Selling Out Your Way as a Freelance Writer

We hear that selling out is a bad thing. But, as a freelance writer, sometimes it's more about selling out on your own terms.

No one likes a sellout. We hear about selling out as if it's the end of the world. One of my blogging friends was accused of selling out when he started accepting money from credit card affiliate programs and adding credit card reviews to his site.

It's harder for me to sell out since my job is to write for money, but it's still possible, especially when it comes to my own blogs. What kinds of things am I willing to write about? And am I willing to accept free content, in the form of guest posts, on my sites?

Does it make sense to sell out as a freelance writer?

I've been thinking about this a bit lately, especially after mulling some of the truths that Shannyn at Frugal Beautiful pointed out in a recent blog post. I feel her pain. I receive emails regularly from banks, brands, and others who want me to review their services, write about their products, or accept sub-par canned content. Recently, I was so disappointed in a recent guest post from a major bank that it pushed me over the edge and prompted me to change the guest post policy on my personal finance blog.

They want you to do this stuff for exposure. I've written in the past about working for exposure. I think it's a terrible idea. Shannyn points out that:

I can tell you that if you’re trying to pay your bills or heck, even simply grow your blog, I can tell you that the PROMISE OF  “social media exposure” is not sufficient payment for your hard work.

And I've started lumping guest posts in there as well. Many brands think that providing you with their own content is sufficient payment. They get a backlink and a little exposure. The problem with just running someone else's content on your blog is that it might not be of a very high quality. I know. I've written this stuff. I used to churn out stuff that others would then place on blogs as guest posts. It was never my best stuff. Just general information with a little SEO tweaking. It's easy work, and it's a paycheck. But I wouldn't want it on my blogs.

Freelance Writer: Sell Out Your Own Way

I participated in a couple of blog campaigns recently that really hit home with the idea of selling out on your own terms. First of all, these campaigns offered me a lot of money to write a post with a link to a specific brand. Next, since they were paying me to write the content, there was a disclosure on the post in compliance with FCC regulations. I felt better about these campaigns for the following reasons:

  • I wrote the post, so I could control the quality and the message.
  • The disclosure made the whole thing transparent.
  • I wasn't hemmed about by restrictions, which, interestingly, I sometimes am when I just put up someone's free content.

The interesting thing about posting some brand's “free content” (and they'll totally promote it through their social media channels on top of everything) is that it sometimes comes with more restrictions. They aren't paying you for anything — the links, the exposure, your time — but they want to dictate everything. With the paid brand campaigns, they tell me where they want to link, ask me to publish a disclosure, and ask me to post my own post on social media (which I would do anyway since it's my post). That's it. No anchor text requirements. No “use this keyword X amount of times.” It's much easier, and I get paid to pretty much do what I would anyway.

As a freelance writer, selling out doesn't get much better than that.

Bottom Line

If you're going to put your name on something or let others use your site for something, it makes sense to get a fair return for that value. It's one thing to let your friends, who you know will offer you a true guest post of value to your readers contribute something. It's something else altogether for a PR person to try to get you to work for free.

From now on, when a brand wants to offer me “free content — and we'll promote it!” I'm going to point them to my new policy. They can pay me to write the content or find some other freelance writer who's willing to sell out for much less.

5 thoughts on “Selling Out Your Way as a Freelance Writer”

  1. Ghostwriter David

    Nobody seems to be afraid to cheer for major league sports players who routinely sell out for fatter paychecks. Imagine if soldiers switched alegiences as readily as athletes do?

  2. I’ve moved to stop accepting external content, too – no more shitty guest posts even for $$. I want full control. It’s cost me a fair bit in potential revenue already this year, but I feel good about it.

    I’ve actually been thinking about this in regard to my professional life. When I worked in big news journos were so disparaging about ‘advertorial’, but I’ve done more and more of it over time esp. now I work at a small place and we have to wear more hats. I actually don’t mind it, it’s good experience and I think makes me more employable in the long run. I’m a writer at heart, not a reporter, to be quite honest, so I’m not as heavily anti as some of the old schoolers. I think there still definitely is a line, and we as an industry are working out where exactly it falls, but we can’t really afford to be so precious about it. If we can’t figure out how to make money in this biz, we won’t have jobs for much longer.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      Yeah, you start to get to the point where you just decide that it’s not worth the money to have that sort of content on your site. The advertorial line is a fine one, but here in the U.S. it’s made a little thicker by FCC requirements that you disclose when you’re being paid for something as a blogger. But yeah, there’s definitely a place for it, especially since the bills need to be paid. I’ve been on both sides of the traditional journo thing (I worked in advertising for a newspaper before becoming a writer), and the sad reality is that without the ads to pay the bills, the “real” journalism doesn’t happen.

    2. Nerdley Dorkmeister

      hahaha. don’t worry, i’ll let your handler know. I’m sure your test will go better this time. Just look for the thing that needs to be done… you’ll know it. Make yourself noted in the program report and you’re on your way kid. Writers are needed, but what we could use are pragmatic forward thinkers more than anything. Oh and you’re right, ego is a precious liability in asymmetrical warfare. –

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