I saw a post in my feed reader this morning, and it left me shaking my head. It's a contender for the "Freelance Advice Hall of Shame" for sure. Really, that should exist.
I'm not going to bother linking to it here. I want nothing to do with promoting its nonsense. But I do want to warn newer writers away from this kind of lousy freelance advice.
The basic advice? Being asked to write custom samples without pay is A-OK, and if you really want the gig you should basically just suck it up and do it.
No. It's not. But let me dissect some of the issues here.
The post immediately starts off by confusing free unpaid samples with spec work.
A spec piece is one you write, and then the client decides whether or not they'll publish it (and pay for it). But that's not what the question asked. The person writing in asked about unpaid custom samples to be considered for what sounds like an ongoing gig. That's totally different. In many cases the client doesn't actually use, or buy, the "sample." It's solely for making a hiring decision, and in this case the client referred to it as simply a part of their interview process.
Beyond that, freelancers, remember this important point: You are not a potential employee. You are a business owner. Act like one. And insist on being treated like one.
You should have a portfolio available for prospects (even if you haven't taken on a paying gig yet -- so the post author's argument that this only applies to entry-level writers is moot; you should always have samples).
If clients can't make a hiring decision based on your past work, either you've very poorly targeted your market based on your experience, or they're completely inept and not prepared to work with freelance professionals yet. They're basically starting off the relationship by "interviewing" you as if you're going to be their employee (a totally different ballgame, with major legal lines between the two).
The article goes on to equate free custom writing samples with free initial consultations and interviews, like meeting with a babysitter before hiring them or hiring a CPA only after a free consultation.
Um, no. What we're talking about would be more akin to asking that babysitter to watch your kids for free for one night in the hopes that you'd hire them after the fact. Or, it would be like asking that CPA to do your taxes for free this year with the expectation that you'd hire them moving forward. Both of those situations would be completely ridiculous -- just like asking a writer to do the work they're generally paid for for free because you're too incompetent to judge the value of their work based on past samples, testimonials, and / or case studies.
By all means, give prospects a free consultation. But it should be just that -- a consultation. You know, they discuss their needs, and you share some ideas and explain what you can do for them so they can gauge your general level of competence and see if you feel like a good fit. That's appropriate. Free custom writing is not.
And then it goes on to share this asinine quote from another copywriting site telling buyers they should test the passion of a writer by asking for free custom samples, finding out what you need to know from their reaction.
I don't even know where to begin with this one. I can only assume it was a joke. But you're damn right their reaction will tell you what you need to know -- whether they're a professional with self-respect or some doormat you can happily walk all over with your ludicrous demands. I'll tell you what. Ask me to write free custom samples because you don't know how to hire freelancers, and I'll ask you for a "sample" payment to prove your checks are going to clear.
Writers. Please be careful about where you get your professional advice. And please be even more careful about the clients you choose to work with. There are plenty of great clients out there who will respect you and the work you do.
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