5 Things You Shouldn’t Do for Free as a Freelance Writer

Just starting out as a freelance writer? You may assume you’ll spend your days (and some of your nights) writing articles, blog posts, web copy and the like… Right? But then you get your first gig and you realize that your clients want so much more from you.

The sad fact is, there are many, many clients out there that will take advantage of you as a freelancer and many that will try to get more work out of you than what they’re paying for. Those are the clients you’ll want to avoid. Put your foot down and find someone who appreciates you. Here are five things you shouldn’t be doing for your clients for free as a freelance writer.

1. SEO Work

Okay, so there’s nothing wrong with writing SEO content. I do it. Clients like someone who can scatter some keywords into a document and make it SEO-friendly. But you should not be taking on the actual SEO research and strategy. There are people who have whole careers for this and they can do a much better job than you, so let them — for both your and your clients’ sake.

2. Social Media

Again, there are actual professionals who manage social media. If you have a client who asks, “Oh, hey, while you’re writing that blog post, can you also write 10 tweets to promote it, so we can build our social media presence?” … just say no.

Sure, you could write 10 tweets probably pretty well, but if that client actually expects your paltry 10 tweets to grow their social media presence… Well, they won’t be getting what they’re hoping for, leading to disappointment on their part and possibly getting fired on yours.

3. Web Design

I have had clients who pay perfectly reasonable rates for articles… and then they ask me to spend two extra hours uploading the article to their website and building a whole web page around it, including finding artwork, resizing the artwork, tagging the article a million ways and more.

If you find a client like this, run. You should be turning in the article and then an actual web designer should be doing all this work. If you don’t run, you’ll end up spending hours of your free time trying to fix someone else’s website (and, fyi, that client will never be happy with the results).

4. Edit

There’s a reason that editors exist. No matter how skilled you are in editing others’ work or your own, it’s always best to have another set of eyes on your writing. A writer is just too close to a piece to properly, fully edit it.

If your client asks you to upload your work and publish it immediately, with absolutely no editing step that includes another human, be wary. That client will likely be upset the first time they see a typo in their published piece. You can’t, as the writer, do the job all on your own, but the client doesn’t see it that way. Tell them to hire an editor and then give you a call.

5. Promotion

Some clients will have the gall to ask you to promote your work for them on your own social media channels. They don’t have the right (at all) to your social channels, but they still expect you to promote their business/publication there for free. While you might think it’s no big deal to tweet out an article you wrote for them, if it’s not going to be doing anything for you (like showing off that you’re writing for a cool new publication), hold off. That’s a slippery slope to go down, one that will lead you to doing much more work for free.

Value your time and your platform; it’s yours. Use it for your benefit and no one else’s, unless you truly do feel like you should promote something.

The One Caveat

The one exception to all of the above? If you’re actually qualified to do any of the above and you’re getting paid for it, do it.

That’s the kicker. You deserve to get paid for any and all work you do for your clients, so make sure it happens. No matter how new you are as a freelancer, don’t let a client bully you into free work.

Holly Riddle is a freelance travel and food journalist who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store