Freelancing advice: To freebie or not to freebie?

Need some freelancing advice?

There’s nothing that gets my back up as much as being asked to provide free freelance writing work in exchange for exposure. (Except being asked to provide free work in return for the promise of future work or as a ‘thank you’ for past work.)

And there was a time when freebie requests came thick and fast.

These days I’m such a vocal hard-ass that I don’t get them much anymore. But maybe you do? So, a couple of my freelance colleagues and I spent time debating the issue and why we feel strongly about it. Both for and against, for balance.

Here are some of the reasons behind flat-out Nos:

It’s the principle.

‘Why are freelancers not treated like any other professional? My sense is that we are our own worst enemies. We don’t know how to negotiate, we are too scared to walk away when it is not in our interest to stay, and we don’t really know our rights.’

It’s a bottomless pit.

‘I’ve learned to abide by the principle of no free work for commercial clients – ever. In all probability the client will expect more ‘favours’ in future and the relationship will get messy. Also, never do freebies for family or friends, as that can get out of hand. Edit just one thesis and suddenly you’re the go-to uncle for every nephew or niece in varsity.’

It’s cheeky.

‘It’s a bit like telling your doctor, dentist, plumber, electrician, “Well, I gave you so much business this year, how about a free visit?” Ha, that would go down well!’

Exposure doesn’t pay.

‘I questioned the generous individual who was offering me all this wonderful exposure, asking if she earned a salary, drove a car and bought groceries. She said of course. I asked how much exposure would buy her at the grocery store, fuel pump or bank. She muttered something about my being ungrateful considering the incredible opportunity.’

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And then there are those who suggest doing freebies:

It’s strategic.

‘Here’s some freelancing advice: If for a few hours of free work, you secure a future or regular freelancing gig – suck it up. Yes, it’s annoying, but it’s also a tactical thing on your part.’

It’s a goodwill gesture.

‘Are you prepared to lose the client over one freebie? I would do it, but make clear that it is a once-off in recognition of the fact that this is a client whose support you appreciate.’

It’s reputation-building.

‘What if you have no clients or you need to build a portfolio in your early months of freelancing? Then it makes sense to do a freebie or three for a worthy small business, to prove to paying clients that you’ve done this before and can do it for them.’

And then there’s the reason that often motivates me:

It can be fun.

I do regular free work for platforms (mostly websites, blogs and industry forums) that offer genuinely valuable exposure or deal with topics I love writing about – like freelancing, productivity and business. Yes, this very occasionally yields a new client or a paid gig, but more often it brings credibility to my brand and happiness to my writer’s heart.

Having said that, I need the paying work to allow me the freedom to do the free work. So, in 9 out of 10 cases, I won’t get out of bed unless there’s moolla involved. Will you?

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