Don’t fall for “free”

Editors marketing their services often hear a lot of guidance about getting clients, some of it . . . well, let’s call it naïve. Just the other day I came across a LinkedIn post on how your first year in business you should give everything away for free and only after that should you start charging.

Where do I even.

PLEASE don’t listen to this kind of nonsense.

If you give everything away before asking for payment, you are habituating people to getting work from you for free. You cannot then expect to transition these clients to paying for your services without a lot of bumps in the road that could have been avoided if you had set a fair value on your services in the first place. Just ask a newspaper how easy it was to institute paywalls after the fact.

And let’s not even get into the breathtaking amount of privilege present in the idea that any worker in the world can afford to give away their labor – let alone should be expected to give away their labor!


Certainly it is fair to showcase your expertise by, say, writing a blog post about editorial concerns. The difference is that you are not doing that work for a particular client. You are doing that work to help establish your credentials and to spread the word about your services. You’re doing that work for you.

And while you’re still in training you may find it worthwhile to do a few projects for free or low pay because you’re learning. But I wouldn’t consider a person doing that to be a full-fledged editor; I would consider them to be an intern or an apprentice.

So if you’re not an intern or an apprentice, you need to charge a fair fee for your work. I can’t count the number of editors who come to me with the significant problem of vastly undercharging for their work. They are trying to figure out how to make more money from their current clientele. But a clientele used to paying $200 for an edit is never going to pay $4000 for an edit no matter how much value they perceive in your services. They are the wrong clients. You can’t magically turn them into the right clients. You have to start over and find new clients.

Which means that in the end it is easier to begin as you mean to continue. This is hard, I know! There are many more $200 clients than there are $4000 clients. But one of the most important things you can do early in your business is to figure out how to find those $4000 clients.

Beyond that, free simply doesn’t work. Just the other day, someone offered to tweak my website for free. First off, I assumed it was a scammer because who can afford to give away their labor? Second, if it was a legitimate offer, then someone is being exploited somewhere and I’m not interested in being part of that. And, finally, why would I trust someone with my passwords and control over my website unless I felt I had recourse if something went wrong? I mean, bottom line, I want to work with someone who has something to lose if I’m not happy or if they somehow wrong me.

The same holds true for editing. Why would someone trust you with their hard work if you don’t even value your own?

“Free” is not the motivating factor that some people think it is.

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