Should You Ever Write for Free?

Mar 24, 2016

I get a number of questions about being a freelance writer any given week. Here’s one I’ve heard a lot lately: I have an opportunity to write for a brand or publication, but they don’t currently pay their writers. Should I do it, even though it won’t make me any money?

That’s a great question! And, one that people have a lot of strong opinions about.

I hear those opinions all the time. Writing for free totally devalues the craft of writing. If you write for free now, you’ll never make any money. Exposure doesn’t put food on the table.

I get it. And, for the most part, I agree. Today, I won’t even consider putting my time into something that doesn’t offer me a paycheck. But, when I was just getting started?


Did I throw you back in your chair a little bit there? I can just hear my fellow freelance writers heaving a disgusted sigh. But, before you groan, roll your eyes, and close out that browser tab, hear me out.

As a freelance writer, you need one big thing in your toolbox in order to start landing those amazing, high-paying gigs. “What’s that one magical tool?” you ask. Published clips. Your education carries no weight. Your resume doesn’t matter. You can craft the perfect email, and even that won’t make a difference.

Depressing, right? But, it’s the truth. Publications and brands don’t just want to hear about what you can do—they want to see it. And, how do you show them that? With your published clips and writing samples.

But, here comes the catch-22. Remember when you were applying for your first job, and every “entry-level” listing you found required 1-2 years of experience? You needed experience to get a job—but you needed a job to get experience. It was an endless cycle.

Starting your freelance business can follow this same pattern. You need someone to take a chance on you and publish your work so that you can begin to build that portfolio. But, spoiler alert: they typically aren’t willing to give you a big break and cut you a big, fat check.

So, yes, you might need to take on some unpaid work when you’re just getting started, just to build that solid foundation you’ll need in order to start landing better gigs. And, while I can understand your hesitations here (because, believe me, I know that freebie expectation is an insult to writers everywhere), you need to do what you need to do in order to get the ball rolling.

If you’re currently in the position of wondering whether you should take on that free assignment when you’re just getting started, I say you go ahead and give it a try! What’s the worst that can happen? You waste a little time? The potential rewards far outweigh the risks, and it could be just the kickstart you need for your freelance writing career. Plus, I’m proof that the whole, “Start working for free, and you’ll never make any money” hypothesis is completely false.

Until next time!