I take on materials development work for free sometimes. I appreciate that not everyone has time to do that, can afford to, or might want to. I choose to do it for different reasons.
- It might be for a good cause – I don’t get many requests like that, but it has happened in the past.
- It might lead to paid writing work.
- It might help my professional development.
- It’s good for networking.
- I don’t have any contracts on and just fancy keeping my hand in with something.
Here are some (TRUE!) examples of how offering my materials development services for free has been worthwhile:
I was contacted recently by a publisher in India. They were in the early stages of a new coursebook project and asked for some input, in return for potential writing work. I shared some ideas for syllabus design and had a nice chat. By the time they got in contact to offer me something concrete, I’d already taken on other contracts. Still, the few hours I spent helping them with ideas in turn helped me learn more about the ELT market in India – bonus!
I was contacted by a publisher asking for a chat. They wanted to learn more about a particular ELT market I’m familiar with. You could argue that it was free consultation… I just wanted to learn more about the publisher to be honest. I’m nosey. They didn’t set any formal rules so I got on Zoom, cracked open a beer and had an informal chat one night. Kept beer out of shot just in case. They eventually asked me what resource I thought was needed the most in that market, I told them. Then they said ‘how do you fancy writing it?’ Cool. Watch this space…
I contacted DLA a while back about their new platform (new back then!), intrigued to learn more about it. One of the guys there set up a chat and gave full access to the site in return for an honest evaluation of resources. This was me dipping my toes in the water of ELT consultation. The experience I built up doing free work like that has helped me get paid work as a materials/syllabus reviewer. I did review DLA’s product, Ready to Run, for ETAS the other year – they’ve made some improvements since then I’d say.
Sergio Durand recently asked if I’d contribute to a new app for learning English through football. This type of project really gets me intrigued! I like to learn about new products, it’s good to find out more about developing content for apps and it’s lovely to contribute to a project which relates to my own interests! It’s funny – all the years I was working at the British Council I used to contact the editors of Premier Skills English being ‘please let me write for you!’ No luck – competitive no doubt. When a fellow materials writer asked me to collaborate on a similar project and I was like SIGN ME UP! I wish Multilingua all the best with their launch 😊
Miranda from Twinkl ESL once got in contact after a tweet I wrote about their resources. She asked for my feedback on the product and how I thought the ESL materials could be enhanced. In return for an hour-long chat, Miranda offered to share her expertise with my audience. She wrote this awesome blog post which has been viewed over 5000 times, and has helped me with tips for my own writing. Again, providing this free feedback has helped me learn more about different target markets, provided an impactful opportunity to critique existing resources, and helped develop my craft as a consultant.
A few years ago, I was asked to do a content review for a product. It was paid work, but then the budget got a bit tight, so I just did some more anyway. There was method in my madness! The draft documents were fascinating. They included lots of back-and-forth comments between editors and writers which offered a really good insight into the writing process. Writer autonomy, institutional constraints, professional(!) dialogue… I’d have paid to be that fly on the wall! I took more on for free as it was compulsive reading!
Those were the first examples that sprang to mind, but hopefully they highlight some of what you can gain from offering your services for free sometimes. Learning about different markets, new products, or professional dialogue and jargon are all perks. Networking is a big one too. Work offers? Yeah, sometimes.
Above all, it’s helped me to hone my processes and understand my own skill set better. The materials evaluation course during my MA offered a great overview of how to go about critically and objectively reviewing resources, but I needed more practice before I could confidently offer my (paid) services as a consultant for review work. Writing subjective reviews on my blog was one thing, but speaking directly with publishers and offering more constructive feedback f2f is a completely different skill. Being an ‘expert’ and offering ‘insight’ gives many of us (including me!) impostor syndrome. Freebies can help build the confidence needed to say ‘I do have some valuable insight to offer*, and I can put that in writing for you. For a price…!’
Besides all that, who could possibly turn down the opportunity to write free lessons about football?!
*Me? Valuable insight?! Pffff!