What an Old Couch Taught Me About Freelancing

R6T4EFYLBSLast fall, we redecorated our living room with new carpet and furniture. We scheduled the carpet installation and although we hadn’t found a new sofa yet, we decided to get rid of the old one before the carpet was installed.

The sofa was only about five years old, but Cohen’s toddler years had not been kind. Countless sippy cups of milk and snack crumbs had fallen on the microfiber cushions. A Father’s Day card kit left a permanent chemical stain on one cushion. Three moves in five years left an inches-long scratch in the faux-leather back.

Brian suggested we call Goodwill to haul it off, but I don’t believe in “donating” unusable trash to a charity. If it’s not usable, it’s not saleable and most organizations don’t have the means to wash and repair your trash. Just throw it away. This sofa fit that description so I started researching companies that would haul the thing away for a fee.

Being the frugal gal that I am, I decided to make one attempt to give the couch away on Craigslist rather than pay someone to take it. I took some photos and wrote up the listing, being very honest about the sofa’s sad condition. At the last minute, before I posted the listing, I remembered the adage about people not valuing that which is free. I decided to post the couch for sale for $50 and figured if nobody called, I’d change it to free in a few days.

I gotta tell you; the response blew me away. I had people calling and texting all day Friday and Saturday wanting information on that disgusting, scuzzy couch. I arranged a pickup time with the first girl that made a serious inquiry. She asked if we’d accept $40. Heck yes, I will.

She came over on Saturday afternoon and were ever so thankful to watch her haul our decrepit sofa away on a trailer.

What does an old dirty couch have to do with freelancing? It’s all about assigning value. If I’d listed that couch for free, I seriously doubt I would have had any takers. Anyone viewing the Craigslist ad could see that I just wanted the thing gone. Instead, I gave it value and that made it desirable to people in the market for a bargain on a couch.

When you start freelance writing, you want to build up an impressive number of samples in your portfolio. It’s tempting to take any job for “exposure” or volunteer to write for free just to be published. But when you tell someone, “I will write for free,” consciously or unconsciously, you’re telling them, “I am not worth anything and you would be doing me a favor to let me work for you.”

I know many new writers strive to get published on certain big-name websites that do not pay writers. I understand that they want samples, exposure, or the legitimacy that comes from having your name on a big site, but consider how much money that site is making from your labor. They’ve built an empire on the backs of writers who line up to say, “My work is not worth anything.”

My first writing client paid $25 per piece. It was pennies, but it was something.

If you do choose to write for free, make sure you understand the trade-off you’re making and don’t make a habit of it. If you don’t value your services, who will?

(Image: Stocksnap.io/Zachary Staines)

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