Anyone that works as a creator whether that be writing, the arts, or another creative form, will on occasion hear the following:
"I can't afford to pay you, but you will receive a lot of exposure if you work for us"
The decision you must make is whether the exposure received will be adequate compared to the time spent on the project. Some companies may be using this approach genuinely and working for them will generate leads for more work in the future.
However, you are spending your own time on a project that ultimately may result in nothing, not even noteworthy exposure. It is healthy to have a pragmatic- and considered-approach when weighing each opportunity.
Let's explore some valuable reasons why working for free as a freelance writer can be totally worth it.
4 Reasons Why Working For Free Could Pay In The Long Run
Believe it or not, they exist! There are opportunities that can boost your writing career—regardless of payment.
If you're building your career as a freelance writer, then you can't expect to earn much initially. Offering to work for free can be a great way to get experience, knowledge of the industry, and build a network of contacts.
As a start, give yourself a target of no more than 20 unpaid jobs (or any figure you are comfortable with) and aim to do (at least) that many. If you are still unable to get paid work after this, you may need to reconsider your career choice—or skill level.
If all goes well, you will have built a portfolio of work to show prospective paying clients.
Keep in mind that offering to work for free is not always well received. Some clients may think you are desperate and refuse your offer. Do your homework before reaching out to offer your services. Make sure you approach clients in the right way, don't repeatedly contact them, and be professional at all times (even if they decline your offer).
As mentioned in the beginning, many companies offer exposure in lieu of payment for your work. Quite often it is not worth it, but there are occasions when the potential exposure could be worth it. How can you know?
Well, the first thing to keep in mind:
Is the company crystal clear about the exposure you will get or are they evasive?
Ask the following questions to establish how likely it is that you will benefit from any exposure:
Who exactly will see the work?
What are the potential reader numbers?
Realistically, what could I gain from the project?
Have others worked for free for you before?
If the company is genuine, they should have no problem answering these questions. You could even contact other freelance writers that have taken them up on their offer and ask them how it has prospered their career since.
#3 Supporting A Just Cause
If you are passionate about a cause such as supporting a particular charity, then you may wish to offer your services for free to support them.
There is nothing wrong with doing this and helping worthy causes can be rewarding on a personal level.
However, be mindful of the time you give as you don't want to spend so much time on charitable work that you make it harder for yourself to earn a living.
It's an awesome idea to set yourself a limit and stick to that. For example, you may offer 1 article every 3 months. This is a clear contribution of your time that makes it simple to say no if they ask for more than you can give.
Important tip: always remember to communicate—communication is key and builds a good rapport. You don't want to have a terrible reference. Many business owners and platforms know each other—and they talk! You do not want to be known as the "no-show" writer or the writer that breaks all of their commitments. Communicate and keep them updated if you can't complete projects.
#4 Great References
Speaking of references....
There are some companies that have opportunities to do unpaid work for them that are valuable because of how well known the company is, or how many underground connections they can make. They are so notable that association with them can propel your freelance writing career in leaps and bounds.
For example, TED speakers are not paid. However, speaking at a TED event can help speakers progress their career to amazing levels including book deals, more speaking opportunities, and more publicity.
If a company is large enough that working for them for free can provide this level of publicity, it would be too good an opportunity to pass up.
Ultimately, your time is precious and valuable to you. Some companies will try to take advantage of freelance writers and either offer low pay or none at all. In the end, the best advice is:
Do your research, work smart (not hard), and make a consistent good impression to get referred.
If the opportunity meets the criteria of at least one of these 4, then it's probably worth pursuing. Always remember to limit how much free work you do and take opportunities that align with your career goals.