4 Reasons You Should Definitely Work for Free

Seasoned freelancers tend to give the advice that you should never EVER work for free. At first I thought, sure, they’re right. Who wants to do work that they won’t get paid for? Especially if it leads to word getting out that I’m cheap. But then I accidentally undercharged for my time, and I’m glad I did. Here are the 4 reasons why I recommend that you work for free (at least sometimes!).

Seasoned freelancers tend to give the advice that you should never EVER work for free. Here are the 4 reasons why I disagree. Freelance advice from WordsbyErynn

 

Number one: It kinda feels good to work for free

 

This is borderline selfish, but I like to help friends and family out to make myself feel good. I don’t see them as charity cases, I see them as people who have a need that I can fulfill, without cash exchanging hands.

I don’t necessarily spend hours upon extra hours sweating over a project, but if there’s time in my schedule, why not? In the end, the service or product you and I provide has the potential to positively affect lives. Why the heck would we hesitate to put it out there?

 

Number two: You’re expanding your portfolio

 

Another purely selfish reason I’ve worked for free or at a discount. I can always use more experience, the more diverse the better. Part of the reason why I used to attend any and all interviews extended. Even if I knew there was zero chance I’d realistically be offered the job.

I enjoy experiences, and I rank that 30 minute interview for a job I *know* I won’t land at the same value as a 30 minute resume review for a colleague. Truly, it’s why I left a structured, rule-driven job. I have the freedom to earn what I want and how I want. Therefore, I maintain the wiggle room to offer select services for free on occasion.

 

Number three: You’ll earn street cred

 

I’m no rapper, but a few important people know my name. My reputation for providing valuable content speaks for me. Partly because I have a handful of friends that I helped out before my business sprouted. Now I have regular clients that smother me with praise (it still shocks me every time!).

I don’t have a terribly long list of referrals asking for free services because of word of mouth. Plus, once I do a bit of work for free for clients, they tend to return for paid content later. Kind of like free samples at the grocery store, right?

 

Number four: You might save yourself from a negative review by tacking on freebies

 

We’ve all had a client that, for any number of reasons, simply isn’t happy. It could be that she didn’t read the contract thoroughly, if at all. Maybe I overlooked a significant detail in our communication. Maybe she’s hoping to get a fat discount! Either way, going above and beyond in this situation might lessen your monetary gain, but it could help prevent a stressful complaint situation.

Personally, I’m not so worried about negative reviews as my customers’ perceptions of me. I want to do everything in my power to make sure you’re satisfied with your content. Thus, I’ll willingly spend the extra two hours making edits and creating new templates so that your vision is fulfilled (and your stress is relieved!).

 

Word of caution though: Don’t go crazy!

Eventually, you will have to say no, or simply refrain from offering to work for free. Don’t feel guilty- this is your livelihood, after all. But definitely stay open to the possibility that a new and potentially challenging project could be amazing for improving your creative process. It could even inspire you to develop new products or tools, all thanks to a small initial investment of your time.

Your Email Pitch: What Not to Say

I’m a little surprised to say that I’ve been on the receiving end of less than stellar pitches. I would hope that someone who is pitching to a writer would… well, pay more attention to his or her writing. Therefore, I have a few tips for my friends who use cold email pitch tactics to drum up new business.

To enhance cold email pitch potential, I have a few tips for those who use email marketing tactics to drum up new business. [Marketing advice from WordsbyErynn]

Before the actual email pitch- do your research.

Please don’t offer me a service that I am already using. Please don’t call me sir when I’m [hopefully] obviously a woman. Do a little research on your intended target, and your email will come across as knowledgeable and more personal. It’s particularly respectful to find out the name or title of the addressee, so you can avoid that awkward ‘To whom it may concern’ and other vague nonsense.

Besides, you’re better than that. If you’re trying to start a business-client relationship with a contact, you’ve got one shot to impress him or her. Show that you know your stuff, and that you are a professional.

On that same note…

Subject lines: bland = unsuccessful

So, you have an awesome product or service that I might need. You write a short and sweet, but personal, email, telling me why I must have your Amazing Thing. But. And it’s a big but. Your subject line offers me no incentive to click. If I weren’t so interested in picking apart other professionals’ marketing tactics, I wouldn’t have clicked at all. The point is, you’re not guaranteed eyeballs on your email unless the subject line is inviting or at least transparent.

I don’t recommend going over the top with “Click now for a special deal” or “Limited time offer, act now,” because those feel skeevy. My suggestion is to stick with something simple. For my freelancing business, I might approach a business owner who is apparently lacking a regular writer to maintain its web copy. A suitable subject line would be, ‘Web copywriting inquiry’ or ‘Product description suggestions for your business.’ Not enough promotion to come across as flashy and cheesy, but enough information so that the recipient understands why I’m randomly emailing her.

Did a robot write this? A robot lacking spell check?

Aren’t we all tired of those automated Twitter messages and impersonal product pitches? I don’t mind hearing about your product, especially if it might be beneficial to my business, but if you send me the same message as the other 500 contacts on your list, I will know. And I will shun you. Not publicly, but you won’t get my business or my respect.

Also, please spell check. I can’t beg you enough. I routinely receive newsletters to blogs I subscribe to, and I have seen more than my share of cringe worthy mistakes. Am I not worth your time? Do you not read and re-read your content before publishing? Embarrassing secret- I do, often multiple times. I also re-read days or weeks later and have caught a few mistakes of my own (gasp! how is it possible?!). I suppose I should go back to offering  a Starbucks gift card if a reader catches a mistake and notifies me 😉

The point is, we are human, and minor errors are forgivable. However,  if I know that I’m receiving the same typo-ridden Twitter message that all 800 of your other Twitter followers received, I might just un follow you to avoid further eye strain.

 

Along my freelance journey, I’ve learned a ton of valuable tips and tricks for landing jobs, creating content, and generally just giving good, consistent service. None of that does me any good if my email pitches are poorly conceived with lackluster delivery. Avoid these mistakes, and you just might see better return on your email pitch investments!

Online Jobs: Have a Boss or Be the Boss?

You know online jobs exist. But did you know there are a million different opportunities available for those of us willing to put in the work? You might have already skimmed over my posts about signs you need to quit your job and why a work at home job won’t solve all your problems. Now let’s talk about the actual opportunities that await you!

Did you know there are a million different opportunities available for those of us looking for online jobs? Four categories cover them all. Online job talk from WordsbyErynn.com

Online jobs: working for someone else

Do you want to just do the work and get paid, no strings attached? There are two general categories of online jobs where you’re still provided guidelines, feedback, and a paycheck.

Option 1: Apply for a “real” job

There are a huge number of companies that hire qualified, full-time staff who work from home. Some might require occasional travel to a headquarters or training center, others might be strictly virtual positions. You’ll have a relationship with a company and technically be an employee.

The benefits of such a position are that they generally involve benefits, scheduled (aka reliable) hours, and your taxes are deducted just like in a ‘normal’ job. You might need to buy specific job-related equipment. This will vary depending on the type of position. However, these types of jobs can be fairly limiting for your home life. Time off may need to be scheduled far in advance, the same as an in-house position.

Examples of “real” online jobs offered by companies are guest service (scheduling appointments, offering tech support) and sales (if cold-calling happens to be something that doesn’t make you feel ill).

Option 2: Apply for smaller jobs

If you’re not in immediate need of a full time and heartily lucrative position, smaller task-type jobs are abundant online. You can typically log in and complete tasks according to your own schedule. It’s highly likely you won’t even have a phone interview to get in. Odds are you’ll only speak to your ‘boss’ via email. You won’t be considered an employee, and taxes can be tricky.

Task related jobs can be a quick and easy way to earn some extra cash, but it would be rather inconvenient to cultivate a full time income from these jobs alone. You will also need to be fairly tech savvy and willing to troubleshoot issues on your own.

Jobs in this category include website/chat moderators, survey takers, and writers for ‘content mill’ writing sites.

Work at home jobs: working for yourself

This is where the entrepreneurial side of you feels thrilled and a little sick at the same time. Here’s your chance to do something you’ve always loved and [hopefully] get paid for it.

Option 1: Open up shop (and get crafting)

Odds are you’re familiar with Etsy, and if not, you should be. It’s essentially the most well known online sales platform for handmade everything, and it’s simple to get started. Anyone who’s even remotely crafty can hop on and open up shop. All it takes is a little marketing to get your shop the attention it deserves.

You won’t need startup cash for office space or storefront real estate, but you will need to invest in materials for whatever product you plan to sling. Knitting, crocheting, sewing, jewelry crafting, woodworking, painting, printing- all of it finds a place on Etsy.

Check out shops that offer what you plan to sell, calculate costs, and have at it. Ideally you’ll sort out your shop’s branding, images, and sweet product descriptions (need a little help?) before going live, but the beauty of it is you can tweak it any time.

It might take your online sales a while to take off, but Etsy will give you an idea of whether your business venture is viable or not. Who knows, you may end up being so successful that you’ll start your own online store.

Option 2: Set up a site (and get to cold emailing)

Obviously this is my favorite option- everyone quit your job today and redesign yourself as a freelancer!- but I know it’s not for everyone. Establishing yourself as a freelancer seems simple, but it requires as much work as opening an online store, if not more.

All the experts recommend cultivating your own legit website, and I enthusiastically agree. I would never hire someone who based their business on a free WordPress site, because any schmuck can claim to be a professional. So buy a domain name, get in good with BlueHost (I haven’t had a single issue yet and apparently they offer perks for a shout out, though personally I’ve no clue how that works). I also recommend some good imaging software or a subscription to a site like BeFunky, which is super easy for those of us who aren’t designers.

Other business necessities will vary hugely depending on your field of expertise. You might be a writer, in which case a few dozen notebooks and your brain will suffice. For a web designer, a tech support guru, a photographer, or a marketing consultant, your toolbox will have vastly different contents.

The exciting thing about freelancing, is whatever task you’re good at, there’s someone who values that service enough to pay for it. Your job as a freelancer is to spend time finding those clients and convincing them to hire you. Sadly, those aren’t billable hours.

Online jobs: Watch for the scammers

Hopefully you already know where to look for legitimate at home work opportunities, but if not, check out my virtual work Pinterest board for some direction! Wherever you look for online work, stay away from sites that charge up front fees. Don’t pay to apply for a job, or pay to get on lists or take tests!

There are a ton of scams out there, but also endless choices, so take heart- if you’re consistent and start out with a game plan, you’ll find the right online job for your lifestyle. Get more advice and some quick tips in next week’s post on getting your credentials in order for online job searches.

 

Why a Work at Home Job Won’t Solve All Your Problems

It’s been a little over three months since I took the plunge into working from home as a freelance writer and consultant. Last week, I listed the three signs you need to quit your job. But what next? There are some warnings to be given about the pitfalls of working from home. I had so many beautiful, fluffy dreams about how amazing it would be to work from home. I’m sharing this reality check so that you can be better prepared to handle the challenges. There are immense benefits to finding a work at home job, but don’t expect the lax dress code and upgraded coffee selections to solve all your problems.

There are immense benefits to finding a work at home job, but don't expect the lax dress code and upgraded coffee selections to solve all your problems. Work at home job advice from WordsbyErynn.

A work at home job is still WORK.

There will be deadlines, meetings, reviews, and unexpected expenses that will make you wish you could hold your liquor better. Whether you work for yourself as a freelancer or snag a telecommuting job with a customer service company, you will definitely not be surfing that couch as much as people think.

Many online jobs have specific hourly requirements that must be met if you want to stay employed. If you’re sourcing clients on your own, you might have one week of drought followed by two weeks of heavy rain (plus a little lightning). Having the freedom to work at home doesn’t mean we aren’t working as much as people in office buildings. We’re just working differently.

Once you make the leap into working from home, you’ll figure out your own rhythm and how you work best. It’s up to you whether that’s an 8 hour day or one hour blocks throughout.

Getting started might take more work than you think.

You might think that starting your own business doesn’t sound that tough. Expect that finding an online job is as simple as a few applications and some spelling tests? Whether you’re creating a business from the ground up or submitting thirteen resumes a day looking for an opening, you will work harder than you’re working now. I promise you it will be worth it. However, odds are you’ll have some sleepless nights and difficult days first.

Applying for work at home jobs is a part time job of its own.

Consider the success rate of past job seeking ventures. How many resumes did you submit before getting an interview? Before actually getting a job offer?

If you’re looking for an online job to essentially replace your full time gig, you’ll need to get your resume in order and get a cover letter prepared (stay tuned for a post with some help on those soon!). Make sure you have an email address suitable for business communication. The email address you got when you were 16 that references your first car likely won’t impress hiring managers. Also, brush up on your typing and spelling skills since online jobs involve a ton of written communication and form-filling. Be prepared for software and hardware questions, and possibly purchasing equipment depending on the field you plan to enter.

It may take a few attempts before you hear back on any job opening, just like in real life. Happily, one of the pluses of working online is that you can usually start sooner than brick and mortar occupations. Generally paperwork submission and online tests are the only hurdles.

Starting a business is a different beast.

For those planning on breaking cyber or other ground with a new business, the process is even more intensive. Modern businesses necessitate an online home, so web hosting and domain names should be high on your list. Market research and social media growth are key, so developing a strong and recognizable brand will be your first duty.

Seriously, expect to invest a few or a hundred hours in your business development before turning any amount of profit. I spent untold hours contemplating color schemes, font combinations, and website copy for my brand, and I’m just a freelance writer/consultant.

You’ll still have work-life conflicts.

Even if your computer is ten feet away and beckoning you, shit can still happen. Accidents, illness, and plain old procrastination can inhibit the time you can invest in your work. Many online jobs require you to be logged in for a set number of hours, or certain times of day. This might be ideal while the kids are off at school, but potentially hazardous during breaks and summer.

Part of my desire to work at home was fueled by my annoyance at being forced to leave my kids in the first place. Working outside the home should be a choice for parents (and everyone else), but so should working inside the home. The difference between my old job and my career as a freelancer is I have the power. Power to reduce my workload, to increase it, to take days off, to turn down projects. I accept consulting hours that work for me and decline ones that don’t.

So working at home solves a lot of problems… Just not all of them.

But that’s ok! We’re still making an income, attending to family obligations, and living life. I hope for the same freedom and flexibility for you as I’m enjoying. That starts with your decision to find a work at home job, or create your own.

Keep an eye out for my next post on the pros and cons for working at home for a company versus working for yourself!