How to: Never Work For Free

Not even once.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Some people seem to think that because the word “freelancer” has FREE right in it, that they deserve our services for free.

Sometimes they play it off like you’re doing them a favor. “You’ll get tons of exposure!”

Sorry, sir, but my landlord doesn’t accept “exposure” as a payment option when the rent comes due.

Sometimes they’ll claim that what you do is just “so easy!” and they could “totally do it” if they just had the time.

Sorry, ma’am, but if that were true, you wouldn’t need me. Same goes if your daughter’s neighbor’s petsitter “knows how to do that already.” If that’s true, go ask them. Oh, you did and they wanted to be paid?

Maybe you think you’re doing ME a favor. “I am going to send you so many referrals!”

Well, if your referrals also expect free work, I think I’m okay without them.

Here’s the secret: the clients who pay the least are usually the most difficult and demanding.

I’ve had confirmation of this from freelancers in a multitude of industries, from all walks of life, of varying levels of formal education, located all over the world.

What you want are clients who appreciate you. While it may be difficult to pass on a client when you’re first starting out, trust me and all those who came before me: it’s not worth it.

No, don’t write a “free test article.” If the potential client can’t gauge your skills from your writing samples, then either they aren’t sure what they want/need, or they are just trying to get free work from writers.

No, you should not “do it for your portfolio.” As long as you have a few writing samples, you’re good. You really don’t need a whole portfolio. When people want writing samples from me now, I send them to my Medium account or the blog on my website.

When people wanted samples from me when I first started out, I sent them PDFs that I had written and edited to within an inch of their lives.

When it comes to “trial articles” or “sample articles,” the only thing I am alright with is a discounted price for the first one, if this is a client I could see potentially long-term or a large project.


So, every freelancer has been there. “Can you just do this ONE thing for free/discounted pretty please?” And you may not be sure how to answer, or how to make sure you get what you deserve.

The truth is that you just have to stick to your guns and be willing to walk. It might seem like it, but your livelihood does not rest on that one person.

“I charge $600 per month for weekly blog posts, this includes topics, research, writing, revisions, a photo, and posting.”

….but….but…discount!

“I completely understand where you’re coming from, but this all takes me a certain amount of time, and I have to be compensated for it. Ha, gotta make a living, right?”

…but…BUDGET!

“I get it. Here’s what I can do. I can do writing, research, and revisions, and you take care of all topic selection, photos, and posting across platforms. I can do this for $500 per month.”

…but…exposure…referrals….I can already do it….

“OK, thank you for your time. I appreciate it. Let me know if your budget or the situation changes.”

That’s it. You stick to your guns. If you lower your price, then lower the deliverable, services, and/or the time you spend on that client. That is a compromise you can make, as you’re still being compensated fairly for your time.


Don’t work for free. If you are just starting out, working for free won’t do you any good and if you’re established, people shouldn’t be asking.

For me, if I choose to do a friend’s resume or write an email for my brother, that’s completely different. No one is taking advantage of me professionally, I am choosing to do that, based on a prior relationship. Plus I am not going to be using that stuff in any samples or anything.

I know it can be extremely difficult to turn down a paying — even a low-paying — client when you’re first starting. But you have specialized skills and you deserve fair compensation.

There ARE clients who will pay you what you deserve. And while it may take a bit longer to find them, if you are doing active marketing efforts through social media, applying for jobs, and anything else, then it won’t take long, and you won’t be wasting time with people who will fight back over every invoice, try to get you to do more and more work for no more money, and who send back everything for multiple revisions, even when it’s exactly what they asked for.

Never, ever work for free!