Right off the bat, I want to say that there is no right or wrong answer to this topic. A lot depends on your end goal — to get a job, garner publicity, build a portfolio, etc. However, there comes a time when every writer should say no to writing for free. Below are some issues that I've been pondering about freelance writing.
Issue 1: Content for websites. Content is king on the Internet and everyone wants something fresh and unique on a regular basis. If you are promoting a product/service and write articles to generate publicity, then by all means, give the content away.
However, if what you are selling is your writing skill and are not promoting anything, then don't give it away. You'd be better off doing a direct mail campaign and spending your time creating pieces for your portfolio — even if they are only make-believe companies.
One could argue that the reason good writing is taken for granted is so many give it away. I give a lot of content away, but only within the framework of WIIFM (what's in it for me).
Issue 2: Writing on spec: For those of you who don't know what this is, see this excellent primer article at http://inkwelleditorial.com/beginnersguideglatzer.htm. This established freelance writer explains spec writing brilliantly. The bottom line, once your portfolio is complete with good samples, stop this practice.
The exception would be if it's a credit from a noted source that you really want. After all, who's going to turn down Fortune? However, I believe there's a big enough need for good writers that you don't have to sell your soul for one credit, even if it is a "biggie."
How many samples should you have? I advise between five and ten. Try to get them from different sources — eg, two newspaper, three websites, two brochure, one sales letter, etc. This will give your portfolio a range. Nonprofits, friends with small businesses, neighborhood shops — all are possible non-paid sources to build your writing credits.
A tip: Choose a small business and do the brochure, sales letter, etc. first. Then, send it to your target and ask if they would mind if you included it in your portfolio. I don't know any small business that would refuse a well-written promotional piece that doesn't cost them a dime. Bang, a legitimate credit!
Issue 3: Original Content & Rights: I don't believe in giving away original content — again, unless you are promoting a product/service or are just starting out. I am constantly amazed at the number of publications that want original content but don't want to pay for it.
An example. I write a small business column. An editor saw it and approached me to be a regular contributor to their publication, which is quite noted in business circles. The kicker? They didn't want my column but wanted me to contribute original content with no pay. I had to turn them down. I offered the column at no charge (since I already write it), but explained that original content outside of this without payment was not possible.
If you write, then you know it's not easy coming up with original content on a regular basis. Some subjects are so covered that nine times out of ten, new ground is never being broken. We are usually just putting a new spin on it. This costs brain cells! And, trust me, not everybody can do it.
So, the next time you put finger to keyboard, think about your objective. If we all stopped giving away our pearls of wisdom, then the pay level across the board would be raised.
About The Author
May be reprinted with inclusion of the following: Yuwanda Black is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and syndicated small business columnist whose focus is controlling your destiny through small business ownership. Her most recent e-books, How to Really Make a Living as an Editorial Freelancer and Advice from Successful Freelancers: How They Built Their Careers & How You Can Too! are available for immediate download at http://www.InkwellEditorial.com/bizguides.html Visit her on the web at http://www.EntrepreDoer.biz for a complete list of how-to, small business books and articles.
This article was posted on November 10, 2003