As a small business owner, and an internet addict, I tend to spend part of each day networking on some of the many business forums which exist on the internet. These are great ways to meet new clients, and some of our most regular work comes from people we’ve met in this way.

Every so often, another freelance writer will sign up for these forums, and that’s fine: competition is healthy. But here’s what normally happens: new writer signs up for forum; new writer has a look around and realises there are lots of potential clients here to ntwork with; existing member posts looking for copywriting services; new writer immediately offers up their services – for free.

I have no doubt that in the above scenario (it happened again this week, can you tell?), New Writer is offering to work for free in hopes of getting “in” with the community – of proving what an all-round fab person they are, and having the lucky person who gets the use of their writing service for free to go around singing their praises to everyone else on the forum, thus leading to a sudden influx of orders for New Writer.

Now, I understand the logic. But it doesn’t work that way. Here’s why:

1. The type of people who expect to be given content for free will never turn into paying customers
No matter how they choose to phrase it, they’re ripping you off. Ask yourself this: do they expect/want to make a profit from your content, even indirectly? If so, they should pay you for it. If they choose not to pay for content, and are given it for free anyway, they will never learn that professional work deserves professional pay. Why should they? If a professional writer offers to work for them for nothing, why on earth should they look that particular gift horse in the mouth?

2. Once you’ve earned a reputation as someone who writes for free, you’ll find it hard to shake it.
Think about it. You go into a community and offer to work for free for the first person who asks. The next person you approach with your service is just going to think, “Well, you didn’t charge him, why are you charging me? If he got it for free, I want it for free too.”

3. You make yourself look desperate
To a professional business community, offering to work for free says two things: you’ve got time on your hands, and you can’t find someone willing to actually pay for what you’re offering. It follows from this that what you’re offering must not be very good if you’re struggling to find work. This isn’t a good impression to make to potential clients.

4. You’re preventing other writers from getting paid work
It’s this simple: if you offer to write for free, no one will use my services, for which I expect to be paid. No one wins (except the person receiving the free work, of course!). You don’t get paid, I don’t get paid. Worse, the members of the community you’ve just joined now have the impression that professional writing is something which is given away for free. Great for them, not so great for the whole community of freelance writers out there who’d quite like to be paid, thanks very much.

I have no doubt that to some of you, all of this will sound like sour grapes. “You’re just scared of a little healthy competition!” you’re thinking. Not so. Competition is fine. But this isn’t competition. I can’t compete with people who work for free, because I have a mortgage to pay, and other clients to keep happy. I just don’t have the time to sit and carefully craft an article for nothing. If you do, then please: do it somewhere else. Don’t come into professional forums and start devaluing all of our work. It’s bad enough when new writers have to work for free to build up clips: when professionals do it, there is no excuse.

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