“You don’t get something for nothing” and “An offer too good to be true” are terms you hear occasionally in the business world. They reflect a bit of cynical wisdom that is worth noting if you are a freelance technical writer or editor. Today I’ll discuss some of those offers and how you should think about them before accepting them.
Capitalism is about making money from whatever effort you’re pursuing. That goes for you as much as the freelancers and companies around you. While there might be actual, selfless people out there who are willing to help you out in some fashion, if they are offering help in the context of their business (or yours), they will likely expect some sort of return on their assistance.
In situations where actual money is changing hands, this is easier to determine because money is the primary measure for determining profit or loss. If you’re in a precarious financial situation and someone offers to loan you money, it would be best to find out what their terms are (how soon do they want it paid back? At what interest rate?). Likewise, if you encounter someone who wants to invest in your business by, say, providing you with money so you can expand or buy new equipment, they will want something in return. They might want a percentage of your profits. They might want their name to appear on your website. They might want a seat on your board of directors if your organization is large enough to have one.
It is tougher to determine the potential gains for another person if they are not offering or dealing in money.
One “offer” I receive a lot lately is from individuals or companies wanting to provide editorials or links on this blog. Ideally, they’re providing my readers with useful content in some way, either through a post or a link to an article they have created. However, what’s the benefit for me? Not much. For one thing, the “offered” article replaces my voice with someone else’s. The article solicitor also might provide a link to their page, which again takes the reader from my site to someone else’s. The benefit is almost all on the side of the “offeror.”
You might get the reverse offer, where someone proposes to use your content on their site. That sounds great in theory because your words are getting out to more or different audiences. However, does your name get put on the content, or theirs? If there is money to be made from posting your content, who gets it? And, from a more practical standpoint, who owns the rights to your words? Is it your intellectual property, or theirs?
Writers are especially vulnerable to in-kind offers because until we see a dollar sign of some sort presented, we sometimes assume that our writing is “free” or even worthless. I can assure you, it is not. If someone is willing to solicit you for your services, they most likely expect to make a dollar from them.
The goal here is not to make you paranoid, merely cautious and realistic. Your friend giving you a ride to work is not the same as your friend asking you to write an advertisement for his or her business on your website. Your work has worth: believe that. Your time has value. “Exposure” is an expensive way to get your work out in front of the public, especially if the people doing the exposition are making money from your work and you are not. Likewise, favors have a price. The payback could be expected immediately or weeks or months from now. If you are conducting an activity that provides tangible value to the business of You, Incorporated, you should know or ask what the terms are before you agree to accept them.