Want to Earn More Money for Your Writing? Give it Away!

Want to Earn More Money for Your Writing?  Give it Away!

Tired of making pennies a word – and losing jobs to other writers regardless of how little you charge? That means it’s time to change your marketing strategy, and I can’t think of a better time than the beginning of the New Year.

If you want to make more money for your writing this coming year – a lot more – start writing for free.

I don’t mean caving into client demands for free samples or letting deadbeats off the hook.  People who ask for freebies or those who take advantage of you are typically trying to rip you off, and unless you’re independently wealthy, you should walk away from both. Content may be king, but you’ll remain a pauper as long as you allow others to control you.

But you can’t wait for the economy to improve your finances or luck to change the type of clients you attract. More money is yours for the taking, and all you need to do is change your approach: give your writing away.

One Million Reasons to Write for Free

Before you think I’ve gone crazy, consider this: I’ve earned more than $1,000 a word and nearly $1 million for a single manuscript.  I made myself worth these fees by carefully choosing when and why to give my talent away.

I still give my work away today. Not because I have to, but because I know it will pay dividends.

Your rates – cheap, reasonable or exorbitant – should always be flexible.  And you should base them not just on your immediate needs but on your long-term goals.  Sure, you have to pay rent this month and need cash flow for your business.  Everyone does.

But if you only work to pay the bills, that’s all you’ll ever end up with, give or take a few dollars.

To make freelance writing a successful career and not just a pajama-clad alternative to working at a coffee shop, you need to develop a long-term marketing strategy.  You need to think of yourself as a business owner first and writer second.  This includes envisioning the career you’d like to have 5, 10 or 15 years from now and taking calculated risks to make that writing career happen.

Free Writing = Free Advertising

You know that every company needs content.  But company owners don’t necessarily know they need content and they especially don’t know they need you to write it for them. You can wait for company owners to come to their senses – three months, six months or a year from now – and wait for their job posting on one of the online freelance sites.  Then, you can bid along with dozens of competitors, hope that your proposal gets read and hope some more that your bid gets picked.

Or you can skip over all those painful, often-defeating steps and pitch a company directly. Do that, and the only one you’re competing against is yourself.  

Want to eliminate yourself as the competition?  Write something for free.

Don’t wait to be asked about your fee.  Don’t discuss your rates at all.  Just say you want to show them what you can do.

Then do it. Give them your best work – a brilliant blog post, copy for a captivating landing page, ad text so powerful it doesn’t need visuals to support it – and then thank the company for the opportunity.

They might be so impressed they’ll hire you on the spot, at the rate you name. It happens.   Chances are, though, they’ll look skeptical, dazed or blank.  They’ll send you on your way with a few mumbled words and a sweaty handshake (or its email equivalent, a perfunctory emoticon.)

Start smiling, because this is where the real fun begins.

Free Writing + Free Promotion = High Paying Contracts

Now you can promote your work to key people inside the company, as well as to influential people outside the company via email or social media.  And they will convince the company decision-makers to hire you.

How should you promote your work?  Publish the piece you wrote on your own website and share it on your social media platforms, tagging company executives and board members when you do.  Post your revised content on your LinkedIn or Google+ pages and link to the original for a before and after view. Then ask your followers — and the potential client’s followers — to judge which is better.

Want to take a less public approach?  Put your work in the body of an email and add a personal note.  Send emails out one at a time – no spamming – and offer it as a gift each time.  Do some name-dropping: “I shared this with X on Tuesday.  Did she show it to you yet?”

Follow up.  Be polite, persistent, and helpful.  Make yourself a topic of conversation among company decision-makers.  Get them talking about you and your work.  Pique their interest.

The offer to engage your services may not come immediately.  It may not come at all.  Don’t buy a Maserati on credit while you’re waiting.

But make gifting content a regular part of your marketing strategy, and you’ll get enough work, at high enough rates of pay, to make the effort and waiting more than worth your time.

Make the Investment

The writing-as-a-gift strategy pays off if you’re confident about the quality of your work and savvy about the writing market you wish to enter.

Unsure about your writing skills?  Read a good book, take a course or consult a writer you admire.  Do whatever it takes to gain the confidence and skills you need.

Then study the market.  An eBay retailer probably has a far smaller content budget than Macy’s.  A Fortune 500 firm expects to pay more for writing services than a start-up does.

And don’t base your rates on what you think you’re worth. Base your rates on the value you bring to a particular company.  You may find that your rates may be substantially lower – or higher – than the price you think you’re worth when you look in the mirror each morning.

Also, look beyond the immediate payday.  Is this a one-off assignment that will never lead to another?  Push for the highest price possible.  Is there potential for a long-term contract or some other benefit, like prestige, shared business interest, a case study, or entry into a coveted niche? Quote your rates accordingly.

The Freebie Alternative

If you’re not quite ready for the in-your-face approach of direct pitching, here’s another to try that beats relying on job boards for work:

Write an article about a company you’d like to work for, and then get it published online. Aim for a high-authority site but if you can’t get it placed, publish your article on your own blog and share it on social media.

Tag the people you’d most like to read it – the CEO or head of marketing, for example – and express some enthusiasm.  If no one writes to thank you for saying nice things or profiling their company in your article, move on.

If you receive even the briefest note of gratitude, add them to your social networks — you’ve just made this person an audience to your fabulous content.

Wait for the company to contact you.  It will likely come in the form of a request for something small or cheap. “We need a simple press release…”  Politely decline or set a high price for the “simple” task.  Send some ideas about what really great things you could do for them if they put you on retainer or a multi-month contract.

Keep in touch.  Make the occasional, gentle pitch.  When the company needs a writer, they’ll think of you first. And before they post a project online, they’ll ask you for a proposal.

The job is yours, if you want it.

Writing for free is dumb if it serves no purpose.  But make free writing a part of your overall marketing strategy, and you’ll get more of what every freelancer wants: financial freedom.

Post by Katherine Kotaw

Katherine Kotaw honed her expertise in corporate and personal branding while working at a major New York advertising agency and freelancing for Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. She's also the founder, spirit and chief storyteller of a boutique digital content-marketing agency in LA and has become one of our most favorite blog contributors.

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  1. Thanks for the advice. I’ve been working on doing all of these things but think I need to up my efforts a bit when it comes to targeting individual businesses. Had some good success with guest posting and am still working on that. Writing something specific for a company that I admire might be the way to go.

    • Thank you for joining the conversation,Jen. Glad you found the advice helpful. You might even work a company you admire into a guest post you’re writing for a different purpose. You could contact them for a quote ahead or time or just write the article and then show it to them. You will be thanked, remembered and — often — hired.

  2. I really like all of these ideas and it falls into the Internet 2.0 marketing plan. I have one problem, which i never see in print. SEO writing! Your article, here, seems to be full of good content; most writing, on well known websites, is all lead in…the lead in is the story it would appear.

    I can write key word articles but I can’t bring myself to really do it.

    Have you written on the topic of SEO writing? Many of my friends are turning off the TV, Cable, Newspaper subscriptions and refuse to read an entire article anymore. I must confess I am may be the one, who is instigating it all.

    • There is little point any longer in writing key word articles. If key words didn’t fit naturally in your copy, they didn’t belong there. Semantic search, the new SEO, makes it possible — preferable — to write for people, not robots.

      So, it’s good that you can’t bring yourself to write key word articles. Write good stuff and people will read it.

      Thank you for commenting, Jerry.

  3. Interesting approach, Katherine! I was wondering if you had an example of the promotion side of the freebie pitch? Where on your own site would you publish the piece? Thanks!

    • Hi, Prudence, and thank you for bringing up a good question.

      If I were publishing on my website, I’d put the piece on my blog. The key here is to make sure the piece belongs on your blog and isn’t just a puff piece about the company.

      Since I write about personal and corporate branding on my blog, I would carry this theme into anything I wrote about a company. If, for example, I wanted to attract the attention of Google, I might write something about Matt Cutts’s personal branding style or about the company’s major branding shift with the explosion of Google+.

      I wouldn’t just write about Google in generic terms or about its employee cafeteria, and I wouldn’t necessarily make the piece entirely flattering, but something that demonstrates my expertise and how I applied it to the company.

      And I’d heavily promote the article on social media, get it front of some key people at Google, etc. You want to create an audience for this piece, which can garner you fans and which also demonstrates your value in addition to the value you bring as a writer.

      Hope this helps, Prudence, and thank you again for commenting.

  4. Hey Katherine

    This is a fantastic article and a some pretty incredible advice. I follow a similar strategy ( I am not a freelance writer per se) but for online marketing.

    I totally agree that you have to shift your thinking from getting the next pay to a longer term strategy, I know not everyone has the luxury of having cash flow but if you adopt a “abundance mentality” you will still be able to make better overall choices which will pay down the track,

    I totally agree with you that “free work” is actually a great form of targeted advertising if done right, its a fantastic opportunity to show those potential customers what you can do. As you say its does not always pay off but no matter what its always better than working for pennies – your time should be worth more than that.

    Thanks for the great article!

    Paul Back

  5. Thank you, Paul, for your insightful (and supportive) comments.

    Yes, the investment of time always pays off. And most of us, no matter how busy or cash-poor we are, can find an hour or two in a week to do something toward our future.

    It requires a change in thinking — and I understand how difficult this can be — but it’s the thought process more than the time commitment that requires the greatest investment.

    You just have to decide that it’s worth it — and go for it.

    Wishing you abundance, Paul.

  6. Thanks for the great article. I’ve been doing freelance website building for a few years but have always enjoyed writing more. I’m about to go fully into writing and this will definitely be part of my marketing strategy.

  7. Thank you! I have recently offered to do a great amount of writing, for free. I have been having sleepless nights thinking how long it might take to see some money coming in from this. Your article has showed me that I am on the right track. What I need now is patience. Thanks again.

    • Thank you for commenting, Sandhya, and best of luck. You are on the right track. Just remember to PROMOTE all of that free work so you get a lot of eyes on it. And don’t hesitate to send your work directly to any clients you want to pursue. Keep pushing, and try to get some sleep. You’ll need your rest when the work starts coming in!

  8. I love this approach Katherine . . . “Want to eliminate yourself as the competition? Write something for free.”

    Years ago a mentor of mine taught me that portfolios aren’t all that compelling to clients. Why? Because clients all believe that they’re different and unique so you’re hoping that when they look at your portfolio, their taste is exactly like the taste/preference of the clients work you were working with.

    If it isn’t, then you run the risk of them thinking you guys won’t be a good fit.

    So the better approach when going after a specific client is to do a mock up JUST FOR THEM. This could be a landing page, the opening of a salesletter, the title and opening for a killer blog post, etc.
    This way they can see what you can do relevant to THEIR business.

    But you say to do the WHOLE THING FOR FREE rather than just a tease and I can definitely see that paying off. And I’m a big fan of your advocating people proactively do this rather than waiting around to see if someone will show up and ask you to do it for them, which to me, lessens the impact and can chip away at your positioning.

    Thank you Katherine for reminding me of such an important lesson! I trust many a fan of this site will be greatly benefited by your advice here. :)

  9. Thank you, Lewis, for joining the discussion here. I always say no when someone asks me for a free sample. It almost never ends well when someone expects something for nothing. (Clients who ask for freebies upfront will keep asking for them.)

    But when you offer something no one expected — the power shifts entirely to you. It’s an exciting position, one I’m certain you’ll soon enjoy, Lewis.

  10. I’ve read a handful of articles about writing for free before, especially in terms of a beginning freelancer, but I really appreciated how clear and concise your tips were. The specifics on the publishing and marketing portion of writing strategically for free are very helpful.

    I’m looking freelancing and starting up within the next year, so this really hits home with me. But it also reminds me that this strategy needs to be remembered even as an established freelancer. Thanks Katherine!

    • Hi, Robyn,

      Thank you for your comments. I’d say the write-for-free strategy is probably more crucial when you’re established because you bring to it the confidence to use the freebie as a clearly-defined marketing tool.

      When you’re new to freelancing, writing for free can help you land more gigs but can also mark you as easy prey. (Since she wrote the last piece for nothing, she won’t mind that I ignore her invoice for this one.).

      My overriding advice is to write for free when you clearly understand the risks and benefits. Never write for nothing if you’re feeling desperate — fear will defeat you.

      Best of luck in your exciting new career, Robyn!

  11. In my whole life i never thought that i am a good writer even for my own diary, but i always amazed when people told me that they are earning from what they write. I am not really even sure if i make my writing to be free people would love it, haha. I will try to give it away anyway, thank you Katherine

  12. One thing to make writing for free more enjoyable is to write on topics you are passionate and feel strongly abour. If you support a cause or nonprofit, volunteering your writing skills adds to your visibility and supports something you back personally. If you belong to a video gaming community or social network writing for them for free builds the community and adds to your credibility. Make it fun!
    Nice breakdown on the benefits of writing for free.

  13. Great article Katherine. I admire your tenacity to go after those companies you’d really like to work for. It’s also surprising what life throws back at you when you’re willing to be generous.

    • Generosity does produce amazing rewards. One could argue that it’s selfish to be generous! But that’s a philosophical discussion I’ll leave to more learned minds. Thank you, Joel, for your kind words and insight.

  14. It’s easier to get over the initial psychological hurdle of giving away good work when you realize that free content isn’t truly free – if you promote it heavily and intelligently. Targeted exposure is, as you explain, worth more in the long term than a quick buck, and represents a better return down the line. So really, free content is just delayed-payment content – assuming you promote it well.

    Personal takeaway from this – developing relationships with potential customers is worth the time investment of free content! I’ll be including free content pitches in my marketing strategies. Thanks for the post!

  15. Personally, I see no alternative to writing for free even if I wanted to. My time doesn’t allow me to write AND spend countless hours shopping for publishers. Plus, I prefer to write for the sake of writing. It creates more sincere work. I’m not a big fan of all the blogs that play the free-game, but their intent is actually to get you to spend your money on their products, courses, seminars, etc.

    • What do you write about, Dan? And who is your audience? There is joy, certainly, in writing purely for writing’s sake.

      Writing for a commercial purpose — payment from a publisher, sale from a customer — does not necessarily demand forfeiting sincerity. And writing against deadlines or to make a mortgage payment sometimes inspires greatness.

      But I understand your position and applaud the integrity behind it.

      If you see this, please send me a link to some of your work. I’d love to read it.

  16. Hi, Katherine

    Thanks for such an awesome post, great advice indeed.

    Now I know how to increase my chances of getting hired to write for a company and not wait around, together with tons of people, hoping for my name to be called. Applying this approach more than increases your chances of being chosen and consequently naming your price.

    Thanks for such an awesome article.

    • Thank you, Vincent, for your kind words.

      Yes, it’s so-o-o much easier to get a gig — at the price you name — when you’re the only one applying for the job!

      I wish you great success in applying this strategy.

      Best,

      Katherine

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