To free or not to free. . .

This is a Guest Post from Danielle Bullen – for more about Danielle see below or check out her site.

For the past couple years, I’ve been building my freelance writing portfolio. Writing has always been a passion of mine, so I’m more than happy to do it for free. But is that a good business practice? Does contributing to publications, mainly websites, that don’t pay their writers hurt one’s freelance writing career?

Freelancing is not my primary job, it is a side gig. Of course, if it were my main source of income, I wouldn’t even be having this debate.  Even so, being compensated for my work is something I appreciate. But, there are types of compensation other than money.

Writing is a symbiotic relationship between editors and writers. Editors need fresh content. Writers need exposure. Let’s face it, no one starts at the top.  In order to land paying freelance gigs, writers need clips. In my experience, I’ve found that media outlets that don’t pay are more willing to let novice writers sink their teeth in. With each article I contribute, my research, interviewing, and writing skills get kicked up a notch. Then, when I present myself to paying publications, I have published clips.

Besides the holy grail of clips, writing for free has other benefits. I contributed monthly articles to a now-defunct online woman’s magazine, whose content was created entirely by volunteers. I came up with each article’s topic and sources, so I learned a lot about interviewing and thinking outside the box; “priceless” skills.

I write for a book review site and am “paid” in books, sometimes pre-publication advance reader copies. For a book-lover like myself, it is a pretty sweet deal!

But, the biggest benefit to “pro-bono” freelancing is the relationships I’ve formed. I wrote blog posts for a web site dedicated to green small business practices. When my editor and her business partner launched a different site, she knew I was a trusted contributor and asked me to write for it. This second site has a completely different focus and audience–college students seeking internship advice. I jumped at the chance, because it would let me expand my portfolio in terms of what I can write about. My editor there, and actually, several of my freelance editors, wrote lovely recommendations for me on LinkedIn.

I have written for a few places that pay and of course, I would love to be compensated monetarily for more of my work. I’ve begun to send more queries out to places that do pay. Hopefully, the effort I’ve put into building my writing brand will be rewarded.

So, the rather complicated answer is no, I don’t think writing for free dilutes your brand. Poor writing dilutes your brand. The important thing is to treat each client with the same respect and give energy to all your outlets.

Danielle is a marketing professional and writer from the greater Philadelphia area. You can read her writing at www.daniellebullenwriting.weebly.com and follow her on Twitter @daniellewriter.

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