Writers - DON'T write articles for free

by ShayB
37 replies
I see a lot of newbies offering to write free articles so that they can get testimonials.

Don't.

Not only will you have some people that will take advantage of this and take articles and you'll never hear from them again, but it simply isn't a good use of your time.

Potential clients want to know that you can string together a least six words in a coherent sentence. They want to see how your writing flows. They want to see if you're capable of writing at the caliber they desire.

Two options are better:

1. Have a website for your writing and have samples on it.

2. Have a niche site that may not necessarily be for writing clients, but it does show good examples of how you write and what your style is.

The best part about directing your clients to a niche site, is that you can constantly be updating the content on there - so you are building your own business while you're working for clients as well.

This also helps you get around the problem of not having referrals if you are a ghostwriter (because many clients don't want others to know that your writing for them).

Just a little piece of advice from someone who got her first writing gig from showing the client a few hobby blogs as proof of her writing skills.

Any other writers want to give some advice about getting your FIRST client?
#articles #free #write #writers
  • Profile picture of the author FreeMeal
    I hate to see people giving their hard work away for free, or severely under charging for their work (except in some exceptional circumstances). So easy to get yourself locked into a race to the bottom that way.
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  • Profile picture of the author Elluminati
    [DELETED]
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    • Profile picture of the author marketingdynasty
      It is never good to write articles for free especially if you are trying to offer a service or build a respectable online business!
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    • Profile picture of the author ShayB
      Originally Posted by Marianne Gonne View Post

      Another great thread, Shay.

      I too have never agreed with the whole "review copy" ethos here on the Warrior Forum. It sends out the wrong message.

      That said, a couple of years ago, I wrote a white paper for a women's charity here in the UK. They had no money, but it was an organisation I believed in. So I did the job pro bono.

      It was my first ever white paper, and that "free" job has opened some very lucrative doors for me.

      Writing for charities is one of the few "loss leaders" I'd recommend to new writers. It'll give you a great sample for your portfolio, and impress prospective clients.

      As for other ways to generate samples, you can write for revenue-sharing sites like InfoBarrel and direct prospects to the URL.
      Great points!

      Yes, doing free work for a local charity is a totally different thing, and it can lead to some VERY big returns. Plus it's just good karma.

      Good point about InfoBarrel - I never thought about that!
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    • Profile picture of the author megansays
      Originally Posted by Marianne Gonne View Post

      Another great thread, Shay.
      Writing for charities is one of the few "loss leaders" I'd recommend to new writers. It'll give you a great sample for your portfolio, and impress prospective clients.
      I agree with this completely. You're likely to get better word of mouth advertising this way, too. Clients who have paid for your services may feel that they have done enough, while clients of free services may feel obligated to return the favor somehow. Not a good reason to do charity work, but it is a good benefit of doing so.

      In my opinion, having a portfolio website is the single biggest factor in landing good writing jobs. Not only does it give you a place to show off your stuff, but also shows that you are a professional, committed to your business.
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  • Profile picture of the author Joseph Robinson
    Banned
    Originally Posted by ShayRockhold View Post

    Any other writers want to give some advice about getting your FIRST client?
    Be confident, and don't be afraid to hear "no". You know how good you are (hopefully), it's your clients that need convincing. No one else is going to do it for you (although the samples are a large part of it) so your attitude and persistence is key to landing that first client. That being said, be ready to hear "no", especially if you aren't published anywhere and only have your samples to go off of. It happens though if you stick to it. Every one of us was at "0" on the client marker at some point.
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  • Profile picture of the author Smalls91
    Just a tip for writers starting out, make sure you get a deposit. Sit on your hands until you do. I've been burned several times by trusting clients too much.
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    • Profile picture of the author J Bold
      Originally Posted by Smalls91 View Post

      Just a tip for writers starting out, make sure you get a deposit. Sit on your hands until you do. I've been burned several times by trusting clients too much.

      I only have taken jobs from one client without getting paid first. And it was a risk but since he gave me many, many articles over several months and always paid, it turned out well in the end.

      Otherwise, I've always taken payment BEFORE writing a word.

      On the other side of the token, people will say not to pay for articles/writing until you receive work, and I've been on both sides, so I understand both points of view completely. But when I'm writing, no money, no writing.

      When I'm buying, it will largely depend on the writer's extensive history and reputation.
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  • Profile picture of the author Seatbelt99
    Nice tip Shay. I made the mistake of offering 'review copies' of my work when I put out my first "Warrior for Hire" thread.

    It did lead to a good long term client, but 2 of the 5 I wrote never got back to me and skipped town with free content. (I have since hired a private investigator who has tracked them down to a small town in Northern Pakistan. Soon I'll pry my review out of his cold dead fingers.)


    The only tip I can give for getting started is to be confident in your skills and once you do get the first client, always deliver as promised (quality, turn around time and anything else you agree to provide to the client).
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  • Profile picture of the author nmb
    If you dont value your own work and skills then how can you expect anyone else to?
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  • Profile picture of the author Randall Magwood
    Shay good post. I wouldn't coach and consult people for free, same for article writing.
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    • Profile picture of the author MissTerraK
      Excellent advice, Shay!

      Although it is sad, there are certain types that troll through writers' offers just beginning their career only to take the piece and run.

      So unfortunately, offering free writing in exchange for social validation is just troll bait.

      Perhaps asking for payment upfront first and making a 100% refund guarantee if the article isn't up to expectations may be a better route. Sure some may ask for the refund to get an article for free, but it would be more of a hassle for them to have to pay first, then wait for their money to be returned, that is, if they even have the money to pay in the first place.

      This could head a lot them off at the pass.

      Terra
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      • Profile picture of the author JohnMcCabe
        I never spent much time as a 'writer for hire', but this tip applies to pretty much any service provider.

        Be prepared to have people try to haggle with you. You'll find prospects that try to beat down your price, some that will agree to the price and work you for extra throw-ins, and even some that recognize your value and treat you like a valued member of the team.

        Stand your ground with the first two, and bend over backwards for the third...
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  • Profile picture of the author wizzard1222
    I am sure there is/are a few reasons to do articles for FREE....especially short ones...but it's a short list....
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  • Profile picture of the author David Keith
    I agree with the overall sentiment of this thread, but I have seen one method of offering free services that makes a lot of sense to me.

    Rather than just doing a few free "review copies" for random people. Try proactively offering your services to people with a little bit of a following. If you are prepared to do a little free work to get your foot in the door somewhere, you want to do it in a way that maximizes its effect.

    You see this with some web design companies. They offer a discount for for displaying the designers link and thus bringing in more business.
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  • Profile picture of the author JeniferStarr
    I was so glad to see this post. I've been working as a ghostwriter for years part-time and recently left my job to do this full-time. I think that if you want people to value your writing, you have to value it. Go ahead and give a free sample, but don't work for someone for free.

    Also, I agree with getting money up front. I actually ask for the full amount up front because I've had bad experiences with chasing people for payment after they've received the product.
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  • Profile picture of the author drmani
    Originally Posted by ShayRockhold View Post

    I see a lot of newbies offering to write free articles so that they can get testimonials.

    Don't.

    Not only will you have some people that will take advantage of this and take articles and you'll never hear from them again, but it simply isn't a good use of your time.
    Shay, I respectfully disagree (in a limited sense).

    For my first year or two online, I wrote EVERYTHING for free.

    Then, a scout for what would become About.com found my writing -
    and invited me to be a Guide.

    About.com went on to be a Top 10 Web property - a position it
    still retains, with some ups and downs.

    That led to many interesting opportunities, which evolved into my
    becoming an Internet Infopreneur - and being able to fund a long
    cherished dream that took a lot of money to create and sustain.

    Giving things away for free is grossly UNDER-RATED.

    Especially from the intangible viewpoint of how it makes you FEEL
    and how it gets you PERCEIVED by the rest of the universe.

    When you GIVE value without expectation of any return, you set in
    play a forcefield that ripples in unimagined ways.

    Writers write. It rarely is "hard work" for those who truly love
    and enjoy their craft, grow better over time, and find writing is
    quicker, easier and more fun than before.

    I can pen a 500 word article on a topic I enjoy and know in 15
    minutes. Giving it away for free once or twice isn't a big "loss".

    More to the point, delivering something of real value to readers
    helps with positioning you - not just from the "writing skills"
    viewpoint, but from one of showing how generous, helpful and
    caring you may be, for giving away such value for free.

    There's this quote I love, from Seth Godin's "LINCHPIN":

    "Art is the product of emotional labor. Art is a gift. The design of the iPhone is art. It changes the way some people feel. And there is a gift as well. People who see the iPhone but don't buy one still receive the gift. An ugly iPhone would cost as much as the beautiful one. The beautiful part is the gift."
    Think about that before deciding whether or not "giving away"
    review samples is, indeed, a "mistake".

    All success
    Dr.Mani
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    • Profile picture of the author AprilCT
      My first private client paid as promised for a few batches of articles. The second, a mill, sold my directed sample work and I found it published on the net. They approved it without revision and said their client was very pleased.

      Since it was an unpaid sample, there was no pay for me, but the mill obviously got paid. That was around four years ago and I never did sample work again. That place contacts me every so often and requests me to write for them and I just ignore them.

      My first encounter with the way things were done for a writer new to them was enough. If the article goes to their paying client, they should have paid me for it. It's easy enough to weed out the people who cannot write by turning down the article instead of selling "sample" articles.
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      • Profile picture of the author ShayB
        I agree that there can be a time and a place to give away work for free.

        I've done free work for charities. I've given away other work for worthwhile reasons (sometimes just to be nice ).

        But - like I said in the OP - for newbies to come on and proclaim "I'll write free articles for testimonials" isn't necessarily the best course of action to take.

        Not only can it be a waste of time - giving articles to people for no pay and no testimonial because they simply take your articles and disappear - but they don't serve any higher purpose (like doing work for a charity or putting articles on a directory or your own site).

        My OP didn't mean "you should never work for free" but rather "Here's what I see happening and it isn't the best idea."
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  • Profile picture of the author contentwriting360
    Banned
    Hi Shay,

    Your post will do the talking for us in terms of convincing aspiring writers not to give free content for the sake of showing some reviews on his/her thread.
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  • Profile picture of the author WinstonTian
    Yes, you should either use them as samples instead
    of giving the ownership of them as review copies.

    The trade-off is obviously imbalanced.

    I personally think that demonstration of your offer is
    far more valuable than having social proof. That's
    because people are thinking WIIFM.

    But of course, it's a little different if you're writing
    copywriting, because of the taxing amount of market
    research in the preparatory phases.

    Winston Tian
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    Cheers,
    Winston
    The Beginner's Doctor

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  • Profile picture of the author TiffanyLambert
    I never did either, Shay. I always showed a portfolio.

    That said, I co-created a course on ghostwriting and the other creator recommended that they DO give away a free article.

    We openly had differing opinions on it.

    Then when we had customers telling me that they tried his approach and not only got feedback, but a permanent client, I felt like it might work for some people. I'm stingy. I probably still wouldn't. lol
    tiff
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  • Profile picture of the author williamk
    Banned
    I have been saying that from beginning. But the newbie writers are killing the market along with the value of writing with these tactics.
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  • Profile picture of the author johnben1444
    Typically, it's not my idea to give free reviews not just content.

    Like my self acclaimed saying goes: "there is no good writer anywhere, the only good writer is the one that goes back to his piece a second time".

    As far as am concern, you don't need samples or rating to even sell your work, as a writer with great style and English command, your sales page/thread or whatever can be your sample, full stop.

    According to the bible, "you can know them from their fruits", It's doesn't hide.

    Recently, i found a great writer that does my content for $5, he lacks sales, rep and rating on his thread. He is damn so good that am currently taking it upon myself to shine the lights in his path. He is so good that some of my clients want to know where i do get my content from. I noticed one problem with him, he doesn't have anything on his sales page but pricing an a few testimonials. Am working with him to improve that and probably get his fees higher to $25 per 500words.
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  • Profile picture of the author zerotoheroonline
    Great advise Shay..

    It is a pretty known fact that as a person who has not landed a client, desperation sets in and the 1st thought that crosses our minds are to give away free articles for reviews... DON'T.. instead emphasize on your writing methods.. tell your potential client about ways you use to produce a good article.. and lead them to an example preferably related to what they want..

    Don't just stop there.. be sure to provide the best service and value to your client..

    Remember, bringing value to your clients pocket will take you a lot further than trying to just bring value to your pocket.. this is a general tip that will apply in any biz you do.. have a nice day folks..
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  • Profile picture of the author madbe
    Originally Posted by ShayRockhold View Post

    I see a lot of newbies offering to write free articles so that they can get testimonials.

    Don't.

    Not only will you have some people that will take advantage of this and take articles and you'll never hear from them again, but it simply isn't a good use of your time.

    Potential clients want to know that you can string together a least six words in a coherent sentence. They want to see how your writing flows. They want to see if you're capable of writing at the caliber they desire.

    Two options are better:

    1. Have a website for your writing and have samples on it.

    2. Have a niche site that may not necessarily be for writing clients, but it does show good examples of how you write and what your style is.

    The best part about directing your clients to a niche site, is that you can constantly be updating the content on there - so you are building your own business while you're working for clients as well.

    This also helps you get around the problem of not having referrals if you are a ghostwriter (because many clients don't want others to know that your writing for them).

    Just a little piece of advice from someone who got her first writing gig from showing the client a few hobby blogs as proof of her writing skills.

    Any other writers want to give some advice about getting your FIRST client?
    I thought long and hard about whether to respond to this post, but in the end decided I just couldn't let it pass without offering my two cents.

    As one of the writer newbies that recently offered a WSO for free articles in exchange for testimonials, I took this post very personally. Interestingly enough, my decision to run the WSO was based on a suggestion offered here in the forum by a fellow warrior. Perhaps I'm too trusting or just plain naïve, but the thought never occurred to me that people would take advantage of this offer and not, at the very least, provide me with a review of my work. I will fulfill my commitment to complete the sample articles for those who have requested them, and if they choose not to fulfill their end of the bargain, then I have learned a valuable lesson.
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    • Profile picture of the author ShayB
      Originally Posted by madbe View Post

      I thought long and hard about whether to respond to this post, but in the end decided I just couldn't let it pass without offering my two cents.

      As one of the writer newbies that recently offered a WSO for free articles in exchange for testimonials, I took this post very personally. Interestingly enough, my decision to run the WSO was based on a suggestion offered here in the forum by a fellow warrior. Perhaps I'm too trusting or just plain naïve, but the thought never occurred to me that people would take advantage of this offer and not, at the very least, provide me with a review of my work. I will fulfill my commitment to complete the sample articles for those who have requested them, and if they choose not to fulfill their end of the bargain, then I have learned a valuable lesson.
      I hope that it works out for you. I really do.

      And you know what? It very well might.

      But just know that there are people who may take your work and not leave a review in return. I hate to say it, but there are people who do try to take advantage of newbies like this. (Hence my OP.)

      *hugs*
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  • Profile picture of the author Martin Pupke
    Recently I have seen a bunch of writing gigs where a sample article is required, this really puts me off. Say I was to apply for 50 different writing gigs in one week where each require a sample, how would that work exactly, I write 50 pieces of content?

    Not the best use of my time I think.
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  • Profile picture of the author A.Green
    Just thought I'd toss this out there. I just got Carol Tice's latest newsletter and she had something to say about writing for free:

    Instead of writing for mills, do a few free gigs. Yes, we all want to get paid. But the best way to hurry up and acquire the sort of portfolio that impresses good-paying prospects is to volunteer for a few quality organizations in the industries where you want to write. You can write 100 content-mill articles, and still have no good samples you can use to break in with magazines or quality businesses. Instead, bite the bullet and write pro bono, with a pledge from the client to refer you and give you a testimonial. (Emphasis added.)
    But note that she isn't talking about writing free samples for every webmaster who comes along. In fact, I think someone up-thread also suggested pro bono work for legitimate non-profits and other organizations.
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  • Profile picture of the author goindeep
    Good points however we used to have a name in the trade industry called "A love job" (get your mind out of the gutter)where you would do a handful of free jobs for friends or family while you learnt.

    For example; when I was cutting concrete with my new concrete saw I decided to do two love jobs for my dad and a random dude. I learnt a little about the blades and the amount of water I needed to use while spraying the blades.

    I got some confidence out of it too.

    So there are other benefits which are undeniable.

    Although this may make it harder for article and content service providers to compete with freebies it's just one of those things and unfortunately no thread will put a stop to it.
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  • Profile picture of the author chykee
    Well, you can write an article for a highly discounted price. This i agree but writing for free is just slave trade
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    Read the forum rules! And STOP posting nonsense one-liners, before you lose your account.

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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    There is always the portfolio route. A writer doesn't have to
    give away articles for free to attract clients. He can always
    refer the prospect to a personal blog or show samples.

    To get attention, some may choose the "give away"
    strategy, but keep in mind that some prospects will
    take advantage of your offer the same way that consumers
    take samples of products but never buy.

    It's the cost of advertising.

    -Ray Edwards
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  • Profile picture of the author artse
    Good that i found this , thread , i think i need to re-write my options, because i too, offered articles for free.
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    • Profile picture of the author Brant
      If you write for others for free, not only are you screwing yourself out of money that you deserve, but you are subliminally advertising that you write low quality stuff that nobody should value enough to pay for anyway. If you write for yourself for free (for instance, if you submit a piece to a publication which pays you only with "10 free copies"), you are simply devaluing yourself.

      Never write for free. And never devalue your own writing efforts.

      It's alright to write for websites that pay you nothing up front, but which pay you continuing royalties based on your content's site visitor page views. However, I recommend researching to find sites that will pay you up-front upon acceptance.

      If you write articles and submit them to a non-paying place such as the famous Ezine Articles, the only rationale is to write these articles for you, so that you will inspire readers to visit your website, where you have the chance to turn them into paying customers.
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  • Profile picture of the author ashloren
    I kind of disagree. I can see both sides of the argument though. I personally offer to write one free article for any new client. It gives me good practice and helps me avoid doing work for someone who is not going to like my style of writing.

    Yeah, some people will take advantage of the offer. But the clients who are fair about it tend to appreciate the gesture and it helps to build a strong relationship right from the beginning, which is something I really like to establish early on.

    While I appreciate testimonials/reviews for the first free piece, they are not something I require.

    It should also be noted that I have the luxury of staying with friends at the moment, so my financial situation is somewhat relaxed. If I had bills to pay and deadlines to meet, I may not be able to continue the free offer. So I realize that for some people this is just not realistic...
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  • Profile picture of the author Jacqueline Smith
    When I was offering writing services, I always offered a full refund if the client was unhappy with the work. This really helped me gain clients, as they had nothing to lose when trying out my services.

    I really found this to be a great way to weed out those that just wanted a free article and never really intended to use my services.

    I never had to give a refund and most of my clients always returned for more.

    My services very quickly went from $10 an article to $50 + an article. I completely attribute this to the fact that I knew what I was worth and I focused on proving it to my target market.

    There are many ways to market your skills without having to give them away for free.
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  • Profile picture of the author Michael Oksa
    "To thine own self be true."

    This thread clearly shows that neither metohd is better than the other. However, you should only write free articles if you have a plan for doing so...and are able to stick to that plan.

    In other words, don't write for free "just because"; do so with purpose.

    Deep down you know if writing free articles is a good idea for you or not. (Hence the quote at the start of this post.)

    All the best,
    Michael
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  • Profile picture of the author dreambody
    I've written 7 fiction novels and despite getting an agent etc I was ultimately rejected 100's of times. In the end I put them online and sold them as ebooks when no-one knew what an ebook was.

    Now I'm a (semi) former personal trainer who writes workout programs. Usually I got paid a lot, but sometimes I did it and still do it for free, but only for people I know who I am 99% sure will use it properly.

    Now I combine the two and write fitness articles for my website, but in the beginning I sent them to article database sites like ezine articles and became a platinum writer as quick as it's possible to do so, without a single rejection. Although it helped my website initially I realised I was devaluing myself and my writing by doing so (even Google agress with that!), so instead I write solely for my own website.

    I'm not trying to get work as a writer, but if people like what they see and want me to write for them they'll ask me, or they might see my old articles on other sites.

    If you're just getting started you could try having a blog and a submitting articles for traffic, then at least you're getting something for your work.
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