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Something for Nothing: When Free Works

Ask 10 writers whether you should write for free, and you’re likely to get 12 opinions. Sometimes. Yes definitely. No never. It depends on where you are in your career and so on. While the only person who can answer the question of whether you should take on unpaid content writing gigs is you, there are arguments for and against writing for free. Knowing the rationale can help you decide when to pass up offers, when to write for free, and how to leverage unpaid work in your career.

Sometimes, Say No

Some writers admonish never to write for free. Their main argument: Writers scratch out a living from every penny, and writing something for free just isn’t worth the exposure you’ll get, or the time it will take you. If you’re considering a free job, evaluate your work load. Do you have the time to commit to something else, whether it’s a one-time thing or regular gig? Will you be performing the free work at the expense of paid work? Rights are another question to consider. If you’re guest-posting on a blog, do you retain the rights to republish elsewhere and potentially earn income?

When to Say Yes

Other writers are more generous with freebies, but advise against taking on free assignments if they require too much of a time commitment. Blogging once is fine, but once a week indefinitely quickly adds up to a major time suck. Likewise, you might take a free assignment to build up your cred in a new subject area, but it behooves you to find paid work soon.

Evaluate each offer by reading the request carefully, then spending time on the site you’d be writing for. If the blog looks authoritative, has a demonstrated following via comments, and would benefit your career, give it a try. If the blog offers high exposure, adding the particular client to your resume may net you dozens of new clients in return. If you retain rights and can then sell the article or post it on your own ad-optimized blog, saying yes could give you exposure to a new audience and still earn you revenue.

To decide, ask yourself if the new opportunity will make you feel happy, or frustrated or resentful for time taken away from your paid writing work. If you can honestly answer the former, this opportunity works for you.

How to Leverage Unpaid Work

Evaluating the offer and making an informed decision is the first step toward leveraging free work for your own benefit. If you turn down the offer, you’ve made a choice that benefits your career. If you decide to pursue the offer, think about ways to network through the new client. If you impress them, they may be in the position to hire you or recommend your service to paying clients.

There’s no right answer, but there’s what feels right to you. Trust your instincts. If you decide to write, always do your best work.

Lindsey D is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.

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