I'm sure you've seen the ads for freelance writing jobs where you're asked to write and send a custom sample. Something like:
"Must include a unique sample article (at least 300 words) on paying down student loan debts, following the article format at XYZ.com. Applicants who do not submit a sample will not be considered."
Every time I see something like this I can't help but wonder what the poster was smoking.
As far as I'm concerned, there is never a good excuse for a prospective client to ask for custom samples like this, and no writer should resort to humoring this kind of behavior. Why?
- For starters, it reeks "scam." You'll find plenty of horror stories where people have submitted unique samples only to have them used on a site and never hear back from the "client." They assume a submission means they have the rights to the content.
- I don't care who you are or where you are in your writing career - you DON'T need to create custom work for free, for any reason, for the sake of getting a gig. If you're worried that your portfolio isn't appropriate to get you considered for the gig in question, you have two options: A) Find gigs you're better qualified for. There's probably a reason your portfolio doesn't suit the gig. B) Start improving your portfolio by writing "for yourself" - not doing free work for some random "client" that most people have probably never heard of (and hell, if people have heard of them, they're in a position where they should either be able to pay a writer for a sample if they want something custom, or they should know enough about hiring writers to hire based on a portfolio and not custom work to begin with). There are plenty of ways to build your portfolio even if you don't have much experience. You don't need to do free work for prospective clients.
- As I've already mentioned, a client can always pay for a sample if they want something custom-done. For example, they might hire you to write one article even if they really need 20 - this way everyone is protected. You don't get screwed out of your time writing free articles instead of using your time more effectively to find better work, network, etc., and the client doesn't commit to buying a large quantity of articles at your going rate until they've seen that you can do what they want. It's a win-win.
So what do you think? Remember, we're not simply talking about writing for free (there are plenty of ways to write for free "for yourself" that would be considered good marketing for example) - we're talking about writing unique, custom samples for a prospective client for the sake of maybe getting a freelance writing gig. How do you feel about those kinds of requests? Do you think they're OK? Are they an insult? Would you ever do something like that for a gig?