I was recently negotiating with a prospect who was trying to start a company and he wanted some web copy created. His first request was this: "I want you to write a 200 word marketing piece for me based on the product description I give you." If you got that request from a prospect, how would you respond?
Well, here is how I responded. I politely said that I do not do work for free, although I do provide a free 30 minute consultation and I will happily send him some proprietary writing samples that are very similar to what he is wanting. I said that I also have testimonials and an extensive portfolio, and that this was all I could offer. I said that if he wanted a free writing sample then it would be best to look elsewhere, as I have sufficient samples to more than showcase my abilities.
He accepted the samples and agreed to continue with the consultation, during which he asked me to include in the project quote two random web pages with an undetermined definition or scope. I said that because those pages were undefined, how about we work with the pages that are defined and I can give him a quote, and once he defines the other two pages we can go from there.
He agreed, I created a quote that clearly outlined the 6 pages of content and how many revisions were included, and sent it off. The next day he declined the quote and said that he was uninterested, as the price was fine but in his opinion I was not willing to work with him. Was I surprised? Not really.
So I sat back and thought about these types of requests and what they mean, because honestly most of my prospects are large clients and do not conduct business this way. And what everything boiled down to was this: because I didn't provide free work or agree to a set price for work that had not been scoped yet, I was labeled as a bad businessperson.
And what I would say to that accusation is that it's actually the opposite. If you're a good businessperson, you value your time. You have sufficient samples to show your skills and you have people to vouch for the quality of your work. And you don't work for free. And similarly, you don't expect others to work for free.
That would be like going to a job interview where they tell you that while they appreciate that you have great experience and samples, they want you to create some marketing collateral for them before they will consider hiring you. And it's on some products that currently do not have any marketing content. So this honestly means that they can turn around and sell the free work you perform for them. And if they were really shady, they could bring people in for "interviews" and slowly get all of their marketing work done this way for free.
That doesn't sound ethical to me. Does it sound ethical to you? So why expect a freelancer or consultant to do the same thing?
Which brings me to my final thought on the subject, which is whether or not there are any situations where I would write for free. The answer? Maybe. Working on spec is much more normal for publications and books. And if I had a prospect that I was really interested in and I didn't have relevant work samples that fairly illustrated my abilities, then yes maybe I'd write something. But it would only be a few sentences or a paragraph. I'm not going to write a 200-300 word document for them. If I was being considered for an instructional design project, and they asked me to provide feedback on some scenarios and how I would design them (and it was clearly a "test" and not materials yet to be developed), yes I would do that to an extent. But beyond those things, my working for free stops there.
So let me ask you. Do you write for free? What are your thoughts on the subject?
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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