There’s no such thing as a free freelancer

Greetings from the Great White North, fellow writers, freelancers and would-be authors!

Today, we discuss one of my rookie mistakes: working for free.

The best way to illustrate a lesson, I find, is telling a story. So gather ’round the old rocking chair, ladies and gentlemen. It’s story time.

story time rocking chair


A number of months ago, I started freelancing. I was looking for work through a certain unnamed website, and, after submitted so many proposals, I finally got a response!

Lo and behold, an oasis in the desert! My big break! Ok, maybe not big as it was a small transcribing job, but it was a break, by cracky – I called victory!

The client sent me a message to confirm the terms of the project. My client wanted me to write a “test” transcription just to make sure it met his standards.

Or, so I was lead to believe.

suspicious baby

My client directed me to an hour-long video; a computer programming lesson. Minute by minute, word by word I trudged through the test. My impression of transcription work is that’s not so much difficult as it is time-consuming. This particular project, though, was more difficult because the audio was difficult to understand. A good rate for transcription is 15 audio minutes per hour, so I should have been finished with the project in roughly four.

It took me 12.

cow on fence ah crap

I was really only about an hour in when I realized my mistake. I followed through with the transcription to the best of my ability. I never saw a dime.

First of all, I underestimated how long transcription in general takes, let alone this particular project. This was my first project aside from notes I took as a reporter.

Secondly, and more importantly, I took on a rather large assignment without even securing a partial payment.

So what’s the takeaway?

1. I would recommend asking for at least a partial payment up-front; somewhere between 25 and 50 percent is good.

2. A small test can be reasonable, but it depends on the client, their history and the job at hand. That said, I can’t say avoid tests altogether. Just be very wary and careful.

3. When possible, work through a website that has a solid payment security system. This might not take away the possibility of your work being unpaid, but it significantly cuts down on the risk.

Be careful out there if you’re looking to work from home. There are plenty of legitimate businesses and clients out there. It’s human nature to focus on the negative (in this case, bad, cheap clients), but that instinct is there for a reason – because the bad clients are still out there.

Use common sense, and please learn from my mistakes. Don’t give your work away. Assuming you’re making a genuine effort (and I believe most if not all of you are), your work is worth it. Make sure you and your product get the money – and respect – they deserve.

Happy Writing! I’ll talk to you all next week.

– Adam

Do you have any hard lessons you learned in your early working-from-home days or when applying for jobs? Leave your stories in the comments below!

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One thought on “There’s no such thing as a free freelancer

  1. […] mentioned this time and time again – don’t work for free. If someone asks you for an extensive “pre-hire” tests or oddly specific samples, […]


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