Should New Content Writers Give Away Their Work?

Instead of giving a yes or no answer, here's a quick summary in question form... what are you looking to achieve?  If it's just a temporary gig that pays a small flat rate, think twice before signing on.  However, freebies that can lead to increased exposure should be done on a secondary or tertiary basis.  And that's only if you're new to freelance writing.

  • Organizations linked to your niche industry - if this is a nonprofit with a limited budget BUT a lot of traffic, there's room for negotiation.  From a byline to a link to your relevant blog to the possibility of earning a paid spot.  Some writers work their way into editor positions or assistant with communication duties.  This move can add to your resume if you're a student, career-changer, or looking to get back into the working world after a long absence.
  • Outsourcing Companies

while some look out for their contractors, shady clients are always looking for ways to get over.  If you have a visible profile that shows little experience, don't give in to their sob stories.  Even if the sample is accepted, this is usually a client from hell.  Here are some situations that I and, once new writers, have come across:

  • Changes the assignment without adjusting the pay
  • Talks about their personal problems (there's a reason they don't have any friends)
  • Goes against logic (e.g. keyword algorithms)
  • Pays late or finds petty reasons to not pay you
Even if they have a verifiable track record for paying on time, try to negotiate a paid sample you can submit.  

  • Article Directories - these are useful for getting your name published and promotion only.  Even the few that pay-per-click usually don't come up with enough change to be considered part-time income.  Although most allow writers to retain ownership rights, there are a few that will claim your work.  At the rate at which some of these operations shut down (and sometimes without notice), it's best to deal with a reputable article submission site that's been around for a while.
  • Paid Blogging Services - while some new writers can succeed with an original blog, using a third party that has their name in your URL (with the exception of WordPress and maybe, Blogger) can be a waste. While there are a few blogging companies that charge for use of their platform, getting your own domain address pays off when you have an original concept in mind.
Long story short, giving away your work just to say you've been published isn't recommended in this day and age.  At one time, writers who wrote reviews of products or had a brand to promote might find an outlet that would offer non-cash incentives.  Speaking from personal experience, this was 50/50 as far as satisfaction went but it seems this business model has gone by the wayside.

If you're uncertain about your skills, here are a few pointers to survive in this somewhat competitive industry. 

  1. Pay attention to your use of everyday phrases and keywords in your content.  While some editors appreciate a conversational tone behind the words, try to limit slang or things that take away from what you're trying to say.
  2. Take note of constructive criticism,  Most clients and editors are serious about doing business with someone who will deliver every time.  While some may give a warning the first time, repeat offenders are usually not lucky enough to get more than a couple of chances.
  3. Look into resources to improve weak areas.  The most common mistakes new content writers make are lack of organization, originality, or even language mechanics.  There are free and paid resources that allow you to work at your own pace and even give you the feedback needed for sharper writing.
Remember, giving your work away is like putting money in the will feel like crap in the end.