Freelancing: Is it ever appropriate to walk away from the money?

Freelancing - Should You Ever Work For Free?

Freelancing comes with a lot of freedom.

And while freelance contains the word “free,” you don’t want to give away your work. But there are some exceptions – special cases when it’s fine and worked out well in advance of the project’s conclusion – to turn down that paycheck.

Double Your Freelancing wrote an extensive piece about whether you should ever work for free. It tackles things like when it makes sense to do so.

Forbes also recently came up some things to consider before doing work for free.

In the context of internships and early-stage freelancing, Forbes contributor Stephanie Newman says “it’s a fine line” when the free work adds to a company’s marketing plan.

“Unpaid work might sound like a reasonable option for gaining exposure and experience, but remember that it’s not always in your best interest,” Newman says. “Never forget that your skills add value, and that you deserve to get paid for supplying them.”

Here’s our take on some examples of when it’s OK to work for free.

1. It helps your portfolio.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but laying this kind of groundwork can be mentally exhausting and physically taxing.

As a writer, one of the best ways I’ve learned to develop my writing style is to read a ton and write as much as possible. Sometimes, this happens as a ghost writer. Other times, it happens as a contributor to an outside blog. All of it adds up to practice and aiming to perfect my craft.

When you’re starting out as a writer — or even in any kind of business, really — you may be given the opportunity to engage in a project that allows you to get your feet wet. It’s always a good idea to consider these opportunities, especially if it allows you to build your craft and reputation in an industry that interests you.

2. It could help forge a new relationship.

Relationships are a critical foundation, when it comes to building a career. Sometimes, as a freelancer, you may be asked to write something pro bono as a test to your writing ability and management under deadline.

Take it in stride — this kind of test needn’t be difficult. But make sure you lay out some rules: Stick with a realistic deadline and timeframe you’re comfortable with. Your potential new client (and ideally long-lasting work relationship) needs to know whether this ask really is asking for too much. If it sounds like they’re asking for the world, scale it back some and tell them what you can offer.

Remember, we’re talking about your work. You get to write these rules.

3. It’s harmless and doesn’t place value on your work.

Whether you’re writing for a check or writing for free, your time and work always is valuable. Sometimes, however, in the act of writing for free, you may want not want value placed on your work.

Say it’s a pro bono piece that really doesn’t add to your portfolio, or it’s something that you needed to push out for a friend or a volunteer opportunity.

Put simply: There may be times when you don’t want your writing to come with your byline. This is perfectly OK.

Get the work done, and move on to your next writing project.

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Christine Cube is a senior audience relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her at @cpcube.

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