I am amazed by the amount of potential clients that insist on getting a free sample before they will commit to hiring. I see this a lot on bidding sites specifically but I know it is every bit as rampant in the writer for hire community.
I totally understand that someone wants to see what they’re getting before they pay for it. As a consumer of goods, I’d like that as well. As a consumer though, I can generally return something for some kind of a refund if I’m not happy. That’s reasonable and a whole hell of a lot more likely than the store saying, “You’re unsure? Go ahead and just take it home without paying. If you don’t like it, just keep it.” Whenever a writer gives their work away for free, that is exactly what they are doing.
Imagine going into a store and asking for that same scenario. They’d either laugh you out of the store or have security escort you away from the premises.
So as writers, why do we do this? I’ll venture a couple of things. We do it because competition is tough and we want the eventual business. We also do it because well, that’s the way it’s always been done. Malarkey, says I. It doesn’t have to be that way. As writers, we need to collectively grow a pair and say that enough is enough. The tail has been wagging the dog for way too long.
How about this? Instead of just giving away a free sample, we offer to send them an article they can use, charged at our going rate. Once payment has been received, the article will be forwarded and they can determine if your style/chops are what they can use. If they decide to decline, they will receive a full refund. Savvy writers will engage in this only after the potential client signs a contract stipulating that if the services are declined, they will return the work and will not use the article in any manner.
The only problem I can see here is that us writers are a hungry lot and the competition is fierce. All it takes is one or two to not play the game and the gig is up. With new freelance writers entering the fray every day, it would admittedly be tough to get everyone on board with this concept. I wonder if this should stop us from trying. Speaking for myself, I’d be willing to take the hit if it meant that I have the chance of impacting this tendency we have of shooting ourselves in the foot.
Are there other ways of accomplishing the same thing? I know that what I usually offer up first are links to my published work. Seems reasonable to me that they should be able to get a sense of my ability through things I’ve written previously. I know that some potential clients want to see something specific to what they are looking for and in those instances maybe the paid for sample is the way to go.
What has your experience been with providing free samples? How often does this lead to landing the job?