Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #15: How to Earn More by Giving Stuff Away

Carol Tice

Earn more from freelance writing by giving stuff away.

My mission with this blog is to encourage writers to find better-paying gigs.

But sometimes, when it’s done strategically, doing free work can be a great marketing tool.

The trick is being very selective with your unpaid writing time, and making sure you choose situations that has a strong chance of benefiting you and leading to income.

Here are four basic approaches you can take where an unpaid effort can pay off big for you:

1. Pro bono gigs for clients

If you need a writing sample of a particular type, you might volunteer your services for a nonprofit or business. The right scenario is with:

  • A client with a great reputation
  • The subject matter and type of writing is of high interest to you, and you want to do more of it in the future
  • The owner promises to refer you new clients and give you a testimonial
  • The owner is willing to keep confidential the fact that you did the gig for free

In a situation like this, you end up with a strong writing sample and a good source of referral business. If you have few clips, investing a bit of time in a free project or two can be one of the best ways to improve your portfolio and start impressing better-paying prospects.

2. Public speaking & free classes

I know bloggers who get most of their paying clients by holding free introductory classes.

Offering this much value to prospects helps them feel comfortable that you would be a trustworthy person to plunk down their money with, and that you will deliver valuable information.

Doing any public speaking can be a great way to get exposed to new prospects. Any time you’re asked to speak at a public event, try to make time for it.

3. Write giveaways for your blog

Writing your own free products is one of the most powerful marketing strategies around. It can bring you new blog readers who might buy your paid products or services later, or it can help you find paying clients.

One of the most basic free products to create for your blog is a free report, ebook or course for your blog subscribers. As soon as you have a freebie offer, your subscriber rate usually skyrockets.

Your offer should be of great interest to your target blog audience. Dov Gordon of The Alchemist Entrepreneur calls this a “hand-raising” offer.

In other words, it’s so good that readers will have their hands in the air saying, “Me, me, please let me have your freebie!” It’s a no-brainer for them — something they simply can’t do without.

Some people create a freebie for freelance-writing prospects — a set of business-writing tips, for instance. Offering this type of giveaway in exchange for an email address allows you to build a marketing list of possible clients.

Even better is the situation where you have your own paid products you’ve written, such as ebooks, and your freebie report helps sell your other writing. Once readers have a taste of what you offer, they may well be hungry for more in-depth information.

I’m going to be experimenting this year with putting free and very low-cost ebooks on Amazon to help create a new lead-generation channel that helps readers discover my blog…can’t wait to see how that works.

4. Guest post on popular blogs

Personally, I wish more big blogs would pay for posts…but in the meanwhile, writing free guest posts for high-traffic blogs related to your niche can be a great way to get a lot more visitors, comments on your blog, and subscribers.

And subscribers are your best potential customers.

Also, guest posts bring you to the attention of those top bloggers, who may spread the word about your other posts in social media, bringing you even more traffic.

These bloggers might also help you by guesting on your blog, or by introducing you to others who might collaborate with you on projects.

In blogging, it really is like high school — it’s about being known and liked by the right people. Learn how to get the attention of top bloggers and write successful guest posts for them, and it can be your ticket to massive amounts of exposure, new readers, and ultimately, more income.

Need more marketing help? Here’s a place where you can get a bunch…

Join my freelance writer community



  1. Leah

    I think you have a great point about how guest blogging can be a real benefit to writers. As a freelance writer, I try to balance my paying work with guest blogs that I respect and think have a lot to offer as I get benefit out of the opportunity as well. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Daniel Robertson

    I assume you are joking about this being a great gig. No upfront payment really screams “great client” to me.

    Some of the strange ideas people come up with…

    • Carol Tice

      I didn’t say writing for free is a great gig or that the places you do it for are great clients, Daniel.

      I said it’s a marketing tool. That’s why it’s here in the Marketing 101 series.

      You can take your free time and spend it on Twitter, or going to in-person networking, or writing query letters…and this is another strategy you can use — strategically writing in freebie situations, where you believe it will pay off down the road.

      • Daniel Robertson

        Sorry, I was responding to a comment that it looks like you deleted. It was about a Craigslist listing where someone was offering 50/50 recurring payments for an ebook that “exposes the hypocrisy of the DUI industry” with no upfront payment.

        I agree that doing pro bono work can be a great way to get an in with a client that has the potential to be very rewarding. I just think you need to be careful of not getting in the habit of offering free “review services”. That is a sure way to do a lot of work for no pay.

        • Carol Tice

          Aha…thanks for explaining that!

          Well, some people do free reviews in exchange for receiving valuable merchandise…I actually have a guest post coming up in the next month or two about that. If you can get $500 worth of gear for doing a review, it’s as good as getting paid $500, yes?

          But if it’s a $9 book, it doesn’t pencil out quite the same.

          No up-front payment on a book would be a highly speculative venture…I’d say no.

          • Daniel Robertson

            Well, if Brian Clark or Darren Rowse were to offer 50% royalties for the life of a ghostwritten ebook I think I might take them up on the offer.

          • Carol Tice

            Well sure – but that’s more of a collaboration situation than being hired by a client to do something.

  3. Pamela

    It’s a good idea before you attempt to learn how to become a freelance writer that you are sure your writing skills are up to par. Editors can be very harsh, even to beginning freelance writers, so it’s important that you are good at your craft and have tough skin. You don’t have to be the best writer in the world, but you have to have a good grasp of the English language.

  4. Amandah

    Yes, I’ve done free writing to market myself which includes giving away a free report and guest blogging.

    Guest Blogging

    My first freelance writing client was/is in the travel industry. I was their blogger. As the websites gained traffic, I began to receive guest blogging opportunities. I felt it was a good way to build my portfolio and relationships with blog owners.

    I continue to receive guest blog requests, but I also ‘pitch’ blog owners (can be scary, at first) guest post ideas. I pitched an idea to the blog owner of a website that was listed in the May/June 2012 Writer’s Digest ‘101 Best Websites for Writers’ section. My idea was accepted. It was exciting and nerve-racking to write the guest post because I’m an avid reader of the website. I worked hard on my post. I’m waiting to hear back from the blog owner.


    My advice to writers is to take advantage of guest blogging. It’s a good way to build your portfolio and network. Plus, you never know who’s reading a blog. You could receive writing opportunities because an editor or business owner read your guest post.

    Strengthen your writing and networking skills by continuing your education. I’m a member of Carol’s Freelance Writers Den, A-List Blogging Bootcamp, and Jon Morrow’s GuestBlogging course. You and your writing are worth the investment.

    • Carol Tice

      Hey Amandah — did you take Jon’s course in the past or are you just signing up to take it now? In either case, I’m jealous! I got a half-hour mentoring session from him a while back and worked with him on the first post I did for Copyblogger…I can’t even imagine how much people could get out of 3 whole months with him!

      If anyone’s interested registration for his next round on this ends today — you can get a taste by watching that video link, it’s back up for today (Monday) only.

  5. Shauna L Bowling

    Great suggestions, Carol. I tried editing a short story in exchange for a referral from a LinkedIn member who sent out a plea for a free edit of verb tense. I took care of what she wanted, but she refused to give me the referral because I made some suggestions for her story regarding grammar, punctuation and repetitive phrases. That freebie backfired on me but that’s on her, not me.

    Your comment that being a blogger is kind of like high school threw me a bit. I was new to my high school and wasn’t very popular because I was smart. I wasn’t a cheerleader and didn’t give my body away, so popularity went to others. Hopefully, the blogging world isn’t as judgmental as high school kids are!

    • Carol Tice

      I think we didn’t mean in terms of being judgmental, but that it’s about cliques, and who you know, and building your network.

  6. Elke Feuer

    Guest posting is one avenue I’m looking to branch into. At the moment I’m hosting other authors and/or being a guest on their site, but I want to move on to writing sites, and other markets that will help me reach a broader audience. I’m also looking to get out of my comfort zone. 🙂

    Thanks for the tips!


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