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Why Writing for Free is Bad for Writers

There’s this one feeling we have as writers; that we’re not adequate.

That we’re not yet complete.

That we’re missing something.

That we’re NOT writers!

Due to this feeling, it’s often very difficult – especially for the newbie writer – to decline a proposal to work for free on the promise of getting hired.

What if you had to write 5 articles a day, every day for 5 months on promise that you’ll be hired?

That’s what happened to Grace, a reader whose question I’ll be answering today. My answer to Grace’s question is a little short for a blog post, but I think it has some important tips for writers.



Here’s Grace’s question:

“I am doing an apprenticeship with an international SEO firm now to gain experience, and have been writing for them every day for 5 months already. I am waiting for them to hire me and it makes me afraid things will go on forever as an apprentice. I also have bills to pay (lol). Will it please you to discuss someday about the writer-apprentices and their situations? Like me, who is at the mercy of the firm’s decision because I lack the needed experience and costly proper training. Is 5 months enough for me to do things on my own and search for clients? I only know SEO article writing because that is what was assigned to me — keywords and writing topics around them. I totally love my job but is there any chance of getting hired soon? Do you know of other apprentices who have made it?

My answer:

I can feel you in regards to finding out how difficult things can be on the way up. It’s the real truth we eventually get to discover ourselves over time, but the fact that you didn’t give up shows you have what it takes to succeed in this. Please don’t give up!

In regards to the international SEO firm, I’m sorry to say this but they’re taking advantage of you.

An article a day for them, for five months?! I can’t tell you not to write for them. At the same time, they’ve gotten used to using your articles for free, so they’re unwilling to pay you for your work. This is synonymous to giving people free writing samples. It’s something I totally advise against.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while,  you’ll have noticed I emphasize a lot about how important guest blogging is. If you had submitted all those articles you’ve written in the past 5 months for them as guest posts to other blogs, (directing the traffic and links to your blog) I can assure you that you’d have gotten at least 5 – 10 high-paying clients of your own by now. And I mean it!

Let’s say there’s an average of 30 days in one month. An article a day for 30 days x 5 months is 150 articles – articles that you’d have otherwise used to market your freelance writing business. Even if it’s within an apprenticeship framework, I don’t think any client should take that many articles from you without paying you. It should NEVER be!

I can definitely feel your pain here but I can assure you of one thing: based on your emails that I’ve read, you already have the experience and training it takes to succeed as a freelance writer. You have a lot of it, but what you might need more is the confidence that you can do it.

You’re not alone in that regard. It’s natural to think we’re not okay in some regards, but you can’t really be sure of what you have to offer until you get started.

Some Key Points

1. Under no circumstances, don’t EVER work for a client for free with a promise that you’ll be hired.

Not only does this undermine your value as a writer (and the perceived value of writers in general), it actually increases your chances of not being hired.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write for free. You have to, in the form of comments, guest posts and blog posts. However, there’s a huge difference in writing for yourself and writing for a client.

2. There’s nothing called apprenticeship for writers.


No writer is perfect; only a master can have apprentices and writing isn’t something you master. It’s something you learn. In other words, the best way to be a good writer is by doing it every day, and ‘every day’ never ends.

So, for how long will you be an apprentice?

If you want to be a better writer, start a blog; update it regularly, write guest posts on other blogs, encourage and actively solicit feedback on your writing.

3. There’s nothing to fear

Getting clients? Making money? Raising rates?

All these things are damn easy if we commit to doing them! The only thing stopping us is the fear.

Now, this not to say I don’t have my own fears. I do have them, and that’s why I know it’s very easy to do all the above things if you want to.

In Grace’s example, if she were publishing a post a day on her blog, and a post a day on other blogs in the form of properly targeted guest posts, not only would she be rich; she’d have more job offers than she could handle.

And no, Grace isn’t a mediocre writer. Far from it! I’ve checked out her blog and I’ve seen what she can write.

The only thing stopping her is the FEAR that she can’t do it. And she’s not alone; fear is the only thing stopping a lot of us writers from doing better – or even getting started.

What do you think?

Do you think writers should write for free? Is this discussion something you’re passionate about? Comment below and share with your friends!

Also, while I do have issues with my inbox once in a while, I actually love getting reader emails. Who knows, your email might end up being a blog post on this blog, so feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

Category: writing

66 Comments on "Why Writing for Free is Bad for Writers"

  1. Halina says:

    I’m amazed that Grace stuck it out this long. One thing I’d recommend that she do, since she is not an official “employee” of this company, is try to market her SEO articles somewhere else. Or even post them to her own website/blog as clips of her work. She could also ask the current SEO company if they’d be OK with her doing this before she left. That might give that company the right motivation to actually hire her.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      That’s another way to go about it, Halina!

      Thanks so much for contributing to this post 🙂

  2. Five months of free posts for one client! No, no, no!

    Glad you’re steering this poor lady out of this trap.

    I tell people not to do ONE FREE SAMPLE on the promise of maybe getting hired. Or, if you really have no samples at all, OK, do ONE. That is it.

    As you point out, she could have guest posted and gotten so much more attention and probably built her whole business — that’s 150 posts!

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Aha, this goes against everything you preach, Carol! I knew you’d like this post 🙂

      I agree with you on not doing a single free sample on promise of getting free work; having a blog or writing guest posts on high quality blogs will be more than enough for any client.

    • Edison says:

      If she could have setup a blog and upload all her content in it, she already has the value and capturing market is already in progress.

  3. Five months of so-called writer apprenticeship is way out of the envelope. When I started my writing business, I blatantly refused to write for free. The company who intended to hire me thought I was rude. But it’s Ok.

    See Oni, what you said about promoting yourself via ‘targeted guest posting’ is the key. If you must write for free, make sure it’s for your own business. Even Robert Kiyosaki (Author: Rich Dad Poor Dad) advised to MIND YOUR BUSINESS.

    I read the email that Grace sent to you – believe me, she’s a great writer. I can feel the strong voice and personality in her words.

    Dear Grace, please don’t write for free again for those so-called firm. They’re playing pranks on your creativity, and writers in general because they’d assume that all writers are the same.

    If you need to develop confidence, I’ve a great piece for you. Check it out via:

    That’s my 5-cent. I hope you spend it wisely.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      I’m glad you agreed that Grace is a great writer, that’s what I thought too!

      It’s now up to her to let go of her fears, take action and get results.

  4. Unbelievable Oni!

    I’m so glad you guided Grace out of writing for free! But yes, newbie writers are trapped this ways and made promises that are hardly kept. And what’s amazing is that they often fall for such traps, and yes, fear and lack of self-confidence are the main reasons.

    I would NEVER recommend sending any kind of free sample to any client, though there was a time I was asked for it too. Being a freelance writer and having written for a few magazines initially, the first thing I learnt was to make my own blog. The posts I put up there were my own, and if anyone wanted to see a writing sample, I used to guide them to the blog or the magazine I was writing for. That is enough of a proof if someone is wanting to hire you.

    I hope freelance writers learn the importance of owning their own blog, and just as you so rightly mentioned – most offers come through that blog itself – provided you are consistent with blogging, and putting up good content.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Exactly, Harleena!

      Having a blog will solve the problem of having to provide free samples since your blog is a live example of your work. Any client who is not satisfied with the quality of your work on your blog would probably not benefit from hiring you in the first place.

  5. I believe writers should not write for free.
    I once had clients on a job bidding site who were asking for unpaid writing samples. I ended up falling for their tricks and I never got hired in the end. It is only yesterday that I had a client from India who was asking me to write 2500 words at $1.5 per 500 words.

    I agree with Oni that you should write articles and submit them as guest posts. This is a strategy I have embraced and I believe it will help me build my writing career.

  6. Thanks Oni for helping out Grace… I also have the experience of writing for a SEO company. I prefer to work hard for them because they may pay less money for our writing work but they definitely order lot of articles.. By writing SEO content for a client directly you may get 5$ per article and by writing for a SEO company you may get 2$ to 3$ for a 500 words article. But the main thing which matters is that you may only get order of 5-8 articles in a month from a direct client but a SEO company may give you order of 100-200 articles every month. I will say that people like Grace should work for SEO companies which pay on completion of every order or do weekly payment.

  7. Ben Troy says:

    I donot think the free content is costing much time and effort, it will help building the brand and authority .

  8. dan says:

    God. This is suicide.

    That company must be completely crazy… ( My opinion).

    I’ve been in her shoes before until i read one of Carol Tice’s post on not to write for free… Ever!

    I stopped and I concentrated on Guest posting.

    As at now, I’ve written a a couple posts for my blog and over 40 to 50 guest posts on Authority blogs with some of them in bloggingtips, socialmediatoday,bosmol and the likes!

    I advise that instead of doing that, do a couple guest post like Bamidele and you’ll be glad you did.

    BTW: Success comes when you apply the qualities in Bamidele Oni and Carol Tice. These guys are successful people. Just apply what they did to become successful also!

    Read their blogs everyday to get inspired ( i do that) and I kick off to start writing.

    In fact, I got as far as looking at Bamidele and Carol Tice’s earnings and most times, I say to myself that I’ll get there one day.

    It’s only a matter of time everyone…

    I’m glad my wonderful mentor brought this lady’s issue. It will help a lot of writers.

    Thanks Bro!

    Love You in Christ

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      That’s one thing I love about Carol’s stuff; she says it exactly how it is!

  9. Ruan | FreelanceWritingTactics says:

    Brilliant, Oni!

    Grace, you got the best advice you could have hoped for! Pardon my exclamation marks but they’re just portraying my excitement and enthusiasm for the advice you were given but also much the frustration to see that so many freelance writers (especially inexperienced ones) are being taken advantage of.

    I agree with Harleena that if someone would ask you for examples of your work, direct them to a blog or some public profile where they can get a decent idea of your quality of work.

    As a matter of fact, I just got accepted at Famous Bloggers because of the work I had available to show them on my personal sites.

    Love what you said about there’s no apprenticeship in writing, Oni! Practice makes perfect and practice never ends – stick with that and you’ll improve as a writer every day to come.


    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Aha, thanks Ruan! 🙂

  10. Mr.X says:

    Free content is Ok in some cases, but seems like they’ve been exploiting you. They should have offered some compensation by now. I suggest you discontinue and follow the tips given by Bamidele. Starting a blog of you own is a good idea.

  11. Nicky LaMarco says:

    I agree with you 100%. I see this a lot with my readers as well. They take on free work due to a promise of pay later, but it never happens. Why would they pay you when you are working for free? These “clients” are completely taking advantage of them, and it drives me nuts! Writing for yourself is another thing – marketing yourself through blogs and other means. NEVER write for free.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Exactly, Nicky!

      No one would pay for what they can get for free. No one!

      Instead, posting those articles as guest posts on other sites and articles on article directories will have a more long-term impact on your business.

  12. Nicky LaMarco says:


    I disagree. No writer should have to write 5-10 free samples EVER. Maybe one, and only one, IF they have nothing else to show their writing skills.

    • Harish says:

      Hi Nicky,

      that was in reference with some interns who are new to complex, specialized writing tasks such as admissions essays etc.

      As such, writing is a high-mind-energy task and does warrant appropriate reward.

      For one, I have noted that the good writers are evident in the first 1-2 samples itself. So point well taken. Cheers!

      In fact, writing should have a revenue component well linked to it. A well written article is worth no. of clicks generated * market price of each click on google. So one can just imagine the worth of good gone.

      To creativity,

      • Nicky LaMarco says:

        Admissions essays? That’s another topic altogether!

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      I’m with you on this, Nicky!

      In fact, no writer should have to write a FREE sample; let your blog be your sample, any client that wants more – even if it’s a trial – should have to pay for it.

      • Nicky LaMarco says:

        Exactly, Bamidele!

  13. Carole Lyden says:

    For some strange reason writers are expected to live on air. Many writers write for free without getting something in return and I think it all comes down to confidence. Confidence that we deserve a better deal.
    Grace needs to grow her confidence by writing regularly. Guest posting is a great way to begin.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Exactly, Carole! I think having the confidence that you can do it will solve a lot of problems you’ll face as a writer 🙂

  14. Nicky LaMarco says:

    I agree, Carol! However, I think she’s ready to get paying clients as well. I hope she’s stopped writing for free.

  15. Nicky LaMarco says:

    Sorry, I spelled your name wrong. *Carole 🙂

  16. It’s happened with me as well on one of the most popular freelancing sites. A few hours after I had submitted a bid, I was told that by my client that my profile had gone really well with his boss and that I had been shortlisted. I was asked to be REALLY quick and submit a 400 word write up. Stupid as I was, I did that within 30 minutes.
    Next day, I was congratulated and told that my write-up had been selected and was among the 5 best entries and to submit another 400 word sample. I did that yet again…I feel so stupid when I think of that now.
    After that, I never heard from that particular client. When I checked on Google about a month later out of sheer curiosity, I was shocked to see my “free samples” published on a blog.
    So, just be careful & don’t fall for the trap.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      I’m really sorry to hear that you had to go through that, Ambika!

      You can only imagine how many more writers they’ll exploit using that same technique.

      It’s great to hear that you’ve learned from the experience, though.

  17. Olawale Daniel says:

    Writing for free! That’s not gonna happen at all, it pays me well never to take a client job than taking one on a promise of getting hired over a period of time.

    @Grace, all I can advice you to do is to gently follow Oni’s suggestions so that you can have some things to back up your writing skills. Write more on your blog, do more guest posting on other top blogs and since you were okay at writing SEO oriented articles, I don’t think you will have problem applying basic white hat seo technique unto your blog for success!

    I wish you success.

  18. Arvin Buising says:

    The time she spent on that ‘apprenticeship’ could have been spent building her online portfolio.

    Great advice Oni! Glad to discover your site. Kristi Hines tweeted it.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Thanks, Arvin!

      Grace is already making the changes as I suggested and I’m sure the next post about her on this blog will be about the results she’s getting 🙂

      I’m glad you’re enjoying this site.

      Best Regards,

  19. Harish says:

    Very well said. However there is a trade-off. some “free writing” is fine but the writer has to know the limit. 5-10 samples are more than enough for judging talent…beyond that the writer’s the mickey. Stay Safe. Haresh.

  20. Edison renee says:

    After reading your article, I am of the opinion that we as writer have a value . We should not write for free for someone unless there is a win-win situation.

    All we need is confidence in ourselves in getting people to pay for our writing. When I started to write , it is quite a hassle. I keep those article until I setup a blog and upload all those content. Did I get paid… No.. but what I get is satisfaction. When this happen.. it will make you eager to write for me… money will come later.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Exactly, I’m glad you got the message Edison! 🙂

  21. mitch says:

    I totally understand Graces fear. However, we all must look our demons in the eye sometime. I know its cary to think Grace has invested all this time and effort for nothing. Thats were I definitely agree with YoungPro. Grace should start focusing all her efforts on her on blog and posts. I’m sure while she has not been paid monetarily at this job she has gained some assets. What do I mean? well, she has made contacts and extended her acquaintances in her niche. That is one of the most important things I feel many Entrepreneurs overlook is connecting with others in your field or niche. These type of contacts can turn monetary overnight. I can’t begin to count al the jobs I have a acquired over the past year just through contacts. You must keep an updated email account AND USE IT. Last but not least, Grace I know you will succeed. You have toooooooo much determination. Sorry it was so long of a reply.


    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Exactly, Mitch!

      Grace has benefited from this experience and will benefit from it for a long time to come 🙂

      Thanks so much for chiming in!

      Best Regards,

  22. Hi Grace,

    I agree with Oni, this SEO firm is really taking the advantage on you. Anyway, this is a good lesson in your behalf but at least you asked this question in your first month of writing for them.

    1 month of writing is a long journey. I understand your situation because I also have an experience on that. I am a virtual assistant and one of the skills I offer to my clients is article writing.

    Unfortunately, when I tried to apply for a job, they tend to tell me that they need to test my article writing skills because, they don’t want to waste their money hiring the wrong person.

    I was told to write 24 SEO articles day to be submitted to various blog networks for FREE for a week. Ouch! To cut the long story short, that’s the reason why I don’t offer article writing in my VA services anymore. Lol!

    Anyway, that was a good experience. Hope we learn from that.

    – Felix

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      24 SEO articles a day for a whole week, for free?! I think it really sucks that anyone will ask for that. I’m glad you realized how wrong that is and made the appropriate changes, though 🙂

      • Yes, 24 articles at 250 words. Good thing that Google banned Blog Network users to build backlinks. Lol!

  23. Ken says:

    Gosh…if we could all just get the name of that “SEO Firm”… We could really crush them! I’m appalled at this story.

    I think it’s easier to be a part-time writer with a full-time job that you love. It’s so much easier to tell those kind of people to go “pound sand”.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Aha, I think the most important thing is that Grace has realized that the company was taking advantage of her skills.

      What the SEO Firm is doing is totally wrong, though, and I hope this post helps a lot of writers realize how much value they can offer and that their skills are worth paying for.

  24. Grace says:

    “I can never learn to be brave and strong if the only thing in this world is JOY.”

    I would never know what real online writing is and many of its aspects without the puzzling experiences. I would never have known a great writer like Dele who is full of experience and passion for writing at such a young age. I would have been like him if I was CONFIDENT enough with my talent the first time I wrote poems at the age of 9. I keep running away from my passion because my grammar and sentence structures were inadequate. Now I am 29, I decide to follow my heart upon knowing what it takes to be a better writer. That my articles don’t have to be perfect, and that I can improve in time by writing everyday. I guess it is never too late.

    The trainings I get from the firm each day open my eyes to the realities of online writing. Although I have made it long enough to quit, I will start on turning my “free service” into a business soon. I am just sad that I have not let go of the FEAR for so long. However, you have empowered me with your valuable support. I cannot thank Dele enough for featuring this post and for assuring me that he will be there to guide me along the way. The honour is definitely mine.

    I also wish to extend my heartfelt appreciation and sincere gratitude for all your advice, expert writers. I am happy with the assurance that each day will be a bright day for me as I update my blog with new posts. Finally, I belong. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Hi Grace,

      You’re so on spot about this; we can’t learn without making mistakes!

      When we think about it, confidence indeed will solve majority of the problems we face as writers. I’m glad you’re now making the changes required to help you take your writing to the next level with full confidence 🙂

      Best Regards,

    • Edison says:

      Dear Grace,

      Glad to know that you have started to build your writing into business and you have come out from your fear. That the only thing to success is to face the fear. Keep in touch as I maybe need your service for article writing.

      • Grace says:

        God bless you always Dele. Thanks a lot also for your nice message Mr. Edison. I will be glad to write for you up to the power. 🙂

        • Edison says:

          HI Grace. You may email me your charges so that we could arrange some mutual business relationship.

          • Grace says:

            Hi Mr. Edison, I have already sent you an email. Thanks!

    • Ruan | FreelanceWritingTactics says:

      Hi Grace,

      As a freelance writer, I am so glad you reached out for help and followed the advice given by Bamidele. Yes it’s easy to point fingers and say you could have been so much further if you dedicated those articles to your own portfolio. I believe you learnt a lesson, no matter at which time it happened. Things can only get better from here.

      I was looking for a website where I could contact you directly. If you would like to take on guest posting on other sites, I’d like to invite you over to and join the community if you’re interested. I’t very new but I’d love to get other freelance writers involved so we can grow together and be able to look back after good time and be proud of how we became better writers.

      If you are interested in growing with us and you’d like to share your freelance writing experiences with us, with freelance writing as the general topic, please feel free to contact me as I’d love for you to become a contributor for

      All the best of success to you!

      • Grace says:

        Hi Ruan,

        Thanks for replying to this comment thread. I found Dele’s suggestions realistic and achievable so there is no reason why I should not try them. I know I have a lot to learn from those who are successful. Yes, I made great mistakes. However, they gave me insights for my personal and professional development. I could have done so much for my own portfolio but I don’t think I should regret over the past. I just have to move on. The best thing I got from the experience though is meeting new clients and friends.

        Thank you for the invitation, I have already subscribed. I know it will be helpful to budding writers like Dele’s site. I will be emailing you soon regarding guest-posting. Please continue to live a purpose-driven life by helping others.


        • Ruan | FreelanceWritingTactics says:

          Thanks for the kind words, Grace!

          Excited to hear from you in future!

          • Grace says:

            It is my great pleasure, Ruan! 🙂

  25. Dyfed | Cleltnet Recipes says:

    I almost fell into this trap, but decided that I might as well write for myself as write for someone else for free. It may have taken a wile, but I eventually built a recipe-based site that I can make a living from.

    All the writing on there is my own and I write every day. Now I get frequent ghost writing gigs in the food and cookery field and I have several books under my belt.

    Admittedly it was really hard in the beginning, but it’s paid off now. All you need is a little self belief and the realization that writing is a craft that you have to hone.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      I’m glad to hear you were able to get things to work for you, Dyfed!

      You’re right; in most cases, all you need is self belief and the realization that writing will work for you as long as you keep improving.

  26. dennis says:

    Guest blogging is an indirect way to write for free especially on influential blogs as you increase your visibility and be considered as a “thought leader” if your content is valuable to your audience. This is a great way to market your self and eventually get hired.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Exactly, Dennis. Guest blogging has been very effective for me and as a result I recommend it to everybody I know 🙂

  27. Omar Best says:

    I agree totally. You have to stand your ground. Charge for your services. The only exception would probably be to trade your services for something of value.

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      That’s on spot!

  28. That is shocking!

    Sadly, I’m not as shocked as I should be. Only yesterday I was asked to write free sample articles by an SEO company.

    I gave my standard answer of, “Sure, so if you decide to hire me that sample post will cost you this much, and if you choose not to hire me then I’ll have my post to publish somewhere else.”

    They didn’t like that idea; they said they wanted to publish the post on their site before they decided whether it was worth hiring me.

    Why on earth would anyone want to publish a post unless they’re already sure it’s good? And if it’s good, it’s worth paying for.

    Thankfully I don’t get many such requests these days – I took a tip from you and added a sentence to my pricing page that tells people I’m the writer to hire for quality work, not for cheap filler. It’s done the trick to keep low-paying clients from taking up my time!

    • Bamidele Onibalusi says:

      Hi Sophie,

      Thanks for sharing your story and I’m glad you turned down the offer from the SEO company.

      I’m pretty sure they don’t have to publish your article to determine whether you’re a fit for them; they’re only looking for ways to decrease your overall value as a writer while at the same time getting a free article.

      I’m glad to hear that the hire me page trick is working well for you 🙂

    • Ruan | FreelanceWritingTactics says:

      Two quick things… LOVE the way you handled the request from the SEO company, Sophie! If they are really serious then they’ll accept it that way, it’s only fair.

      Secondly, I think the most important part after the actual services that you offer is the little but oh so visible P.S. note at the end putting those unappreciated clients back into their hole.

      Love it!

  29. jeulyanna says:

    I used to receive offers that require samples…free samples. I simply send them links to my published articles. For those who still insists, I just say the magic words…Sorry, I don’t write for free.

  30. J says:

    I think writing for free is something that no one should do because you don’t have trustworthy people who would not take advantage. If it was just one article for a major publication, maybe. However, I really don’t see any reason for this because they should have the ability to p

  31. Spot on advice. There are lots of places online that say if you write and they can’t pay you that you’re gaining exposure; phooey! Never let anyone take advantage of you like that because you’ll hate yourself later on.

  32. Experience is the best teacher. Grace’s experience and the advice given will help many people avoid such trap in future. There are still many people out there ready to exploit unsuspecting innocent people. Thank God for you Grace for speaking out, you will be free from that slavery.


Welcome! I'm Bamidele Onibalusi, a young writer and blogger. I believe writers are unique and highly talented individuals that should be given the respect they deserve. This blog offers practical advice to help you become truly in charge of your writing career.

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