Freelance photo from ShutterstockIt’s a damn shame to see what some companies are offering freelancers. It’s even more shameful to think that there are freelancers who will accept it.

One content marketing website that posts freelance opportunities is filled with requests for professional, experienced writers who are knowledgeable in their field to write 300 – 500 word blog posts about a specialized topic, including research and interviews.

I found one that asked writers to create 20 of these blog posts in a month — one per weekday — for $100.

Not $100 per article, $100 per month. Five bucks per post.

That works out to $.01 – $.0133 per word.

If you spend just one hour per article, your rate is $5 per hour. That number drops the longer you work on a single article.

Other freelance sites are offering similarly insulting rates, or are going so far as to only offer “exposure” to a new audience.

Here’s a hint: when the writers you’re trying to recruit have a bigger social media footprint than you do, you’re not giving them exposure, they’re giving it to you.

I understand that small, fledgling publications are not going to be able to pay for professional writers to give them their best work. But please find a different way to entice us, rather than promising us exposure.

Prevail on our good nature, ask for assistance, promise us sweat equity in the company. (One online newspaper gives me $.01/word in equity ownership. If the company ever sells or makes a profit, I’ll get paid. It hasn’t happened in 16 years, and probably never will, but I appreciate the gesture).

At the same time, large organizations with a large footprint may have valuable exposure to offer, so you have to weigh what your time is worth, and whether you’ll make up for it with exposure to a large audience. Of course, when companies make money off the free work of others, there comes a time they should share the wealth with the people who got them there.

Ultimately you need to make your own decision. If you’re a new freelancer or have a minimal amount of experience, you may need to take some of these freebie jobs, but only for a few months.

Once you’ve got some professional experience and start landing some real work, ignore any opportunity or publication that tries to offer less than what you’re worth. Especially those that are only offering a few lousy bucks for a full-time job’s worth of work.

When you accept the low-paying or free work, you not only harm your own value, you hurt the industry as well. Companies that want high-quality professional work, but aren’t even willing to pay minimum wage, aren’t going to get it. But they’ll get what they deserve. When they rely on writers and designers who do a project for $5, they shouldn’t be surprised at the complete lack of quality they get. They get what they pay for, and they probably paid too much.

But if this is the kind of work they accept, they also shouldn’t be surprised when their venture fails in such a glorious and spectacular manner. Or that the rest of us cheer in schadenfreudic glee.