Should You Give Your Work Away? The Free Sample Debate
There’s an ongoing conversation in a one of my freelance writing forums on LinkedIn about whether it’s a good idea to give a prospective client a free writing sample. Don’t do It. I speak from experience. I’ve done it.
I had a shot at a writing job for a start-up men’s skincare website. I went through 3 rounds of interviewing; the initial inquiry which included writing clips, the second round was a questionnaire and then the request for a short article based on a topic they gave me. I did all of that; I really wanted this gig. I got the gig, and yet I didn’t. That’s another story, but here’s why I wrote the article. I was trying to get this 20-something year old guy to see that I could write for men, ages 18-35. They needed to see material specifically geared to that audience, in the voice they wanted for their website/blog. It worked….sorta (I promise to share that story another time).
Should a freelance writer give away her work?
When you apply for a position, you typically send a resume and writing clips. Those clips show your skill as a writer, specifically on topics related to the job you’re pitching. Your cover letter should state why you think you’re the best candidate and talk about your ability to write on their subject matter. That should be enough.
One of the comments from the forum pointed out that many potential clients worry you’re a fake. I guess that’s a possibility, a slim one. It’s just as likely that the prospective client is a fake. If your writing work is online then you can reference and link to that work. You can provide references to verify your experiences. The person in charge of hiring can ‘google’ your name to find evidence of who you are. If the client isn’t willing to do a little work to see who they’re about to hire, then you don’t really want to work with them, do you?
If that’s not enough and you’re still being pressured to provide a free sample I’d consider walking away. This client has ‘trust’ issues or is a scammer trying to get free material. You’re likely to spend your valuable time writing for him only to have him disappear–with your work.
There will be times when you have to use your judgement in replying to a client request. When I see a job listing that asks for samples, I walk away. That person probably doesn’t understand the value of my work. If the request comes halfway through our process of negotiating I am going to talk them down, if possible. A reasonable alternative is to suggest one paid article before settling on a longer term contract. That saves face and gives both parties a way to see if the arrangement will work.
You are a writer.
Writing is what you get paid to do. I can guarantee you that no one asks a hair stylist for a free haircut before making an appointment, or asks the car mechanic to do half of the job first. Why assume that a writing project is any less important? It’s about the value of your work and holding clients and yourself to higher standards.
If you’re new to freelance writing you may feel more pressure to give away your work. I would urge you not to do that even if you don’t have any published work to share. Start a blog or write an article and publish it on one of the free article marketing sites. Share those articles as examples of your work.
As a freelance writer you make a living from your writing. Your hard work and dedication needs to be recognized. When someone asks for a freebie, feel free to walk away.
What do you think? Is it OK to give away samples of your work?
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