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5 Top tips to avoid writing for free as a freelance writer

There are many reasons writers get trapped in the cycle of writing for free. It’s time to stop doing it.

Writing for free isn’t building your business, no matter how much people tell you it will. Okay, so I do recommend having content with big publications, and they usually expect you to volunteer your content. This is fine. One piece per site, five to 10 sites max is all you need to build your samples. From there, you want to stop writing for free.

Take the free out of freelance with these five top tips.

Have value in your work

One of the problems may be psychological. You don’t think you’re worth being paid. You may not feel like you’ve done enough writing in the past to justify charging your services.

It’s time to get rid of the imposter syndrome. You are good. You are worth it.

Have value in your work. Have value in the time you spend creating great content. That value brings confidence to start charging.

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Get something else out of your writing

Just because you’re writing for free doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time. You’ll hear that guest blogging and getting social proof are important. They are, but most of the time, you’re expected to write for nothing.

But you’re getting the exposure. With that in mind, you need to make sure that it’s good exposure.

So start by looking at the site. Is it even worth it? Does it come highly recommended by other readers or people in your niche? Is it a site you’ve heard of and respect yourself? Will you feel proud getting your byline just the once on a site like this.

If it’s a guest post, will the blog owner link back to your own site? If they say no, this is a huge red flag. If you’re not getting paid for your work, you need to make sure people can find your other work easily, and a link is used for that.

So, if you’re not getting paid, you need to get something out of the arrangement. While you are technically writing for free, you’re not writing for no value.

MORE: 5 things I’ve learned from writing at content mills

Avoid writing for free more than twice a week

Now it comes to the amount that you do. When you are writing for exposure and to build your samples, you need to play things smart. Make sure any content you do create for free isn’t taking up the bulk of your writing time.

If I’m going to write all the time for free, I’m going to put the content on my own blog. I’ll build that and eventually make money with it—whichever blog it is that I’m working on at the time.

When I started out writing, I made a habit of only writing for free twice per week. These were always social proof posts or for guest posts.

Now I barely write for free. Okay, some will tell you that writing for residual income sites is writing for free, but I don’t see it that way. It makes up a huge chunk of my income and I enjoy it.

Don’t do it more than once

Not only should you limit the amount you write for free during the week, but you also need to limit the amount you do on one site. Too many publications make money out of people writing for nothing. They’re reaping all these benefits and you’re just giving them the content.

You’ve got your social proof with one post. Take it and run! There’s no need to write another post.

The only time you might want to consider it is if you’re switching niches. This used to be the case with The Huff Post, where people would write on separate niches to send out samples to the right clients. I know The Huff Post changed things a while back, so I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore.

I just don’t recommend doing more than one post per site. Work smarter, not harder.

5 Tips to Avoid Writing for Free

Don’t be afraid to ask for a fee

Finally, it’s time to start asking to be paid for your work. I know that you shouldn’t need to ask, but sometimes you do. You can start with the big publications you know can afford to compensate writers but choose not to.

You’re not always going to hear a yes. Some will say a very quick “no, thank you” and not ask you to contribute again. Or you’ll still be offered the chance to write but not for money. You’ll need to decide what you do here.

When it comes to private clients, you must make it clear that all writing is done at a cost. Some potential clients may ask you to create a sample post. This is done at your usual rate. It’s either that or you don’t do it at all. Good clients won’t have a problem paying for a sample. The only time I’d do something for free is if it was a quick 100-word introduction to a post just to show my skills, but even then, I’m not going to want to. I have plenty of other samples out there.

The only time I don’t charge for my time is for a discovery call. This is only 15 minutes long and is important for both me and the potential client.

Your time is money. It’s time to start charging.

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Do you have trouble writing for free? What steps are you taking to do less of it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.