The Problem With Free
Nearly every freelance copywriter will at some stage be asked to write for free, or for such a derisory amount that it might as well be free.
This isn’t a new problem, but since the internet shepherded writers together in one big pen many will have opened emails informing them they ‘work in a competitive marketplace’, which I hope for many meant the next click was the delete button.
The problem with free is that it doesn’t work in any business model I’ve encountered.
But that hasn’t stopped the obsession with trying to source products and services for as cheaply as possible.
A business model that includes free doesn’t add up
The already burning free debate has recently had petrol poured all over it by Chris Anderson’s article about his next book, in which he discusses how ‘digital economics has turned traditional economics upside down’.
The idea is that with storage and distribution costs virtually zero it should be possible to provide digital products and services for free, with revenue generated from advertising and selling extras.
Now I was a big fan of The Long Tail, with its rallying cry for internet entrepreneurs to setup blogs and start selling fragranced soap and Moroccan kitchen tiles on a global scale, even if it was an old niche marketing principle reheated for the internet.
However, Anderson’s new stroking of the proverbial beard and sharing his vision of a freeconomy has met a barrage of criticism in a recent E-Consultancy article for ignoring the physical costs (employees, food, equipment etc) in running a virtual enterprise or providing a proven model for how such a business can be sustained.
Which is part of the problem with sourcing services based on free or cheap – it doesn’t work in any sensible business model for either the buyer or copywriter.
Cheap copy simply cheapens a business and devalues the copywriter
In a recent discussion in my local online networking group, The MK Media Circle, frustration boiled over when a brave soul suggested cobbling together a business’ website using Dreamweaver or WordPress.
The idea of cutting corners in the creation of a business’ online presence highlighted the problem creative industries face in justifying their value to cost conscious clients.
Many don’t seem to realise that more goes into creating a finished product than just time.
Whenever quoting you should always remember that it’s also your experience, know-how and a sprinkling of skill you’re providing. Your words are not just to fill up space, but to promote your client’s professionalism, expertise and to shift a few of their products at the same time.
A professional copywriter will achieve this by reading the brief, compiling their notes, having a think then composing a message that will differentiate a product, make it desirable and pitch it in a way that persuades the customer why it will improve their lives.
Do you want people to think you’re cheap?
With a website now often the first point of contact, making the right impression has never been more important.
A badly written landing page will simply give the impression that the company is in the habit of cutting corners, which in turn means less sales and less chance of the business succeeding.
The next time you’re approached by a client obsessed with free or cheap just remember that it’s your writing that can make the difference. And if they don’t want to give the impression that they cut corners they shouldn’t be doing it with your pay cheque.
So if you’ve got a portfolio and value your skill, don’t work for free or cheap because, as with some of Anderson’s business models, the sums don’t add up.