Should You Work for Free?

What a question, right?

It's seems downright un-American to consider working for free. However, if you're a beginning copywriter, it might seem to be the only way to break into the business.

Look, I've been there. My first attempt at freelance copywriting -- before I landed a job in Clayton Makepeace's agency -- was depressing. Without any real samples or experience, it was tough to get a client to take a chance on me.

However, I didn't want to write anything for free. In my opinion, it sets a bad precedent. It implies to the client that you’re desperate and will work cheap. And that’s never good. What you offer is valuable, and you should be compensated for it.

The closest I would come to working for “free” is offering to write copy on spec. If the client uses it, you get paid. If not, you don’t. Not ideal, but -- worst case scenario -- you at least end up with a sample for your portfolio. However, I only would recommend this if you’re just starting out. And you should only use it as a last resort.

It’s better to try to land some projects on Upwork. The pay is terrible -- and you'd be competing with folks from other countries that can work for peanuts -- but at least it’s something. As you gain more experience and collect more samples of your writing, you can go for higher paying clients.

Another idea few new copywriters consider is offering to write back-end copy for clients. This is the sales copy directed at their existing customers — like marketing emails.

It's not glamorous stuff, but the work is plentiful. Most companies don’t like to use their star copywriters to write these pieces. Not only do these A-listers charge an arm and a leg, but it's simply not the best use of their time and talents. That makes it a doorway of opportunity for newer writers.

So, I recommend trying to find paid writing jobs, if you can get them. Only write something on spec if there's a good chance it will open the door to better opportunities for you.