When It's Okay to Write for Minimum Wage--or Less!

I don’t believe in churning out an article in seven minutes to make minimum wage rates. Most of my clients, whether they pay per word, per project, or hourly, pay me approximately $25 - $30 an hour.

But I also believe it’s okay to write for extremely low rates, or free, sometimes. I mean, I’m not going to pass judgment on anyone who accepts $1 per article. Personally, I won’t go that low. (In fact, I’d rather just do the work pro bono than accept that rate—it’s a pride thing).

But when will I write for low rates?

1. When I’m starving. Well, okay, my freelance career has never reduced me to eating Ramen (at least, not when it’s not by choice… I have a great recipe for noodles with peanut sauce, though!) There are times, however, when a quick $10, payable upon acceptance through Paypal, may be just enough money going into my account to pay my electric bill a few days before it’s due. So if the pay is fast and the work isn’t hard, I’ll do it.

2. If it’s a topic I love so much, I’d write about it for free. Some topics, like freelance writing, parenting and paintball, I just love writing about. Why else would I run this blog? In the niche market of paintball journalism, after you add up the time actually covering an event (and getting shot at!), selecting photos and writing the story, the hourly rate is in the pennies. But it’s a passion.

3. When the perks rock. Even though the pay stinks in paintball writing, fields typically comp you entry to the event, encourage you to play, and often toss in a case of paint. Paintball costs a lot of money, so the comps make up for the pay rates. Oh, and I’m a total you-know-what for free concert tickets, DVDs and books, too!

4. When it's a cause I believe in. I will write pro bono for certain charities or causes, but I've also been known to devote time to paintball teams who I believe are dedicated to improving the sport. (Please don't contact me to see if I will write for your team for free!) These are hand-picked teams, mostly in situations where I'm good friends with the owner/captain. These guys have my back on the field, so I do what I can off the field!

5. When the work isn’t hard. There’s $40+ an hour of interviews, transcriptions, and pages and pages of notes to put together a cohesive, captivating feature article for a print publication. Then there’s $10 an hour to write a blog post on a topic you know well, that you can write one-handed on your iPod Touch while you’re nursing the baby. (And now my biggest productivity secret is out!)