Monday, July 26, 2010

Write For FREE - Who Me?!?

You better believe it! Some of my most lucrative jobs have come as a direct result of work I did for free or little pay.

There are definitely two camps when it comes to opinions about writers working for free. The hard line, I never work without compensation crowd, are often adamant about their viewpoint and claim that those of us who do gratis work are making a bad name for the rest. The softer, I hate to admit it—but I do it crowd, try to keep from answering direct questions.

I’ve found wisdom on both sides, depending on the situations. In my opinion, there are times when holding the line on compensation makes good business sense and there are others when it amounts to nothing more than shooting yourself in the foot. Below are some instances when I’ve worked for free.

  • As a beginner – I don’t care what you hear to the contrary, most professionals have had to put in time working for free to learn their business. Teachers student teach, business people take advantage of internships with no pay, and nurses work in hospitals as student nurses. Writing is no different. A friend and fellow writer, Vonda Skelton, worked for years as a nurse and is always quick to point out the months she spent working for free as part of learning how to be a good nurse. So if you’re just starting out, don’t hesitate to work for free. You’ll accumulate clips, as well as experience, and they’ll both further your career.
  • When starting out in a new genre – writing devotions takes a different skill set from writing content for business websites. When you cross over into a new genre, you may find it’s necessary to go back to writing for free to bring your writing resume back up to professional strength. If you have years of writing experience, you may only need to reduce your rates, it just depends on the situation.
  • To develop a new business relationship – I have offered clients reduced rates as an introduction to what I can do. Just the fact that I would allow them to see what I could do without paying up front often cemented a long term working relationship,
  • For ministry – at times I’ve done work for things or people I’ve believed in for free. A surprising amount of the time this has also led to a lucrative job down the road. In this competitive marketplace you'll stand out if you're willing to go the extra mile.
  • As an opportunity to pay it forward – there are numerous people who have gladly and generously given me their time and experience to further my career. I try to remember that when I meet someone who is just starting out.
Obviously it wouldn’t be a business if we gave everything away for free. But I think we’ve taken the old saying, generous to a fault, way out of context. My advice—don’t be afraid to take the time to develop your expertise—which includes taking jobs that pay little or nothing. I can assure you, from personal experience, that it’s just good business.

I’d love to hear your experiences and opinions about writing for free.
Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. I've written for free--to earn both clips and credibility. I've also edited articles for free--but that's usually a pay-it-forward kind of thing--and the busier I get, the less frequently it happens.

  2. What a joy it is to here this form others. I am a photographer, not a writer. I hear too often the conversation of monetary compensation from other in my craft. Your point of ministry is spot on. As is the practice of trading your time and product to gain experience. I believe the craft I love should be shared as often as sold.

    Great post.


  3. Richard,
    Thanks for your comment, I certainly agree! BTW, the pictures on your blog are AMAZING!!! I recommend everyone who reads this takes time to visit.