You're Not "Freelancing" if You're Not Being Paid

I was digging through Craigslist earlier when doing job postings here, and was reminded of a bit of a pet peeve I have.

On CL in particular, you'll see a lot of unpaid writing jobs. While I don't agree with taking unpaid work in the vast majority of situations, I'm really not bothered that the requests are there.

What does annoy the hell out of me is when the ad title very clearly says "Freelance Writer Needed for ...," and then you discover it's an unpaid gig.

Why does that tick me off? Because it's false advertising.

Look folks... if you're not being compensated for the work (or not paying for it if you're the buyer), then it is NOT a freelance gig! It's a volunteer gig. There is definitely a difference.

Frankly, I think you'd find far fewer pissed off writers using CL, and ganging up on posts to have them removed and such, if advertisers were simply HONEST!

Make it clear up front that it's not a paid gig. Then you're not wasting any person's time, getting them to click over and read the ad just to find out you lied about what you were essentially offering as an opportunity.

Is it just me, or does that get under anyone else's skin?

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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5 thoughts on “You're Not "Freelancing" if You're Not Being Paid”

  1. Amen, Jennifer. Those CL ads really tick me off – especially when they list all these stringent requirements for the writer they seek. When I see that No compensation, I can’t help but mutter, “Get real.” What’s worse though are people who actually take on these jobs, and they think they are …. I better shut up.

    Btw, I included you in a link love post running tomorrow.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Joan

  2. It’s funny that some people have the guts to try to get something for nothing. In my case, I’ve avoided doing for free since day one. Work’s work and you got to be compensated for it accordingly.

  3. I hear what you’re saying Joan. I’ve seen some pretty crazy ones myself, wanting absolute perfection for nothing, from clueless new webmasters who assume their sites or blogs are going to be huge hits quickly, offering tons of exposure for the writers. When you see ads like that, you know the person has no idea what they’re doing – I’d never get involved with a project like that.

    Cedric – It’s not guts, and I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with advertising an unpaid gig. If anything, I find too many writers are far too self-righteous about such things, and I’ve seen many act downright childish about it (making me wonder how they get any paid gigs to begin with). If they don’t want to do unpaid work, they can simply choose not to take it.

    There are plenty of cases where it’s perfectly acceptable, such as with nonprofit organizations. I used to work in the nonprofit sector, and it’s common enough, and people are happy to do it to help out.

    Another example would be sites that are just a shared labor of love. My own indie music site used to be like this (from ’05-’06). We were a regionally-focused site, and I couldn’t stop writers from coming to me volunteering their time to “help the scene.” That’s just the way things often work in that industry, and in fact we did build a huge regional following, and the word spread so quickly that we went international in just a year. I was repeatedly asked to give job references to those writers, and at least two of them have excellent jobs now where they used their experience with the site to their advantage. That said, I never had strict requirements for anything submitted and gave a lot of freedom in what people wanted to cover (they could choose from submitted materials, review bands in the area they knew or were familiar with, etc. If they wanted to do a live show review, they got reimbursed for the show, or I’d often be able to get them in for free, because I was heavily connected with club owners in the area (some writers got involved just for this – they’d rather write a review to see a show than spend their money on it – for some of the bigger shows I sent them to, they actually “made” quite a bit more that way than they were making for the same amount of time at their regular jobs, from the free admission alone). While the site made very little money (common in that niche), anything it did make was flipped into a contest and awarded to one of the writers that month (and I’d usually chip in even more). They were also sometimes given free merch from the site (apparel and such we were selling). So not everyone who has volunteer writers working for them is out to screw anyone over or take advantage. Now that site is updated by a paid reviewer instead, and I pay him twice what he asked for, while I deal with admin and marketing issues.

    My issue with these advertised unpaid gigs is the dishonesty in how they’re presented; not that they can’t afford to pay someone. Given, it’s a writer’s responsibility to ensure they’re not getting into a bad situation where they’ll be taken advantage of, but I’d like to see advertisers be more clear about what they’re offering before people click on those ads (even better would be if CL started making posters tag posts as paid, unpaid, freelance, etc., with an icon or something shown in the listings).

    Just my $.02.

  4. Ah I see. Yes, I see your point. I also have another website where I have volunteers to help me out with the site’s content.

    Yes, it sucks to be told later that you’re not going to be paid for anything. What I tell potential contributors to my site is that I don’t have the money to pay them (since the site’s not earning anything anyway), and that if they’re fine with it, they can go ahead and contribute.

  5. As long as they know it up front, I don’t see much wrong with it from the job poster perspective. I’m always baffled by the ones who not only make you click over to the ad to find it out, but the ones who actually make you email them first, because their ad is so vague. Do they really think that contact is going to help convince someone to work for free? I have to imagine it would piss them off even more to waste the extra time. Then again, I suppose if it’s that big of a deal, writers should simply make it a point not to respond to vague ads.


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