The Art Of Writing For Free To Get Paid
And no, it doesn’t involve giving your clients ‘free samples’
The most common tip you’ll hear in the freelance writing fraternity — “guest post”.
It’s a way to get your name out there on the Internet, and it works to enhance your credibility with prospective clients you’re pitching to. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily pay you, but you’re making an investment in your future, it’s okay to write for free!
Now I agree that some amount of unpaid writing can be important to build your portfolio when you’re starting out.
What I don’t agree with is that guest posting is the only way — or even the best way — to go.
First off, many of the clients asking for ‘guest posts’ will be companies or individuals who want branded content for their business — in other words, clients who should be paying you for what you write. ‘Guest post’ in this case simply means free labour. And it doesn’t matter how inexperienced you are and how eager you are to get an opening, free labour is wrong.
The other option is to pitch for guest posts in reputed publications, like Inc or Entrepreneur. It isn’t about the money there, but about the prestige. All well and good. But the thing is, getting featured in magazines like Inc and Entrepreneur isn’t just “pitch and go”. As reputed publications with an audience base mostly comprising senior management, they’re not always receptive to posts from unknown writers. And even with the lesser-known magazines, there’s always an element of uncertainty because you never quite know what they’re looking for. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pitch to magazines. You certainly should, and multiple times. And if you’re lucky, they’ll accept your pitch! But when you’re expanding as a freelance writer, it’s important to cast your net wider than just the biggies. And when you’re just starting out with no stellar writing history to your name, you need to be extra careful to not waste your time and skills on write-ups that won’t add to your profile or pay you anything.
So you can’t count on guest posts, you can’t count on magazine pitches.
What can you count on, then?
There are three things that I did religiously while I was testing the waters as a freelancer. And when I say ‘testing the waters’, I mean I was a clueless AF 24-year-old whose only ‘portfolio’ was one LinkedIn article published a year ago. A combination of those three things ultimately brought me the views and engagement I wanted and scored me high-paying clients, some of whom I still work with. And when it comes to new freelancers building their profile, these three are the only ‘writing for free’ tools you need. Give them a try and keep at it for a few months. You’ll soon have your first clients reaching out to you — and it won’t feel like free labour either.
Write on Medium
Medium has lots of great publications (including the one you’re reading now!) and many of them are open to submissions from never-before-published writers. Which means your chances of getting selected and getting featured are way higher than if you were to send a piece to Forbes. You see, the aim here isn’t to go viral. The aim here is to have your work out there on the Internet and vouched for by an external authority. And the brains behind these smaller publications are just as diligent about picking good pieces for their page — so if you’re chosen, you know you’ve done something right.
Be active on LinkedIn.
I simply cannot stress this point enough. Most of my credibility today is based on the efforts I put into LinkedIn when I was starting out. I posted every day — sometimes twice a day — and engaged with everyone who liked or commented on my posts or whose posts on my feed I found interesting. Every professional and every company has a LinkedIn page, so if you want to connect with prospective clients, that’s the place to promote your ‘free’ writing. If you’re stuck with finding ideas for posts, check out the #30DaysOfSocial challenge. It sends you daily prompts that are easy and fun to work on, and by the end of 30 days you’ll almost certainly have a fab new habit. Oh, and LinkedIn has its own Publish feature too, so go ahead and write some full-length articles.
Have your own website where potential clients can see your writing.
Even if you’re a newbie writer with just two 500-word pieces under your belt, put them up on your own website. Your website link is what you’ll be sharing with prospective clients when they ask you for samples. And when I say ‘website’, I don’t mean just have a page with links on it. Have your own About page where you introduce yourself in a catchy manner. Remember everything they told you about the perfect elevator pitch? This is the same thing, only in textual form. The good news is, it’s easier than you’d think to build a website. I’ve shared a step-by-step guide on how to build your first website on WordPress if you have no idea where to start. Once you’re a little more comfortable tinkering with site builders, you can move on to Wix. They have a drag-and-drop format that’s super easy to use and you get tons of pro-level functionality — for free.
Everyone makes investments when they start out, some with their money, some with their time. As long as they’re smart investments, they’re worth it — and writing for free as a newbie freelancer can be one of those smart investments if you go the right way about it.
What’s your take on writing for free? Let me know!