Do You Work For Free?

The Desert of Arizona
Sunny 53 Degrees

I got a great question yesterday during the Q&A (happens every Monday!) and wanted to pass it on. This situation happens a LOT in the lives of many service providers. So it’s smart to think through it NOW before you find yourself dealing with it.

QUESTION: How would you handle this situation? A new client offers me a small copywriting project. He tells me that he has given similar small projects to 3 other copywriters as well. He is willing to pay for the work. However, he says that he’ll use the 4 completed projects to determine who he will work with in the future. It is an account that could have substantial work. Do you take on the small project to prove yourself? Or do you decline because you don’t want to be in a competition or do spec work even if it is paid spec work? I should mention that I am a senior-level copywriter with 20+ years of experience and no shortage of work coming in.

MY THOUGHTS: I think it’s less important WHICH option you choose. (You do what you have to do, etc.) It’s more important to understand fully what ramifications are caused by your choice. When a client shows up and tells you what to do, you are not their advisor. Plain and simple.

OPTION 1: So if the revenue potential is good, you can go ahead and submit the work and just know, it’s probably not going to turn into something where your role is as trusted advisor. You will do the service as requested.

OPTION 2: You politely decline because you know that THIS is not the smartest way to start a client relationship. (Once they put you in a box in their mind, I’m not sure you can ever change that.)

OPTION 3: You could also explain that you’re not in a position where you’re able to work without a fee. If they want to start with a small project, that’s fine, however, you will charge them.

I don’t think there’s ONE right answer. It depends on where you’re at, where you’re trying to go and how the revenue situation is right now. That said, I can’t point to a SINGLE good client I’ve ever gotten this way. You want to be CHOSEN from the beginning. That’s the ideal.

Since you don’t need this work then I would push it away. If they are not interested in investing in good stuff, then you are not the right choice for them. Another way to look at things like this is that you never walk into a game where the rules are already designed for you to lose. Don’t struggle to play the game as it’s dictated to you, play ANOTHER game.