Should freelance writers be expected to work for free? It’s a question we see a lot and one that holds a personal resonance with me. We all know the harsh reality that no amount of qualifications will help us when a prospective client requests examples of published work; it’s that vicious cycle of needing experience to get work and needing work to get experience – something’s got to give.
I’ve been working on a freelance basis for over 18 months now. I’m not exactly rolling in wads of cash but I am earning money doing a job I love and it supplements my creative writing perfectly. I started out doing largely voluntary work for a local magazine and used that experience to post an ad online and pull in some paying clients; thankfully I’ve largely managed to keep the momentum going since then. Even now however, I still have people approach me with an offer of work, ending their pitch with, “this is an unpaid position but the experience will look great in your portfolio.” No matter how many times I hear that very sentence, it still manages to irk me and on principle, I politely decline.
No other industry gets away with exploiting workers like this and the hardest pill to swallow about it all is that I fear this is in some ways a self-made problem. Writing is a dream job for so many people (the flexible hours, working from home, being creative; it’s great!) but this makes it a very competitive marketplace. In desperation to secure work and get their foot in the door, people started offering their services free of charge, forcing others to do the same if they wanted any chance of pulling in clients. Unfortunately this has allowed many businesses to take advantage of the situation and abuse writers, but it harms everyone; how can clients expect quality content when they offer no money, meaning the work must be completed as an aside to a whole other career?
Imagine the scenario: A plumber completes a call out at your home but upon finding out they have only worked in the industry for a few months, you refuse to pay them, telling them it was valuable practice. Or perhaps you collect your groceries but notice when you go to pay that the cashier is a trainee, so you demand your goods free of charge. Crazy, right? That’s why it would never happen. So why should a writer face the degrading slog of committing their time and effort for little or nothing in return?
All-in-all, I believe working for free in the early days is now an unfortunate truth we must accept and if you’re lucky enough to make it out the other end and earn a living from your work; it soon makes it all worthwhile, but I for one do wish that writers were treated with a little more respect. If a job warrants calling in a professional – however much experience they may or may not have – then in my opinion that person rightfully deserves to be paid.
Do you work on a freelance basis? Do you or have you ever been asked to work for free? Do you think it’s fair to expect this of writers?