There’s a long-standing and completely true maxim in the freelance world that you shouldn’t write for free. If a publication or site is telling you it can’t pay you but hey, you’ll get exposure, turn it down. They don’t value you as a creative talent, just someone who can help them build out their ad inventory, bringing in revenue you’ll never see any part of. The same goes for any profession, be it graphic design, event promotion or anything else.
I say that as someone who has written for free in the past and regrets doing so. Two of my earlier freelance gigs were unpaid. I agreed to one because it was my first time trying in 2004 and bought into the “exposure” rationale. The other was simply because I didn’t need the money at the time and was just getting over having been burnt by freelance income when tax time came around. They were both, in retrospect, mistakes, although I bear the sites I wrote for no ill will.
There is one exception to this rule, though: When you’re doing it for yourself.
Part of the advice offered to aspiring freelance writers is that they should start a blog. That, they’re told, will allow them to show the world what they’re capable of and provide a place to house a portfolio of the pieces they eventually have published. Both are great ideas I completely agree with, as should be evident by the fact that I use this site and blog for just those reasons.
While the latter point about the portfolio is largely indisputable (though I would also recommend maintaining a portfolio on places like Contently, ClearVoice and others) the “blog” idea runs largely counter to the “don’t write for free” guidance. You’re not being paid for those posts you’re writing, after all, so why are you doing it? Does showing you’re willing to write for free under any circumstances devalue your services and talent? How can you ask someone to pay you a fair rate when you’ve got this other thing you’re doing for nothing?
Great questions, all of them crap.
Your blog is your investment in yourself. It is, as I’ve stated before, part of your content marketing plan to sell your services and talent. Scroll down to the bottom of this post. See the footer where I identify myself and link to the Services page on this site? That’s so anyone reading the post not only understands what I do but has a means to find out more with just one click. That page has ways to contact me to find out more. It’s conversion funnel. May not be a super-great one, but it’s there.
Or it may simply be that a blog is an outlet for some passion that you’re not interested in monetizing. If you’re trying to make a professional go of writing about, say, the intersection of religion and entertainment but you also love writing about your experimentation with Italian and German fusion cooking, a blog will let you scratch that itch, free of concerns around paying your rent with it.
Remember this: If you’re a freelancer, blogging isn’t writing for free. It’s a way to market yourself. At the very least, it’s an outlet for one or more of the other voices in your head. Both are laudable and legitimate goals.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.