Should I Work For Free?

Of all the questions related to technical writing and freelance writing in general, perhaps the most contentious one is "should I write for free?" Some successful writers tout pro bono writing as an excellent way for beginners to get their foot in the door, but many feel that anybody who decides to write for free is doing a disservice to the entire writing industry. If you're in the process of deciding whether to volunteer your writing services, here are some points to consider:

Will you be recognized as the author?

If someone is expecting you to give away your writing, the very least they can do is give you credit as the author of the work. You should clearly be identified as the creator of the work, and it's not unreasonable to ask for a byline or a link to your professional website.

Will you retain the rights to your work?

Before you agree to write for free, be sure to ask about rights. If you're not being paid, you should retain all rights. That way, you can always rework or modify the piece and sell it to somebody else down the road…for money.

Will you really get the "exposure" promised in the ad?

Many website owners ask writers to submit work for free and promise them they will get great exposure and recognition by having work featured on their site. Before you agree to volunteer your time and effort, however, it's important to objectively evaluate how much exposure you are likely to get. Have you ever heard of the site? If you haven't, there's a good chance a lot of other people haven't either. Do you know how many visitors the site gets each month? If not, you should definitely ask. A site with a few hundred or thousand hits a month isn't likely to bring you fame and fortune. Remember, you'll only get good exposure if people actually visit the site.

A final note ~

If you're going to be recognized as an author and your work will be featured on a well-known site, you may decide that it's worth the few hours it will take you to write that piece. If you do decide to write for free, you should only do so in the beginning of your career, and you should use these clips to get paying work as soon as possible. You might still decide to do a freebie under exceptional circumstances every now and then, but your focus should be on earning a decent living. Remember, you're running a business. Even when you're giving your writing away, you should be thinking about how it's going to make a profit for you in the long run.

Last Updated: 05/05/2014