Here’s something one of my students posted in our private Facebook group yesterday:
So — should you give prospective clients a free trial to prove you’re ‘good enough’? Shit no. Would you ask your chiropractor for a free back crack before you commit to another appointment? Or your wax therapist for a free back, crack and sack before you decide whether it’s worth paying for next time?
It’s fucking disrespectful, and anyone who asks for a trial, or a sample, or a test piece of work, free of charge, is probably just trying it on. And chances are they’re going to pay shitty rates and be a major pain in the ass to work with too.
Your time is valuable. So is the work you produce. Why shouldn’t you be paid for it? And doesn’t the line ‘a chance to prove to us’ sound like they’re doing you a favour? Make no mistake, this is not a favour. This is a downright insult.
So just how do you respond to these requests in a way that’s respectful, professional and assertive, without giving away your work or your dignity? Well, that depends on how they phrase their question.
Are You Sure They’re Asking for a FREE Trial?
Scan through their email again. Did they actually specify they wanted something for free? If they didn’t, there’s a good chance you simply jumped to that conclusion yourself. Rather than scrounging for free goodies, they might just want to see how you work before they commit to an ongoing agreement or a full project with you.
If somebody asks for a trial without mentioning the word FREE, just assume they’re not angling for anything. Even if they are after a freebie, you should still reply under the assumption that they’re not, because how you respond says a lot about you.
It’s better to appear as though the thought of giving your work away for free never even crossed your mind — because what professional would seriously consider this? Why would somebody who’s used to getting paid for their work suddenly decide that working for free, upon request, is a cool idea?
No no no. A pro, somebody who’s been in the biz for a while, wouldn’t do such a thing, so offering your goodies up for nothing pegs you as a pushover and an amateur. And once somebody knows this about you, it’ll be easier than ever to take advantage of you.
I would respond with something like this:
Great to hear from you. I’d be glad to write a trial page for you to see if we’re a good fit. It will be chargeable at my usual rate of [rate], and from there we can decide whether to take the relationship further. I can have the piece to you by [date]. Let me know if you’d like to go ahead.
Did They Outright ASK for Free Work?
Some guys will straight up ask for freebies, like the guy my student had to deal with. These guys are assholes. Probably. Okay, maybe they’re cool to have a beer with or whatever — but to work with? Not so much. That doesn’t mean replying to them is a lost cause though; you may be able to talk them round, but don’t bother wasting too much energy on them.
Great to hear from you. Unfortunately I won’t be able to provide you with a free sample, as I’m sure you can respect that my time is valuable, and that it doesn’t make sense for me to provide you with the same value I give to all my paying clients for free.
However, if you’d like to see proof of my ability, please refer to my [samples/portfolio], and to the testimonials my clients have written for me.
I will happily write a trial piece for you at my regular rate of [rate], and from there we can decide whether to take the relationship forward. Let me know if you’d like to go ahead.
Did They Ask for Anything At All?
There is one circumstance under which you can consider giving away your work for free without handing over the reigns of your career. And that is on your own terms.
Is there a company you’d LOVE to work with? Can you visualise exactly what you’d do for them, and how much it would benefit their business? Do you just KNOW you’d be a perfect fit for them? And they for you?
Then go ahead and pitch them. Put together a sample you created just for them that shows how you’re the ideal person for the job, along with a few lines about why, and fire it off in an email. Your talent and chutzpah may just land you your dream job.
And that’s it. That’s the ONLY time you should give away work for free. ON. YOUR. TERMS. Hint: if they ask for it, it’s not on your terms. You must be the one to approach them.
And don’t you forget it, or you’ll end up working with assholes who don’t respect your time or value, rather than your dream company whose values align perfectly with yours.