By: Alison R Bowyer   Freelance Copywriter  

If you’re a freelance creative, you’ve probably at some point been asked to work FOC (free of charge). 

You’ve probably already seen blogs and videos poking fun at the concept of working for free, the point being that you wouldn’t expect to be given a free takeaway on the promise you’ll pay next time if you like the taste. 

The same goes for writing (or designing, photography etc). If a client wants you to produce creative work, they must pay you for it.

There are some scenarios where working for free may do you some favours. For example:

  • Building a portfolio. Although it can be argued that you can do this just as well by writing a regular blog, which will also attract traffic to your website.
  • Writing test. I’ve done this once and I got the job. It was for a large brand and I figured it was worth the risk. Only you can decide when it is and isn’t appropriate to do this.
  • Charity work. Maybe there’s a cause close to your heart and you want to offer your services. As well as making a difference, you can feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s also a great way to build up experience. Just make sure you set a few boundaries first.


No need to over explain when turning down free work.

Despite those examples, I still believe that working for free is a bad idea. If you’re tempted to work for free, it’s easy to understand why. 

Getting those first few clients can be a tricky business, and you can sink into a sort of depression in the early days if the enquiries aren’t coming thick and fast. This is when you’re at your most vulnerable to falling into the black hole that is working for free.

Seasoned piss takers People that ask for free work often have a knack of making it sound very tempting. You should hear alarm bells if you hear any of these phrases:

“It will get you more exposure.”   Um yes, more exposure as someone who works for free.

“I don’t have any money to spend right now, but I’ve got big plans for future.” And so do you. Working for free isn’t going to help you achieve them.

“This is a big opportunity for you.” It really isn’t.

There’s no excuse for being a mug. You deserve to be rewarded for your time and expertise.

When you’re starting out and your confidence is a bit low, it’s easy to grab hold of one of these carrots and convince yourself that you’re working your way up to where you want your business to be. 

The trouble with doing this is you’re likely to lose more confidence, get treated badly and start to feel resentful. You may even give up on self-employment and slink back to full-time paid work, with your tail between you legs, feeling that you’ve failed.

If any of this sounds like you, have a word with yourself. Because working for free means that you are handing over your talent and expertise for the good of someone else’s business. Your pain, their gain. Where’s the sense in that? . 

There are plenty of things you can do instead that will increase your confidence, improve your business and get you on the road to finding good, solid, cash-paying clients.

  1. Update your website and social media channels Are you visible on line? Do you have a website with easy navigation, concise writing and a clear call to action? Are you listed on appropriate on-line sites for your industry (for example, Pro Copywriters’ Network for copywriters). Spend some time going through everything and improving it. Ask a friend or colleague for feedback, and spend time looking at other websites. Don’t copy them, work out how you can make yours stand out and make it different. 
  2. Get blogging If you’re working in marketing, copywriting or social media, the chances are you’re already advising your clients to blog regularly. So practice what you preach. Blog consistently, even if it’s just once a week or fortnight to start with. Deliver something that is interesting to read and useful. Give away free advice. Try to be helpful to others in the same industry as you. I know, it hurts to do that when you’re trying to acquire new clients. But you’ll be getting your name out there, and there will be a ripple effect. People will start to know you. And of course, adding regular content to your website will help you get found on search engines. Just remember to share your blog on social media. Don’t have a website or social media? Back to point 1! 
  3. Continuing professional development. Read, read, read. Always keep learning. Even if you think you have all the knowledge you need for your chosen field, there’s always new stuff out there. Train for a qualification if you have the time. But if you don’t have the inclination (or money), there’s so much information out there for free. Look for people in your chosen field and read their blogs. They’re probably handing out their own advice for free. Learn from it. But don’t get carried away and pinch their content. Think about how you can incorporate that information into your business without being a copycat.

    Podcasts are another fantastic tool for learning, especially when you’re on the go. I listen to them in the car, waiting for the kids to come out of school and when I’m cooking dinner. 
  4. Take a walk. Not very original, I know. But if you’re going through a quiet phase, do something that benefits you and your business. Walking is great for your physical and mental health, zaps stress and anxiety, and clears your head for new ideas. I recently sprained my ankle and had to give up walking for a few weeks and it made a huge difference to my productivity. So I no longer begrudge taking 45 minutes out of my business to walk every day. It keeps me fit, generates ideas and sparks creativity.

I’d love to hear your experiences about working for free or being asked to work for free. Do you have any ideas to add to my list of things to do instead?

Until next time.


Alison is a Freelance Copywriter based in Milton Keynes. She specialises in web content and business blogging. For more information about Alison, click here.


Published by MK WORD STUDIO

Freelance Copywriter

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