To be free or not to be free: that is the question. Or at least it’s a big one in the freelance writing community, as I’ve learned. It’s not that writers are pushy on this issue, but it’s one topic that everyone seems to have an opinion on. To be honest, when I began to explore options in writing I was more concerned about getting experience and developing my skills than I was about making a buck. And to be fair, from the beginning I determined to keep my SAHM responsibilities priority and enjoy the creative writing process for what it could be within the timeframe I had available. Not everyone has that luxury.
And I think motivations are a primary factor in determining whether a freelancer accepts “free” work. If someone pursues this as a career move and a source of consistent income then it makes sense that accepting “free” work will inhibit available time to send queries and finish assignments that provide payment. If, as in my case, this is an opportunity to slowly build experience and improve understanding of the industry (and you are not financially dependent on the income), then accepting work that does not pay may be a reasonable approach for satisfying these interests.
These distinctions may also be how some people draw lines between “hobby” and “professional.” Generally speaking, I’m okay with admitting that my work is more of a hobby, but I’m not okay with the suggestion that this makes my work less professional. When I pitch a query or work with an editor, I work with the intention of representing myself as a capable and competent writer.
And so I put myself in the occasionally “write for free” category. Recently, one of those decisions paid off. I pitched an article to a magazine that did not have a regular budget for freelancers, but I was interested in adding a byline and developing a relationship with a local editor. The experience was positive from my perspective, and I happily added the article to my list of writing samples. A few months later I received a pleasant surprise when the editor contacted me to write a piece that she had just received funding for – and on a topic of personal interest. It was a win-win, and I was grateful for the chance to develop the relationship further. It doesn’t always work this way, but as long as my goals and availability align with these types of opportunities I will consider them.
I have seen less ROI from work I have done for other blogs, and though I appreciate the experience I’m more careful with how I approach online writing for free. I’ve not yet explored opportunities for writing online articles for compensation so I can’t comprehensively analyze both sides of this coin. Additionally, I suspect from what little I do know, that I need to become better acquainted with the use of SEO’s and other traffic-generating strategies before I can credibly offer writing in this avenue.
Where do you fall on the free/not free writing continuum? What motivates your decision?