Should you work for free?
It’s the age-old question that many creatives ask themselves at some point.
A lot of publications offer writers the chance to write for them in exchange for exposure instead of payment. (One of the prominent publications known for paying with exposure is Huffington Post.) The question usually comes up when discussing writers and bloggers. But in a media landscape where these distinctions are blurred, it’s a question sometimes posed to journalists seeking to get their work published at certain publications.
I don’t write for free. I can’t afford it. Some people work unpaid gigs to get the clips they need to go for paid gigs. If you’re early in your career and that’s something you can financially afford….nope I still think you should go for paid gigs. Pull your clips from internships or college if you must. Professional freelancers should always look for paid gigs. Professionals get paid for their work.
Taking a page from photographer Kaitlin Hetterscheidt, don’t go in blind. When negotiating, do your homework to get an idea of what they’re willing to pay. I suggest going to Who Pays Writers first for rates that different publications pay. Once you think of publications for which your pitch is a good fit, you can start with the highest paid publications first.
When you begin freelancing, you begin to understand the value of time. As a staffer, you’re either paid by the hour or by the year, and your paycheck is dependable. But as a freelancer, you have to be very disciplined and allocate your time to the stories that will put food on the table. That means having to balance quick turnaround stories with longer passion projects. (Just as refresher, here’s why freelancers need to know their worth).
The sooner you get a sense of what time is worth, the better you, your portfolio and your bank account will be.
Editor’s note: For an entertaining way to think about this, take a look at the Should I Work for Free flowchart.