Hey, will you write this blog post for free?
If you’ve ever been asked this question, You’re probably rolling your eyes and groaning, “No, not again!”
As writers and creatives, we’re often advised against working for free — to know our worth and not accept anything less. And believe me, here at The Write Life, we agree. It’s important to set a precedent that freelance writers deserve to be compensated fairly for our work and expertise.
But sometimes volunteering or working for free can actually help kickstart a thriving writing career.
Case in point: a few years ago, I received an email from a startup founder inviting me to write a guest post about public relations for his blog. I wrote the post, not expecting much except to have my byline associated with a popular and interesting website.
Much to my surprise, after the post was published, I received an email from the founder asking me how else we could work together. Three years later, that startup is my long-time blog management and social media client.
Writing a guest post for free led to consistent paid work. No doubt, there are times when it makes sense to volunteer or work for free.
Here are three instances when volunteering may be a smart move to help grow your portfolio, leave you feeling fulfilled and boost your career.
1. When you have minimal experience and need to build your portfolio
Brand new to a given field or just getting your start as a writer? Volunteering may make sense to build up your expertise and portfolio.
It’s often challenging to find paying gigs when you aren’t able to tangibly show an editor, potential client or employer you know what you’re doing. Volunteering allows you the opportunity to experiment, find your way and gain valuable work experience.
Then, once you have a couple of clips and samples, you’re more easily able to approach paid opportunities with confidence.
For example, when I was in college, a debut author reached out to me to ask for my assistance with publicizing her book launch. I took on the project free of charge and quickly learned all types of new skills: writing a press release; organizing a blog book tour; working with book bloggers and crafting social media messages.
After completing the project, I was able to turn that experience into a case study for future clients and opportunities.
How to do it
Think about the types of clients you’d eventually like to write or work for. Reach out to them and ask if they’d be interested in your assistance with (insert your skill here).
Most people will be thrilled to hear from you, especially small businesses, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations.
If you’re more interested in blogging and writing gigs, check out the “contribute” or “write for us” page of the blogs/websites you enjoy reading and follow the directions to send them a pitch. Many sites are eager for guest content.
2. When you’re passionate about a cause
What are you extremely passionate about? Combining your expertise with a cause you care about can make you feel good about yourself and the value your work brings to the world around you.
Graphic designer Jennie Lewis is passionate about keeping beaches and seas clean, and wanted to put her skills to good use. She reached out to 2 Minute Beach Clean and offered up pro-bono design skills. “Using my time and skill to help make a difference in an area I’m passionate about feels worthwhile,” she explained.
Similarly, consider volunteering or writing for free simply because it makes you feel fulfilled.
“I think everyone should have some sort of volunteer cause they get involved with. It helps keep us human and sensitive, as opposed to falling into a negative outlook of the world,” said Maddy Osman, who volunteers as the race director for Cupid’s Undie Run in Chicago and writes free guest blog posts when it ties into her blog’s niche.
How to do it
Think about the causes you hold dear to your heart. Are there organizations you’re already involved with or aware of who could use a passionate volunteer with a specific set of skills? Don’t be afraid to reach out to them via email or social media accounts.
If you’re looking for the chance to combine your writing skills with a great cause, consider using VolunteerMatch to search for specific opportunities related to your interest area in your city.
Similarly, simply Google keywords “Writing volunteer opportunities in (your city name here).” After doing a quick search for here in Philadelphia, I came across Mighty Writers, a non-profit that teaches kids to think and write with clarity.
3. When it offers you exposure you otherwise wouldn’t have found on your own
It can be a controversial topic in freelancing circles, but whether we like it or not, writing for free puts you and your work in front of an already established audience.
Think about the Huffington Post. The popular website typically doesn’t pay its contributors, yet writers all over the world are vying to have their names associated with the well-known brand. They can then add Huffington Post to their portfolio and writer bios, giving them more legitimacy when they seek out paying gigs.
Writing for free can lead to great exposure for you, your work or whatever you’re interested in promoting or sharing. Cristina Roman, co-head honcho at One Woman Shop agrees: “We know there’s a lot of mixed opinions on writing for free for exposure, but we’ve found it very valuable when we’ve had a specific funnel to direct readers to. We find it useful as a means of getting readers involved in the One Woman Shop community and engaged with our offerings.”
How to do it
If you’re looking to promote a product, service or brand, consider finding highly-targeted blogs or websites with a similar audience as the one you’re trying to attract. Of course, first check out their submission guidelines to see if they accept guest posts. If you can’t find anything on their website, consider sending them a well-written and researched pitch email.
Is it always worth it?
While writing and volunteering for free certainly have many exciting benefits, let’s not forget there are times when it definitely doesn’t make sense to write or volunteer without payment. Here are a few of those times to keep in mind:
- When the project takes too much time away from paid work
- When you already have a significant level of expertise
- When the exposure to you and your brand will be minimal
- When it will take way too long to see any return on investment
- When the work no longer fills you with joy and excitement
What do you think? Have you ever volunteered or written for free? We’d love to hear about your experiences!