4 Reasons Freelancers Should Write For Free

write for free

I know. I know.

I’m totally contradicting myself, here.

It wasn’t too long ago that I passionately stated all the reasons why freelance writers should never write for free. And I fervently stand by those points. But, even I can admit that there are exceptions to every rule. Few and far between as they might be, there are times when you can benefit from working pro bono.

While I’m a firm believer that writers should always be compensated for their craft, I acknowledge that there are particular instances when that compensation can be something other than dollars and cents.

Just remember, the pieces you do sans recompense should still offer you something equally as rewarding. Money should be what tempts us away from our comfort zone, but free work should be where we go to experiment inside of it. Also, remember that unpaid work for yourself is something that is always worth the investment. What do I mean? Well, let’s get into my first reason why I think freelancers should write for free.

Reason 1: It’s Going To Do Great Things For Your Portfolio

Let me be clear on something before I move forward: I don’t mean “Someone told you it’s going to do great things.” I don’t mean “It will eventually do things for you.” I mean you have something in writing (or just as good) with whoever you’re doing the job for that better (or more) work will come about because of it.

There needs to be solid, verifiable evidence that doing this work for free is going to give you a credit that will make you irresistible to at least one new client. It could be for another prospect who just wants an example of what you’re capable of or something that demonstrates a skill that you know will make you more versatile.

It can be pretty easy to get conned by people who just want to pay you in exposure, so again, only go for things you know will make your portfolio that much more attractive to other potential clients. 

Reason 2: It’s For Family

This kind of goes without saying, but if you can manage to get your family members to realize what you do for a living, they might ask you for some help from time to time.

Maybe your brother needs help with a résumé or maybe Aunt Claire needs a short bio for her pet-sitting Facebook page. Of course, working for free for family is always a nice thing to do. And who knows? Maybe Aunt Claire is going to bake you a batch of her famous fudgy dandies because you did such a good job.

However, there are also those moments that are a little bit more meaningful. Like when you’re asked to write a eulogy for a family member who has passed on, or to write a speech for your sister’s wedding. And in those moments, it just feels like an honor. You can’t ask for compensation for any of these things because you’ve already been paid (hopefully) in memories and love.

Cheesy, I know. But when we take money out of the equation, we end up working with our hearts more than we do with our brains, which is never a bad thing to do from time to time. Oh, and that brings me to my next point…

Reason 3: It’s Your Baby!

We’ve all got something. That elusive project we’ve promised ourselves again and again that we’d get back to, but continuously put off because other things keep getting in the way: other more lucrative writing, editing, self-promotion, and of course, that little, almost-as-neglected thing freelancers call a personal life. But, you keep it with you always. You think of it in quiet moments and it never really goes away. You know it’s not going to help your bottom line, but the sheer satisfaction you’ll get out of seeing this thing through to the end makes all of the missed pay you could have gotten doing something else worth it.

It’s never a bad thing to have these “babies.” In fact, you’d probably be less of a writer if you didn’t. So, if you can get the time, working on your little pet projects for free will never be time wasted.

Reason 4: Charity

There are tons of non-profit organizations out there, and a whole bunch of them are looking for people to complete grants, edit old documents to make them sound more professional, create pitches and taglines, and so much more to help further their cause. If you find a charity with a cause you can get behind, doing things for them is a great way to gain volunteer experience.

You’re also guaranteed a stellar reference for helping others help others for free. But mostly, it’s a wonderful way to use your talents towards a noble cause. And who knows? Maybe this will turn into a paying gig if your charity of choice ends up getting bigger. But for now, just give yourself a nice warm hug, and be content with the fact that you’re atoning for some of the sketchy ghostwriting gigs you took when times were leaner.

Actively choosing to write for free is always a calculated risk, but when you can focus your energies on free work that is actually for the betterment of yourself or for a great cause, you’ll find it just as fulfilling as the work that you get a paycheck for.

Most importantly, whether you’re writing to get paid or writing for free, make sure you’re having fun with it. The best part about doing what we do as freelancers is knowing that we’re doing what we love.

Can you think of some better reasons to work for free? Do you think my reasons are complete bull-puckey? Let me know in the comments and happy writing!

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Ricardo Castano IV

Rick is a writer, editor, and citizen of the internet. He's written for TV, radio, print, blogs, websites ebooks, and edited all the above. He likes writing stories that make people feel things and barbecuing food that he eats way too much of. He likes having clients too, so check him out over at RicksWriting.com to see what he can do for you. He high-fived a bear once.

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