Writing for Free: Is It Ever a Good Idea?

You answer a writing job ad and the poster asks you to write a sample for them for free. Do you accept?

I've heard horror stories from other writers and have experienced it myself. You'll find job posters who have no intention of hiring writers. They are only looking for several writers to produce free content for them.

While it's certainly a nasty practice, it goes with the territory when you write for others.

Is there anything you can do when this happens? There is, and I'll tell you what to do below.

​The situation is annoying but it makes you wonder if there are situations where it makes sense to write for free?

The answer is yes and here are the situations when you may want to consider it:

  • Guest Posting
  • To Get Published Clips
  • ​Specific Topics You Need to Come Up to Speed With
  • Reports to Giveaway in Exchange for Opt Ins
  • ​Bulk Content Deals
  • Sales Brochures to Advertise Your Business
  • Press Releases for Your Business

Guest Posting

Guest Posting got a bad reputation a few years back when Google's Matt Cutts announced that Google was cracking down on the practice. Bloggers freaked out because of it but Matts later modified his statement to say that Google wasn't against guest posting in general. They were just going to go after guest posting for the sole purpose of getting back links to your website. Specifically, they were targeting services that offered guest posting exchanges and other such practices.

Even with the additional statement, guest posting took a big hit. There are plenty of bloggers that still refuse to do it. I think it is overblown and can still be considered in the right circumstances. I think if you legitimately look for influential bloggers who are looking for quality work and you spread out the pool, you should not have any problems.

If you do believe that guest posting can help you, use the following tips to help you get it right:

Don't approach the top influential bloggers. They won't respond to you. They are simply too busy. Instead, approach the up-and-comers. Find the middle-tier bloggers who are working hard to make a name for themselves and are starting to gain some traction.

Read through the blogs you would like to target to get a feel for the tone and the content. Use some of what you read as a basis for your pitch to the blogger. If you haven't even read their blog, they probably won't consider you. If you can mention points about what they have written, this can go a long way in getting their attention.

Once you have a feel for the styles of those targeted blogs, come up with a few relevant topics and write on those topics. Yes, do this before they even know you or accept work from you.

Once you have the posts written and you have read them over several times to make sure they are error free (IMPORTANT!!!!), you can send an email to the owner of the blog and let them know that you have written these posts. Ask them if they would be interested in including them on their blog.

What if They Say No?

Move on! Find other bloggers in the same niche that may be interested. If you contact enough people, at least one is bound to say yes.

When you find ones that are willing to post your work, you may or may not want to ask if they are willing to share it on their social media channels. Many guest bloggers feel you should not ask for this, while others will state that it is okay. It's a personal preference but the influential bloggers will probably share without you asking. No guarantees though.

It is fine for you to share the post when they publish it. In fact, the bloggers will likely want you to do this so they can get your traffic to their site. It's up to you if you want to ask for permission to do this, as a courtesy.

Try to establish a relationship with the blogger who agrees to post your work. They say a rising tide raises all ships. Offer to do future posts for the blogger or try to help out as much as you can. Ask them if there is anything else you can do for them.

Getting Published Clips

If you are a freelance writer, chances are good that potential clients have asked you for published clips. If you are not familiar with that term (then you really haven't done freelance writing 🙂 basically, it is writing that you have done that has been published on well known websites.

Some potential clients will accept free places like HubPages and other similar places. But, others want clips from highly established magazines and websites. Having published clips on influential blogs is going to help you big time with this. Even if the potential client isn't familiar with the influential up-and-comers, yet, it's only a matter of time before they will. So you may not get the gig initially. But, as the influencer grows, you can always resubmit later, at which point your post is published on that blog.

Published clip dilemma solved!

Specific Niche Topics

You are going to find niches that pay quite well. However, if you don't have any clips in that niche and you are not very familiar with the topics included, it's going to be difficult to land those high paying gigs. The solution: create your own blog in that niche and start creating content for it. Be consistent and learn as much as you can. You could also approach experts in the field of that niche and ask them if they are willing to post on your site. This gives some credibility and authority to your website.

One word of caution: don't pass yourself off as an expert if you are not. Remember, you will need to write about the topics from the perspective of someone who knows what they are talking about. Your potential clients will notice if you are not!

Giveaway Reports

While these aren't as effective as they used to be, they still can get some people to opt into your list. Write a report that can be sent to potential subscribers. Make sure what you include is extremely high quality. Use graphics and other stimulating assets. Keep the report as short as possible. Try to find a way to get them to read the report by including interactive elements in it or some other methods like contests, quizzes, etc.

Even if they opt in but don't read the report, you now have them on your list. Make sure you offer great information to this list. Remind them in future emails that there is some kind of surprise in the report and they would have known that had they read it (they probably will go back and read it). Make the surprise worthwhile.

Bulk Content Deals

If you are looking for new clients, you could offer them bulk deals on your content. For example, if you charge $50 per document, you could offer first time clients the first two free as long as they order ten articles and pay upfront. So, for that first order, they would pay for eight but get ten articles.

You could continue this concept for regular clients. Remember, that when you get clients that give you a steady stream of writing work, you have less prospecting that you need to do. This should be reflected in your prices. Prospecting takes you away from writing, which is the primary method on how you get paid.

Sales Brochures for Your Brand

It should go without say that you should create sales brochures and other marketing materials for your brand. But, there is something even more subtle about doing this yourself. You can market this as a service to clients. You can also outsource it if you are not good at doing this or you don't have the time. You can still market the service when you outsource, but your margins will be smaller.

Creating this kind of item on your own does take some practice. Too many people hold the belief that they are not good at design and it isn't as difficult as you may believe. You need to try it and keep going. However, if you don't have the time or the inclination, don't be afraid to outsource. End of story!

Create a Press Release for Your Brand

Much in the same way that you want to create sales material for your brand, you also want to learn how to create press releases. In fact, it's probably a more important item from a promotional aspect. For one thing, this is much easier to learn than to be a graphic designer (Sales Brochures) and it is definitely something that you can market as a service.

What's more is the more of these you create for your brand, the higher the chance of getting it some much-needed recognition. Press releases are an underutilized promotional method. The best way to learn is by analyzing ones that currently exist.

What to Do When Potential Clients Ask You For Fresh Samples

Getting back to the situation presented at the beginning of this article. When you become a seasoned writer and have clients under your belt, you will feel comfortable telling these clients that you already have samples of your work and that should be sufficient enough to make a decision. If they are insistent on your writing for them - to me that is a huge red flag - but it is up to you if you want to honor the request.

You could agree to write half the number of words they specify. If they ask you to write a 400 word document, tell them you'd be willing to write a 200 word document and that this, along with your other samples, should be enough to make a determination.

If they are really insistent and you agree to write what they ask for, specify that you only will do it if they give you a decision about hiring you within 24 hours after you submit. Then, if you don't hear from them in that 24 hour period, publish the created sample somewhere. It could be on your blog or some other free blog website. This way, if they publish it themselves later, they will get flagged for duplicate content.


Writing jobs, such as freelancing can be a great way to earn money. But it often requires constant promotion to make it work. When you are looking for clients, you aren't writing, which means you aren't making money.

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