Anyone who has tried to land a freelance gig through the internet has probably run up against a number of publications that don’t pay a cent for articles. Some writers, and a lot of bloggers, say you should NEVER under any circumstances write for free. Demand to be paid and demand to be paid well for the work you do. I disagree - well sorta.
When trying to expand your portfolio or break into a new niche it’s ok, and probably wise, to take a couple non-paying gigs. You get the bonus of being able to add the article to your clips and the publication to your list of places your work has appeared.
Choose these sites/blogs/publications wisely. You don’t want your work appearing on a site that looks like the designer took one class in the 1980s on web design and has been using that ‘knowledge’ ever since. You also don’t want your work appearing on a site that looks irreputable or hastily put together. Find pubs that look legit and have been around for more than a month. Longevity is the key. If the site/pub dies your article basically dies with it.
Experiment with a couple different types of mediums for your articles. Think outside the box. Pitch stories and guest blog spots to any of the sites you check regularly.
For articles in which no compensation is attached think of it as a marketing tool. Never agree to a no-pay article that will not include your name. (Some sites will try to get you to ‘ghost’ write for free - HA! That won’t do you any good.) Check with the editor and see if he/she will let you put a link in the article to your website or blog. Also see if they will let you put a one-line bio at the end of the article. Something like: Katie Hinderer is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering real estate, fashion, beauty and hip hop for a variety of publications.
Don’t let the no-pay go too far. An article, or even a few, for a publication/site that is reputable and is allowing you to stretch your writing abilities is great. But it is easy for editors/business owners to take advantage of your eagerness to write. They usually won’t even mention compensation unless you do. After writing several articles, reach out to the person you submit the pieces to and ask if there could be any kind of compensation arrangement.
Sometimes you luck out an get a paying gig (even if it is just a small stipend per article). Other times there really is no money and you need to make the decision - is it worth the clips to keep writing for this publication or do I need to move on?
Nine times out of ten it is better to move on and pursue other paying gigs than to keep with non-pay ones. (With that said, I did take a non-paying gig for months that turned into a lucrative freelance position when the company was a little more established.)