“Could you please do a test bit of work for free before we hire you?” – my thoughts on this scenario as a freelancer

(disclosure – may contain swears – we are adults so I hope you don’t mind!).

Often in design, and I realise in other areas of the media especially, such as copywriting, potential clients ask freelancers to do test pieces of work for free. It could be the front page of a brochure, some social media graphics or a blog piece if you’re a writer.  

Here is a design I pitched for a potential client who were kind enough to feed back on my work – unfortunately I chose an image they’d used a lot already so bad luck on my behalf, but perhaps they could have sent across some images to use so all freelancers were on a level playing field rather us than playing a guessing game? Luckily it didn’t take long, so there wasn’t much time left and as they got back to me I was pleased, even if the feedback wasn’t what I wanted!

Do we, as freelancers mind doing this?

It depends on a few things, but generally no.

If there is a lot to be gained from the work – ie several days work / month or weeks / year then it could be worth the investment. For a day or 2 or if you aren’t clear on how much work you would get out of it, it rarely is.

Why do people want us, as freelancers, to do a test pieces for free?

I honestly don’t know! I would never dream of asking my plumber, electrician, mechanic, solicitor etc to do a test piece then hire them. I always pay them, and if I don’t like their work, I hire someone else – simple! I suspect, it’s often so they can compare styles of work and sometimes, people do actually just want some work for free, and have no intention of hiring you for the work at all. It can be an exercise they have to go through – for example, show they’ve got quotes and work from 3 different individuals / companies, but always intended to hire their usual person.

Can you imagine this scenario:

“Hey plumber, I have a leaky tap and loo – if you can just mend those for me for free, then I’ll hire you for future work and it’s ok, in return I’ll tell all my friends about you”.

What do you think they’d say to me – I suspect there would be some well chosen 4 letter words headed my way!

I have done free pieces of work for companies and not even had an email back to thank me for my time! Now this is just plain rude!

Time is as precious as money and should be treated that way.

So now I do not do work for free, or do test pieces of work unless they’re paid for. I also don’t do work in exchange for ‘part of the business’ (another bug bearer of mine) or ‘exposure’.

Sod off – if you really believe in your business put your money where your mouth is!

If you would like to hire me for design work please contact me at lucy@transparentdesign.co.uk and take a look at my portfolio www.lucyrigley.co.uk