Don’t Get Tricked Into Working for Free!

There are a lot of people out there who try to take advantage of freelancers.  Yes, even you!  Don’t fall for their evil trickery!

I’m aware that this drawing is terrible.

Never Ever Write/Work for Free

Anyone who’s seen an after-school special is probably familiar with the term “the first one’s free.”  That’s a good business tactic if you’re selling highly addictive drugs (except for it being illegal and morally sketchy, that is); but, unfortunately, writing isn’t addictive.  No, not even if it’s really good writing.

To put it simply: If you give your client a freebie, they’re going to keep expecting more freebies.

To break it down even more for you: If you work for free, you will never make any money.

Now, you’re probably looking at that last sentence and thinking “no duh,” but don’t be fooled!  This is an easier trap to fall into than you might think!

“It’s a Trap!”

Here are three of the “traps” you might fall into if you aren’t careful.  When looking for jobs, beware of clients who ask you to…

…Work “on spec.”  This means that they won’t pay you unless they decide to use what you wrote.  That might not sound too bad, but keep in mind that they might not use your writing until months (or even years!) later.  Or maybe even not at all.  Is that a chance you’re willing to take?  (Note: If you do decide to take on an “on spec” project, be sure you ask for a “kill fee” in your contract—that way, if they decide not to use your writing, you’ll still get paid at least a little money).

…Write “for exposure.”  This is something that new writers are especially susceptible to.  People out there know that new or under-confident writers feel that they have to “pay their dues” (you don’t) and they’ll take advantage of you to get some free writing.

…Send them some “samples.”  Sure, sometimes clients will legitimately want to see samples of your writing (in which case you can break out your portfolio!), but most of the time this is a scam.  In fact, many so-called “clients” cruising for samples (I see this a lot on CraigsList) are just looking for free writing that they can sell later.  The nerve!

Get a Contract

Always, always, always have a contract.  Get in writing—somewhere—the terms under which you’ll be working.  Do NOT work without some sort of written agreement.


  • Accept an oral contract (over the phone or otherwise)
  • Accept a handshake as a contract
  • Accept a contract over an instant message or in a chat room

If your client doesn’t agree to entering into a contract with you, then they’re probably shifty and not worth working for anyway.

A good, smart, client will know that a contract protects them as much as it protects you.  It makes sure you will be paid, but it also makes sure that they will get their finished product.

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Posted in Freelance Life, Freelancing, Freelancing Advice, Uncategorized, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
14 comments on “Don’t Get Tricked Into Working for Free!
  1. I remember having to navigate through a lot of those ‘exposure’ or ‘sample’ ad type of offers. I remember once creating a sample for a pizza place, only to have them write me back ‘Thanks” then never write again.

    That was a lesson learned!
    Danielle Lynn recently posted..Copywriting Workout – A Collection of Copywriting Swipe FilesMy Profile

  2. I actually got scammed a couple of times when I first started out. I worked for a week and I wasn’t payed, I can’t explain how disappointed I was I figured out I just got scammed and worked for free. Was very difficult to come back after that but I’ve learned my lesson.
    Cristian Balau recently posted..I will immediately fix ANY wordpress problem for you for $5My Profile

    • Lauren Tharp says:

      Hey, Christian!

      I didn’t see your comment until just now! I apologize.

      Nice to see you’re still reading my posts (or were in December anyway!). :)

      I know exactly what you mean. I was burned hardcore style by a client when I was first starting out–and it was a gig that I was truly EXCITED about too!–and I was just crushed! It actually became kind of a big thing and was picked up as a “story” here: And I ended up getting my money in the end! But what a heart-breaking mess it was! Yeesh!

      At least we got that lesson out of the way early on, right? And even though it was hard to come back (for me too!!), we’re out there doing what we do–and getting PAID for it! ;)

      Thanks for reading!

      Lauren Tharp recently posted..What’s Stopping YOUR Business from Going ALL THE WAY?My Profile

  3. This is equally valuable advice for an artist. I’ve been doing art for a very long time now, but I’ve only started seriously trying to sell art this year. I had no idea what the term “working on spec” meant until a couple of weeks ago, when I realized that deviantART and TalentHouse contests and the like fell into this category and were overall a huge waste of time. I agree with what you wrote about creating for exposure and writing samples too, back in the day my father was burned by sending a magazine poetry which was later plagiarized so I witnessed the latter first hand. And as for exposure, I would think you’re going to get a lot more exposure from a larger, more legitimate company that expects contracts and expects to pay you, than from a small obscure company that doesn’t play by normal business rules.

    • Lauren Tharp says:

      Hello, Heather!

      I recognize your name from Ramiro’s website! You must have found me on his Links page. Nice to know that thing works. ;)

      You’re absolutely right: This article can easily be applied to artists. Or anyone in the entertainment industry!

      It’s funny…your dad was a writer and you ended up being an artist…both of my parents were artists and I ended up being a writer! Life is weird sometimes, huh?

      Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful, in-depth comment. I always love getting feedback. :) Sadly, most of the people who write me longer comments send it as an e-mail. Haha. Which is great for ME to read, but I like it best when it’s public and other people can put their input too. Thanks!!

      Lauren Tharp recently posted..What’s Stopping YOUR Business from Going ALL THE WAY?My Profile

      • Lauren Tharp says:

        Oh! One more thing… I noticed that you donate some of your profits to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital! Do you have a personal connection with them or are you just a good person? haha. I donate to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, but I admit that I sorta owe them… I was born without my right hip and they totally built me a new one free of charge. :O
        Lauren Tharp recently posted..That’s Not My Job… Is It?My Profile

  4. Kris Emery says:

    Same as Christian, I got scammed starting out. I decided to tell my story in my book Freelance Your Heart Out, because it was mortifying sitting there on my lonesome as a newbie freelancer, but I’m certain I’m not the only one. Thanks for sharing and being open about scammy behaviour.

    • Lauren says:

      It’s absolutely heart-breaking.

      I’m always surprised when people try this nonsense too! When I was working retail, I never had anyone come into the store and say, “I’m going to take home 3 of these music CDs… And if I like how they sound, I’ll come back and buy some legit.” WHAT?! They’d be laughed out of town!

      But somehow it’s “okay” for people to come up to a writer or freelance designer or what-have-you and demand free samples.

      It’s not only wrong…it’s really, really weird.

      It sucks that we had to learn the hard way, but hopefully others will learn from our mistakes and not have to go through what we did.
      Lauren recently posted..People I Know: Cynthia CirileMy Profile

  5. Lauren says:

    This article is a wonderful compliment to mine:

    Laura Spencer shares 9 clues the work you’ve been offered is a scam…and how to avoid scams in the future. Great article. :)
    Lauren recently posted..Escaping the Content MillsMy Profile

  6. jane says:

    Some weeks ago I was scamed by a client.
    I am a newbie writer but I sensed right away it was a scam but I ignored it. I ended up wasting my time but Ive learnt my lesson and will always follow my instincts. There isn’t much you can do at times but you have to move on

    • I’m so sorry to hear you got scammed, Jane. :( Even when we “sense” that a scam is about to occur, we never really want to believe it, do we?

      Good for you for dusting yourself off and moving on. You’re right: That’s all we can do. Well…there is one other option. But that’s to quit entirely. And that’s just not how we roll! ;)

      I hope your future ventures are more successful! Thanks for reading/commenting.

  7. rudy says:

    love it.
    nice blog.
    good blog.

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