How to Respond When You’re Asked for Free Freelance Writing Samples

How to Respond When You’re Asked for Free Writing Samples

Here’s a fun little scenario for you:

A new prospect reaches out to you, asking about your services. They’re really into you. They love your work. They think you’re so super hilarious and aren’t we perfect for each other!!!

… but they just want to make sure.

If you could just do them a teeny favor.

It’s small, don’t worry, and they’re pretty sure they’re going to go with you anyway.

So if you don’t mind, could you go ahead and send over some free freelance writing samples?

Thaaaaaaaaanx. (Said in TPS reports voice.)

Why I Don’t Offer Free Writing Samples

Here’s the thing though: Free freelance writing samples are not a good deal for you. Frankly, they’re not even a good deal for your potential client.

From your end, it’s pretty obvious. Why the hell should you do free work? And after you send them this sample, what happens with it? Do they get to use it for free and claim it as their own? Do you make them pay you? Do they send it back to you, a useless piece of writing flotsam that you put time and effort into and now can’t do anything with because it contains their proprietary information?

Kind of a head-scratcher, right?

Some clients will rush to assure you that you don’t have to write about their company. If you could just do a quick example of what you might write for another company? Or, hey, just send over previous work!

I’m actually surprised by how many people think this is a good idea. Do they not understand copywriting? I write words for clients; clients own those words. It’s utterly counter to my contract and my ethical practices to then advertise by claiming to have written them.

My stock response to this is, “I’m sorry, but everything I write is proprietary so I can’t offer it as a sample.” If they insist I write something new for them, I just say, “Oh, sorry, that’s not one of my services.”

So yeah … free writing samples. No.

What to Do Instead of Free Writing Samples

Of course, you can’t very well expect to build a client list if you just toss off nos left and write. After you dismiss their request for samples, you have to follow it up with an alternative.

Here’s mine: “But what we can do is start with a trial assignment. I usually suggest something small, only 400 words or so to keep costs down. That way I can write content that you can use, and we can see if it’s a good fit without taking too much on. Let me know what kind of content you want to go with at first – blog posts or home pages are always safe bets.”

I’ve done several things in this little ol’ paragraph:

  1. Let them know that they will, oh they will, be paying me for any work I do
  2. Given them very clear guidance about the path forward: here’s how long, here’s the type of content
  3. Made a case for why we should do it like this – they don’t assume much risk, and
  4. Made it hard for them to say no by posing it as how they want to start rather than whether they want to start

People … this works. I’d say about 75 percent of the time I get a warm lead who asks for free writing samples, this little one-two punch earns me at least that starting gig.

Side note: I also use this for clients who get in touch with me fully revved, as in: I have seven 25-email campaigns that I want to get started right away! You seem like the perfect person for the job! When can we start with these 175 500-word emails???????????????

To which I’m like: whoa, dog. Calm down.

Let’s start with one.

And again, I usually get the gig and then we can proceed to their seven jillion assignments, which makes both my heart and my bank account happy.

How to Declare Your Samples Policy on Your Site

Some people like to declare their policy on free writing samples upfront.

I don’t bother to do this, because I find clients don’t read through my Services page all that carefully anyway (if at all), and I’ll just have to explain it again. So, I figure, why bother? But if you feel very sensitive about this – as most new entrepreneurs do – it’s nice to have it in writing somewhere.

That way you can reference it when you’re asked, with the emotional result of putting the blame on the website. There’s a difference between, “Well, no, I can’t help you there … ” and “Actually, I’m unable to do that, which you can read more about if you visit XYZ page on my website.”

This might seem gimmicky, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I offload my emotional burdens on the robots whenever I possibly can.

Now, share: Have you ever been asked for free samples and not known what to do? What’s your approach?

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