… but only in specific situations, mind you. And only for a limited amount of time.
From what I’ve learned, working for free can sometimes mean more income in the long term. That is something all freelancer writers should think about – the long term.
By having a steady income from a regular set of clients, you can plan ahead. Even if that means potentially less income than what you could have earning. Sure, maybe you could have found an awesome client that could have paid you thousands for a single feature. But that’s a lot of ‘maybe’s’, and a lot of ‘could have’s’. What every freelancer should strive for is (relative) stability, and you can achieve that by offering free work. Makes no sense, does it? Let me explain.
Free demo is key
When negotiating work with a new client, offering a free trial can get you way ahead of the competition. Especially if you’re looking for a long-term gig. From my experience, simply by offering the first piece for free, some clients suddenly had a surge in interest. I never asked why the attitude changes so much with a single article. It’s not like it’s going to set a company back beyond salvation. Maybe it shows the client you’re confident in your work.
Nevertheless, it seems to be working. From a freelance writer’s perspective, you can think of it as a short investment into a potential client. I usually justify such a move as a sneak peek into the content creation process.
You see, pretty much every potential client will ask for links to previous work. But a published article is only the tip of the iceberg. Many questions remain unanswered. Who suggested the topic? On what grounds? How short was the deadline? Did the freelance writer break the deadline? How many revisions were necessary before the article was ready? Was the communication good, or did the freelancer take three days to answer his messages? All these questions, and many more, are left unanswered if you simply submit ‘proof’ of previous work.
But by offering a free trial, a simple article on a simple topic, you can get all these questions out of the way.
On the other hand, there is a specific situation a lot of freelancers find themselves in, which is when you should (never) accept to work for free. That is, when the client offers ‘exposure’ instead of cash. “We don’t pay our freelancers, but we have a reader base in the millions and it will be great for your career to be featured on our site” is more common of a suggestion than you’d imagine.
I usually turn these down, and would advise you to accept ONLY under one condition. That you have your own blog, or website, and you’re allowed to promote your blog and add a link to it. In the long run, if that article brings a couple hundred extra readers to your own blog, that can mean income. What’s better, that can even mean passive income. More on that another time.
All in all, if you are negotiating with what seems to be a solid, long-term client, offer a free trial. You’ll still have enough to pay your bills, but that way, you will leapfrog any competition. Worth a shot!