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Taking the Free Out of Freelance Writing

When you run an online agency for freelance writers, editors and proofreaders you'd think the biggest problem would be attracting employers who are willing to pay a decent hourly rate for freelance writing.

You'd be wrong.

Actually, the biggest problem is dealing with freelancers who're absolutely determined to offer their services for free. This week I was forced to suspend the account of one of our writers for just this reason. She had repeatedly responded to requests for tenders on our jobs board with the offer of free writing, which she would provide on the basis that if the employer liked it, they could arrange a fee. And if not? well, if not, she would have wasted time that she could have spent finding a paid writing job.

Why "freelance" shouldn't mean "free."

Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is all too common in the world of freelance writing, where there are so many writers chasing the same jobs that it's hard not to feel that you have to be as competitive as possible in order to win the tender.

Writing for free isn't "being competitive", though. It's being taken advantage of. Unfortunately, this is another concept which many freelance writers are all too familiar with. We're asked to write "for the experience" or for the byline. We're expected to want to spend hours of our time and a huge chunk of our talent working on a writing project just for the fun of it. Sadly, many of us do.

The problem with freelance writing

It's a problem which is peculiar to the freelance writing business. So-called "employers" who wouldn't dream of asking a mechanic to repair their car "just for the experience", or offer an accountant the "opportunity" to deal with their tax returns "for fun", think nothing of asking talented writers, who've spent years honing their skill, to work for nothing more than their name on the bottom of their article, and maybe a link to their website ? if they're lucky.

There are a lot of unscrupulous "employers" out there. In the scenario above, there's a good chance that the writer never would have been paid for her work. When you offer to write for someone with the promise that "if you don't like it, you don't have to pay me, and if you do, we'll work out a fee", there's always a risk that you'll get stung. What's to stop the "employer" from telling you "thanks, but no thanks" ? and then using your work anyway? What if they agree to pay you, but want to pay far less than you're worth?

How to make sure you're paid for your work

We all know how competitive freelance writing is. But that doesn't mean you should simply give your work away. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned pro, try to always bear these rules in mind:

1. Always agree your fee upfront

Never start work on a project unless you know how much you'll be paid, and how the money will change hands. Some writers insist on 50% upfront and the rest on completion, others are prepared to be paid when they hand over the work. However you do it, make sure both yourself and the client are clear on the details.

2. Get it in writing

One you've agreed your free, and the project details, it's a good idea to get things in writing. You can download standard contracts online, or get your lawyer to prepare one for you, but make sure you have something to prove what's been agreed, especially for larger projects.

3. Join a reputable agency

WritingWorld.org was formed based on the principle that freelance writers deserve to be paid, just like any other professional. All job postings on our boards are closely monitored, and we do not allow our freelancers to work for free.

Check it out at http://www.WritingWorld.org

Amber McNaught is the owner of http://www.WritingWorld.org, an agency for freelance writers.

Amber is also a director of Hot Igloo Productions Ltd., the website design and small business specialists.

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