure can help your business.

I cover using sites to gain exposure and how to effectively write for free in my 5-week email course. Sign up today for FREE!

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