More Thoughts On Writing for Free, Guest Blogging, and Marketing Opportunities

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2010/01/more-thoughts-on-writing-for-free-guest-blogging-and-marketing-opportunities/

free!

I’ve been thinking about guest blogging a lot lately. Not a day goes by when I don’t receive emails asking about guest blogging opportunities at the Freelance Writing Jobs network. As you know, I don’t actively solicit guest bloggers for FWJ anymore because I feel it’s akin to soliciting free work. Instead, I look for paid contributors.

To be honest, I always hesitate before accepting a guest blogging proposal because I don’t want to be accused of taking advantage. I’m a little gun shy because I was called out as looking for free content on two separate occasions in the past, once during guest blogging month and once when we had a writing contest. The backlash against these events made me think twice about accepting guest blog posts.

I’m not against guest blogging opportunities…as long as they’re really opportunities

When I began paying guest bloggers and contributors, many people in the freelance writing community took it to mean I was against guest blogging and didn’t recognize it to be a terrific marketing opportunity. That’s not true at all. I guest blog on my own and I occasionally post guest submissions here.

To me there’s a difference:

Actively seeking free content for your blog in the name of exposure = smarmy.

Offering to guest blog in exchange for visibility=marketing.

Semantics

If I made an announcement on Twitter about looking for guest bloggers for FWJ, I’d get dozens of takers. If I posted a similar ad on Craigslist looking for free writers, I’d get an angry response. Where we look for writers and how we word our requests make a big difference.

Why are you offering a guest post?

A couple of months ago I explored guest blogging in a post entitled, Guest Blog Posts: Good P.R. or Free Content? In that post, I didn’t suggest writers NOT write guest blog posts, but rather, they consider each opportunity. For example:

  • Who are you blogging for?
  • How will this help your career?
  • Are you responding to a call for free writers?
  • Will you truly gain something of value from the experience?

What’s in it for you?

In another post about guest blogging I confessed to being confused by the mixed signals I get from the freelance writing community. On one hand, people who advertise for free writers are considered to be taking advantage. Yet, we actively encourage writers to get their free writing on because it’s good  marketing. Can we have it both ways?

When is it a good idea to write for free, and when are writers to proceed with caution?

My suggestion is to ask what’s in it for you. When I do a guest post, I do it for several reasons:

  • The other blogger is my friend.
  • I’m trading services with another writer or blogger.
  • For exposure on a high profile blog.

I turn down guest blogging opportunities when:

  • The owner of the blog is only trolling for free content, not a guest blogging discussion from another blogger.
  • I don’t agree with the blog’s message.
  • I don’t know the blogger and it’s a brand new blog with no traffic.

As I struggle with whether or not I should open FWJ up to guest blogging opportunities and whether or not I’m a hypocrite for guest blogging on my own, I’d like to revisit this discussion.

Is guest blogging vs. writing for free a matter of semantics? Is writing for free good marketing, and if so, why are we so upset whenever anyone looks for free writing on Craigslist? Why are we pissed off when a content studio wants to pay $20 to a bunch of writers when we’re advocating free work in the name of exposure or marketing?

I’m very interested in your thoughts.

Comments

  1. I’masked to guest blog about 3 or 4 times a month, and about once a month I am approached to write an article for free. The only thing that would make me say no is if I disagreed with the politics or direction of the blog or was asked to cede editorial contrl of what I wrote. About half the time I write for people who have a higher profle than me, and that’s a fantastic opportunity, and half the time it’s for people with a new blog or a lower profile than me. And that’s also great, provided they have a good blog going, because the more we progress, the better it is to take every opportunity we can to help people who are newer to the game. If they’re doin great things, then we should be queuing to help them wherever they stand. If what they’re doing sucks, we shouldn’t write for them no matter what their profile. So how I’m asked and who asks really don’t matter. All that matters is their blog.

    • Hi Dan,

      Do you find it helps you or your cause? Does guest blogging raise your profile and bring you traffic or do you simply do it because you enjoy it?

  2. I think after you have a few clips under your belt, it’s not worth guest blogging. I’m forever amazed at people asking writers to write for no pay. With that said, I will consider exchanging guest blogs if I know the person well or if that blog markets my books or other work.

    Now, maybe my plumber will fix my bathroom toilet for free, or the mechanic will change my oil for the mere mention of him to my friends. ‘You think that will fly? I don’t think so.

  3. Deb, for me I think the difference in what the writer or guest blogger perceives it to be. When I take the initiative and offer to guest blog somewhere or get asked to, I am doing so of my own free will _ I am in control. When a buyer or client asks for free work, the decision no longer seems to be my initiative, and hence i may feel pressured.

    However you decide to proceed, i know I’ll personally be happy to see some relevant guest posts on FWJ :) Good luck with your decision!

  4. I will write for free for someone I CHOOSE to rather than get paid 50 cents/hour that many on sites like elance and others expect to pay. That actually costs me money in fees to elance, taxes etc. If I’m going to give away a certain amount of work it’ll be under my name and where I choose to whether it’s a writing site or one related to my niche topics. JMO.

  5. Personally, I’m all for guest blogging if – and only if – it’s in line with my “brand” and I really like the blog. For me, it doesn’t even have to be a high-traffic blog as long what audience it does receive can benefit from my guest post, and the post would fit in with the blog’s theme.

    I think there’s a mental division between web writing and blog writing. Most people are accustomed to writing on their own blogs for free, yet writing a web article is a ‘gig.’ Sometimes those lines blur and that makes things confusing.

  6. I see both sides to this issue, because I’m both an experienced journalist and a budding blogger.

    My journalism side says there’s no reason for me to write for free (or to write 450 words for a paltry $5). That being said, as someone who’s started her own blog about personal finance, I find guest blogging to be a valuable tool for increasing exposure. But only in small doses — I write a guest post maybe two or three times a month, when I know I’ll have free time. I won’t “write for free” if it will cut into time needed for a paying gig. And I almost always write for other personal finance blogs that have more readers/page views than mine does.

  7. I’m not a freelance writer, but am a blog owner, just thought I’d give my 2c.

    I run a video games blog, and there is a “Write For Us” section on the site. In there I do clearly state “I am unable to pay people” (it’s popular, but the problem with the video game niche is the big players all control it, so I actually make less than $100/month on it, which goes into keeping the site alive), likewise on the emails I get every now and again I state it again (along with the payment I do offer, the occassional video game).

    I get no shortage of quality writers, some of which are long time writers who use it to increase their portfolio. I don’t force people to write for free, but like you stated Deb, they’re marketing themselves through my site, I get great content for free.

    I believe that everybody should do what they are free to do so, and I don’t think it’s too bad asking other bloggers for free content (particularly if you run a big blog), but I’d never pressure somebody to write for free.

  8. I can see where the confusion comes from, but I have never thought of guest blogging in the same way as writing for free (or for very little). To me guest blogging is exactly what you listed in your reasons for doing it – a kind of barter or helping each other out. It should be a win-win situation.

    Being hired to write is a different story – the rates should be fair and competitive.

    I think it’s like everything else – there’s good eggs and bad eggs. Some people will take advantage. Some people will think everyone’s taking advantage. But I believe that guest blogging is good for everyone and especially good for the readers.

  9. I have written a couple of guest posts myself – to raise my profile – and while it did drive a little additional traffic to me in one instance, in the other instances it didn’t. I think the other questions you need to ask yoursef before giving free content is, ‘Is this the right target audience?’ ‘Does this blog have such a high profile that it will, in fact, drive traffic back to me?’

    On the flipside, as a teacher of freelance writing, I did consider for a while letting students guest post on my blog. But, I soon thought better of it, for two reasons. Firstly, freelance writing is my core business, and I would never dream of writing for a newspaper or magazine for free, so why should I encourage my students to write for free?

    Secondly, defamation laws on the internet are still so ambiguous. I have been a journalist for 20 years, which means I have a solid understanding of what one can and can’t print to avoid defaming another. But, what assurances do you have that the guest poster knows it? I figured I would have so much editing and researching to do on a guest poster’s post to ensure I could sleep at night, that it wasn’t worth it.

    Thanks for the post Deb. It’s a good discussion.

  10. I have allowed others to guest post on my blog a couple of times in the past when I am too busy to write. I state that the guest blogger can have a permanent link from the guest post to their website with anchor text of choice. I have PR3 website, so linking from my site is worth something to new bloggers or bloggers with even less traffic than mine. And sometimes I would mention these guest bloggers sites again. So I don’t think I am exploiting anyone nor do I feel like someone is doing that to me when I volunteer to guest blog.

  11. I have a journalism background and it’s interesting because all of my professors made it clear that free writing was part of the gig in the beginning when it came to offline journalism (blogs hadn’t come on the scene yet). They explained that you’re going to have to write some things for free in order to create a portfolio.
    The online space has put bloggers and writers all on the same playing field in that we all start with no real online background.

  12. Deborah Preston says:

    I find this issue quite complex. As a new blogger getting the opportunity to write on larger, more popular blogsites should be a privilege. Yes of course you should ensure you agree with the basic ethos of that site but after that I can’t see why you would complain or accuse the larger site of any wrong doing.

    I like the idea of swapping guest blogs that way everyone feels happy.

  13. I’m of multiple minds on this topic. Like you, I’ve used guest bloggers…and like you, I’ve *been* a guest blogger without pay. I’m honored when blogs I read ask me to write for them.

    But more than blogging, what I get asked to do is write entire articles for free. Articles which involve research, and talking to subject matter experts, and are in many cases mini-white papers. So, what I’m being asked to donate is anywhere from $500 – $1,500 of billable work to a site for free. Now, early in my career, I did it a few times, under the “but it will help build my reputation”. But really, what it did is prove to a few editors that they could get writers for free. I never had a single one of those sites where I provided free content ever pan out into a paying gig. I automatically turn down those “offers” now.

    So, if it’s a site I read, a site I value, or a site where I feel some connection to either the editor/owner or audience, then absolutely, I’m willing to drop in a guest writer, especially if I know that the primary writer would do the same for me…but sites which are fully supported by a parent corporation, are generating enough ad revenue that they have a staff, or are funded by trust babies who’ve picked up publishing as a hobby…then my usual published rates apply. :)

  14. I’m an author, editor and freelance writer in my “real” life, but have created a blog site (www.betrayedwivesclub.blogspot.com) to help others cope with betrayal. And though, in my editing gigs, I wouldn’t dream of not paying a contributor, I have a few people who guest blog on my site and, at this point, none of us are making anything. It’s a chance for them to write about something important to them, to share their hard-won wisdom and help others whose pain they’re all too familiar with.
    There are no one-size-fits-all solutions a we all navigate this shift in publishing toward digital. I recognize people’s rights to determine what they personally think is exploitive…but we also have the right to make our own choices regardless of other’s opinions.

  15. Thanks to all for your thoughts. I think, if anything, I learned there are no rules and writing, regardless of pay or venue, is all up to the individual. One thing I learned as a freelance writing blogger for all these years is that writers will always do what they enjoy and accept the pay and terms working best for them.

    I can attest to the power of the guest blog post as it does raise traffic and visibility, but if I’m actively seeking writers for FWJ it will be for pay.

  16. My response to requests to guest blog for free is the same when I’m asked to come speak to a group for free: Is that their norm?

    In other words, do they normally pay for a speaker for similar event in the past or, is it the local Lions or PBW club who traditionally have a local business/non-profit org person comes give a short presentation at each weekly/monthly meeting for free?

    I was once asked to come do a Young Author’s Writing Workshop at local school and the organizer actually said to me, “In the past we’ve always paid for a writer to come speak to the kids. But we’re asking you first because we thought you could just do it for free for us.”

    Ah, never a prophet in your own hometown.

    Needless to say, I told her that I’d be glad to come in and do a short presentation for an event like the annual Career Day, but my regular fee for workshops in-state are XXX, and out-of-state XXX.

    I’m not opposed to guest blogging…and have done plenty of freebies in the name of marketing opportunities. But if they normally pay contributors, and then you’ll find any guest blogging I do in the site’s comment section. :)

  17. Hi everyone. Being that I’m in the start up process of getting my writing business up and going, I found this post to be of particular interest. I have been very wary, even being new to the game, of taking on work for no pay. The only exception that I make is if the work will look just as good in my portfolio and I have no other samples, or not as good samples. Obviously, it would be worth it then and no one is going to look at it and know that I did it for free, or for very little. However, most of the work that is calling for free writers isn’t the kind of work that really dazzles a portfolio anyway, so why bother? Now, guest blogging? I really don’t see why not. If it’s a blog you enjoy, want to help out, or something of that nature then… sure. Now, of course, once I have my schedule jam packed with writing assignments, maybe I’ll think differently. Ha! But I would like to think that I could keep myself grounded enough to do a little piece for someone just for the fun of it.

  18. What real tangible value do you get, as a freelance writer, by having your name posted somewhere? A guest post will not open any big doors that didn’t exist before you opted to write for free (for a person or business) who gets paid but doesn’t pay you.

    Will Editor A, B, and C (who is in desperate need of a good freelance writer) suddenly see your name and send you job offers? No, don’t kid yourself. Editor A, B, and C, probably realize your “guest blog post” that you reference in top placement in your portfolio was a freebie job (e.g. GUEST COLUMN gives it away pretty quick). Now, they know your secret — you’re not only a good writer, but you also write for free or cheap just because you think you are getting “publicity” value.

    Harlan Ellison said it best, “There is no publicity value. The only value for me is if you put money in my hand”.

    Do it for fun, do it because you want to, but don’t do it because you place far too much value on the idea of “publicity” that will materialize into… a whole lot of nothing. If your business plan is to make money (versus having fun) you might be better off using that “freebie research and writing time” to find a good paying opportunity or client.

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