One of the pitches you will get as you embark on your career in freelance writing is the idea of writing portfolio pieces for exposure.
There are certain emails that prompt diva moments from me. In fact, I received such an email a few days ago. This email introduced me to an exciting network that offers great content. The email writer had seen my writing on this blog, one story in particular, and thinks that I would make a great addition to the blog network as a content provider.
Oh, really? Do tell me more.
[A]ll of our content is syndicated on branded mirror sites…so your writing would get some great exposure to this demographic through our huge readership base.
This is the point where the email writer lost me. “Great exposure” is code for: We're not paying you.
This is also the point where I turned into a diva. “Could she have Googled me first?” I asked my husband. “Really? The last thing I need at this point in my freelancing writing career is more exposure.”
What I'm looking for right now are higher paying freelance jobs so that I can reduce the amount of freelance writing I'm doing and concentrate on other projects. I'm not exactly looking to write for free so that I can enjoy the benefits of exposure.
These emails also remind me that, really, not everyone knows — or even cares — who I am. This “exposure” ploy was just some form email, with a few details altered to personalize it, to see if the blog network owner could get some free content. So, really, there's not a reason to get all diva. What really needs to happen is for me to just press “delete” and move on.
When It Makes Sense to Write for Exposure
This doesn't mean that you should never write for the sake of exposure. In some cases freelance writing for free can be a smart move. Here are some of the reasons to consider writing for free in order to get a little exposure:
- Access to a particular blog's readership: Guest posting on a high-quality blog can provide you with a new audience for your work, as well as a good-quality link.
- Social proof: Another reason to post on a blog for free is for the social proof. Sometimes, it's nice to say that you write for a certain site. When you do this, you can raise your prominence and credibility. It's one of the reasons bloggers write for major news outlet blogs, even if they aren't being paid much (or at all).
- Portfolio building: If you are in the early stages of your freelance writing career, it can make sense to offer free posts as a way to build your portfolio. That way, you have some solid examples of your work to point to on sites other than your own blog.
However, it's important not to get trapped in the freelance writing for free rut. A couple of years ago, I offered to write for free for a site in the freelance space. I said I would only contribute one post every other month, since I didn't have a lot of time to write for free. After awhile, though, the blog asked for one free regular “guest post” a month. I caved, and then they asked for two regular posts a month. That's where I drew the line and quit altogether.
At some point, you need to figure out at what point you will no longer write for free, just to get the exposure. I rarely write anything for free. I have to really, really like you to even consider writing a guest post without any compensation at all. Most of the time, when a guest post appears from me on another site, someone, somewhere has paid for it.
What do you think? When is it worth it to write for free?