Free Work, or more specifically writing for free: when is it a good idea?

Free work is one of those things that triggers a lot of anger.

And...well...understandably so.

We live in an age of unpaid internships and an overwhelming amount of debt.

So of course people get angry when they're asked to work for free!

So when should you accept free work?

There are occasional exceptions to when you should accept free work.

And I was raised by creative professionals.

So I'm not just saying that because of a lack of awareness about creativity's value. 

In fact, I'm such a huge advocate for creatives that I don't want you to be taken advantage of.

I discussed this somewhat in my post about guest blogging's value, but I also noticed that the pros and cons of free work are an important part of freelance communities such as the For Exposure Twitter page.

And that's exactly why we're going to discuss where and when free work might be good for business.

free work when you should do it

1) It's a charity & you want to help them out

Charities don't always have the budget for hiring a freelancer.

Well...more specifically really small charities that are doing really big and ambitious things.

And if you find one that: 

  • Stands for something you genuinely believe in
  • Asks for a time commitment that you can actually fulfil 
  • And you know from day one that it's free work

Then I encourage you to get involved!

Offering up your skills for free for a charity that is serious about making peoples' lives a little bit better can be really rewarding.

And it can look great in your portfolio, and on your testimonials page as well.

Especially if they have an international reputation.

Plus it humanizes your brand a little bit more, which is important in an age when literally everyone is online.

Because then you stick in people's mind as the business that also supports worthwhile causes.

2) You're writing for a mutual audience

This is the main reason why I'll ever say "yes" to guest blogging for free for any website.

Because this will increase the overall reach of the intended message, through getting those that still haven't heard of you to pay attention.

But why this the case?

Because original, valuable content will place you in people's minds as an expert in your field that's worth learning more about.

Then they'll either:

  • Tell their friends and family about what they read
  • Hit the share button
  • Or: Google you to learn more

And I highly recommend always including at least one promo link in your work, so that you make the process of learning more a lot easier.

3) You're writing for a large audience

Large social media followings and any visible proof of a large following whatsoever are often enough to make writing for free worth it. 

And a great example of this is Huffington Post.

Because, although they don't pay contributors, they get a lot of submissions.

In fact, it seems like every writer that I respect has been published on Huff Po.

But why is that?

Because the reach of their content is gigantic.

So it's an instant boost in the number of eyeballs on your blog or website.

And that's pretty much what anyone trying to sell anything wants anyways!

4) Your Portfolio is Low on Relevant work

This is only worth it when you're first starting out.

And be careful when this comes up.

Because it might lead to you being taken advantage of, and people treating you like an intern.

But if it's something that doesn't require full-time hours like a guest post, you'll be just fine.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you don't have any experience approaching CEOs, editors, and marketing professionals can be intimidating.

If this sample, and perhaps some other ones too are the ones that you need to not feel like you're setting yourself up for failure, then say "yes" to the free work.

5) You know this person personally 

Sometimes I'll edit stuff for free for friends, and give them advice on their websites or blog.

But my rule is basically this:

All things that I help friends and family with for free must take an hour or less, otherwise, I'll send them an invoice.

Because honestly...there are only so many hours in a day.

I had to introduce that policy because as soon as news spread that I was writing professionally, even people I haven't seen in a while were requesting a manuscript's worth of work for free.

And that's something that you might want to consider as well.

Otherwise, you might start being the "free help" source of your entire social network.

But overall...

Free work as a writer is only worth it if you're also getting something out of it.

And determining that value is all about thinking about the big picture value of saying "yes" to an invoice free project.

So...should you write for free?

A lot depends on your reasons for not getting paid in the first place.

Because you're freaking worth it, and you deserve the same treatment as your plumber, repairperson, or taxi driver.

Because just like these examples I just mentioned, if the act of writing was worth nothing, we'd all be doing our own writing, and books would be free as well.

So...what's your opinion on writing for free? Feel free to share your take on this heavily debated issue below.

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Hi, I’m Rosemary, and I’m a copywriter, editor, and content strategist that specializes in website and blog content for B2C retail and E-Commerce brands. My goal is to help businesses break the communication barriers between consumers and the products they purchase in their everyday lives. So where might you have seen my work? I’ve been featured on popular sites, such as ProBlogger, Search Engine Journal, and Stories by Buffer, and I’ve worked with brands such as E-Bay and Yellowpages. When I’m not working on client projects or studying for my Editing classes, I’m often consuming large amounts of coffee, while enjoying old crime dramas, or listening to indie rock. For more info about my work visit my website,

2 thoughts on “Free Work, or more specifically writing for free: when is it a good idea?

  1. This is a great checklist for deciding — definitely helps to think more strategically of when to spend your time and energy on writing for free!

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