How Do I Decide When Writing for Free is Worth It?

When is writing for free worth it for freelancers?

I’m not going to kid you, writing for free usually gets a bad press because nobody wants to give away a solid piece of writing without a tangible return. And sometimes, all the effort you put into your guest post, never gets picked up.

How Do I Decide When Writing for Free is Worth It?

When is writing for free worth it for freelancers?

While you don’t want to sell yourself short, sometimes writing for free can pay off, but only if you get something from the transaction. “Transaction” is an important word here, because in my view, writing for free is only worth it when there’s an exchange of value.

Why You Might Want to Write for Free

Suppose you’re a ghostwriter. You may be an expert in your field but have no work you can show to clients.

For all they know, you could be blowing smoke about the amount of high quality work you have done. A gig that puts your name next to your work can help you answer their questions.

And what if you’re an experienced writer looking to break into a new area? Offer some quality articles for free and you can show off your skills while getting some useful samples of your work.

Here’s another example, based on my own experience. About four years ago, I wrote some blog posts for Ileane Smith’s Basic Blog Tips site. She was a rising star in YouTube marketing, podcasting and blogging tips, all areas for which she’s pretty well known now.

She wanted lots of content and her blog was open to guest bloggers. I took the opportunity because I was mostly ghostwriting, but I wanted some clips that showed my skill in writing about blogging, social media and web tools. I wrote a couple of posts and made them my best work.

The result? I was able add some valuable clips to my portfolio and show these to potential clients and it led to other blogging work. I did a similar thing in the travel industry, resulting in a long-term blogging contract.

7 Ways to Assess Opportunities to Write for Free

Of course, not every opportunity is worth taking up, so how do you cherry-pick the best ones?

Writing for free or guest blogging is basically marketing your writing skills and writing business, so you need to assess the marketing potential of any writing opportunities that come up and the quality of the site where your work will be published.

Here are a few areas to look at:

  1. Does the blog owner own the domain name? While there are some great blogs on Blogger and, owning the domain name tells me the blog owner has invested in the blog.
  2. What’s the page authority and domain authority? The Moz toolbar will help you assess these measures which have largely replaced PageRank as measures of site quality. Content published on an authoritative site can continue to work for you for years after publication.
  3. Does the site publish content regularly? If not, then it might not be a good fit unless it’s niche-specific. Sites that update regularly show up more in search engines and are more likely to maintain their subscriber base.
  4. What shows up in the search listings when you search for the blog? If there’s anything questionable, forget it.
  5. Does the blog have active social media profiles and is all content shared there? Check for likes, shares, retweets and comments to see how likely it is that people will see and respond to your content after publication.
  6. What are the most popular posts on the site? Use Buzzsumo to find out and to assess the social sharing level. That will also help you decide what kind of guest post will do well there.
  7. What rules does the site have about guest posts? If a site has some quality control or a good editor, that’s a good sign.

When Writing for Free Pays Off

When you pick the right opportunity, it can pay dividends.

Here’s an example, I wrote a review which mentioned Buzzsumo. That resulted in an invitation to contribute to the Buzzsumo blog. I didn’t get paid a cent, but the post then got picked up by Business2Community and it’s one of my most widely shared posts.

Clients who read it know that I can create well researched, list style, shareable posts about social media, and I know that’s led a few more potential clients to my site.

The bottom line? If writing for free can market your writing services to a new audience that you want to attract, it’s worth it.

Have you ever written for free? What swung the decision for you?

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger, known for writing well-researched, shareable content. Her work has been published on Crazy Egg, Search Engine People, Business2Community, Growmap and elsewhere. Contact Sharon to hire her to write for you.

Leave a Reply


Hi Sharon, This is a great article, I am a stay home mom with two kids and thinking of taking article writing as my part time job. Reading your blog made me more confident and enthusiastic. I hope free freelance article writing might be the platform I was looking for to present my skills and add up some experience to my resume.Reply to Arshiya
Hi Patricia, beware of people asking you to write for exposure. Always stay in the driving seat and make sure a given opportunity will help you to market your skills. If it won’t; it’s not worth it. And let me reiterate: please limit the amount of unpaid writing you do – good writing has a value.Reply to Sharon
I found this post through Elna Cain. I currently write for my own blogs and have done a few that were paid. I find this fascinating since I have read it in 2019. I wonder if the same is now true to except free freelance writing assignments. I thought that now people are pushing for more paid work. I do not mind excepting the free assignments if it means I can get exposure.Reply to Patricia
Great article, Sharon! I am going to be sailing around the world beginning June 2017 and would really like to find a way to get paid to write about the places I will be going, but have NO professional items to put in my portfolio. I’ll have to look into what travel sites might be a good fit for me. Thanks again!Reply to Niccolea
If you start now, Niccolea, you could have some good places to get paid for your work by the time you leave. Glad you enjoyed the article!Reply to Sharon
As a new blogger (three months with WordPress and eight months with another blog host), I would jump at the chance. Working for free with the right person will give you exposure and push you to develop your writing skills. Also you may be highly interested in their blog content.Reply to Phoenicia
Very happy to share your your experience, s thank you. SilarReply to S
Phoenicia, it’s true that what looks like a good opportunity may change depending on where you are in your career, but it’s still wise to do some triage so no-one takes advantage of you.Reply to Sharon
Sharon, my ‘policy’ is no writing for free, and occasionally I write for free anyway. As Elna says, high ranking sites are great and can drive traffic, but not always. I write for them only when I have something I really want to say to their audience. Once in a while I’ll do a free post for a fellow blogger (what’s the feminine of ‘fellow’?) just because. And sometimes I’ll give away a post or article to a cause I want to support. Love your list and the resources within it. Thanks!Reply to Anne
I don’t make a habit of it, Anne, but sometimes it’s worth it. And as you say, writing to support a colleague or a cause is completely different. I guest post annually for Lori Widmer’s Writer’s Worth Month because I believe writers should value themselves and get paid fairly.Reply to Sharon
Sharon, I believe that writing for free pays off. When you can land a guest post spot on a high authority and popular site, it means your content will be read by thousands of new people. I’ve landed some clients from some of my guest posts so I know it pays off. Thanks for sharing your story!Reply to Elna
It’s great that you’ve had the same experience, Elna. 🙂Reply to Sharon