I receive requests to write for free on a fairly regular basis. This is something my friends and students at various writing workshops I’ve taught regularly ask me about as well. The answer is almost always a definitive no, but there are always a few exceptions. If you’re contemplating seeking out free work, here are some questions to ask yourself.
Are you trying to save a few bucks by trying to get writers to help build your brand or business, while offering nothing in return?
If so, then you should probably rethink your business model.
An obvious exception to this would be the non-profit organization looking for people to write on a volunteer basis about issues they feel strongly about. (Note: not making money doesn’t make you a non-profit organization.)
If you are offering exposure in return for writing, is this actually legitimate exposure?
Some people will write guest blog posts in exchange for a backlink from a legitimate site with a lot of readers and a high Alexa ranking. And they’ll do this for a specific reason: to promote their book or product or event, to reach potential paying clients looking for coaching or a course they offer, or to build their Alexa ranking (assuming your site’s ranking is higher than theirs.)
This is totally different from offering people “clips” or “exposure” which you tell them will lead to paid writing opportunities (it doesn’t) or trying to convince people that a content mill-esque site will give them legitimacy (it won’t). Seriously, editors are not scouring the web looking to hire people who write for free on your site–I promise. And there are actually a lot of editors who will refuse to accept ANY work from content mill writers.
Also, if your site is riddled with ads and affiliate links and is no fun to look at, you’re probably not doing anybody any favors, including your writers.
Are you offering people future paid work in exchange for free work now?
Is that a guaranteed offer in writing? I didn’t think so.
Are you asking for any type of commitment?
Asking people to commit to a certain amount of posts or hours when they are working for free is pretty lame.
Are you paying some of your writers and not others?
Then you’re pretty much telling the person you’re asking to work for free that their work isn’t as good as that of your “real” writers. No matter how good the exposure or opportunity is, that’s a bit insulting.
And paying some writers double or triple the amount that you pay other writers for the same work is also pretty lame, though it does lead to some interesting conversations when content mill writers working for pennies a word learn that the same company is offering people a much larger amount to another writer for the same work.
Would you be insulted if someone asked the same from you?
If you would get angry or upset if someone asked you to do the same thing… then don’t ask someone else to do it. This is always a good rule of thumb.
Last but not least…
If you do find someone who wants to write for you because they consider the exchange mutually beneficial, remember that they’re still working for free. Not requiring endless rewrites, communicating with them quickly, correcting errors on your site as requested, offering a 2-3 sentence byline with a nice backlink to their site (using the anchor text they ask for), being grateful, etc… is always a nice courtesy.
Did I miss anything? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.