Thursday, September 27, 2007

Free Samples

Who doesn't like a free sample?

I'm thinking of Costco right now as I type and their deep fried samples, which I used to snarf in high school while shopping with my mother. But, ahem, professionally speaking, I'm actually writing about a different kind of free sample, the kind that is customized for a potential client in order to be hired.

A friend who is also a freelance writer/editor (and a graphic designer) and I have been discussing the practice of potential clients requiring customized samples of our work as "free samples" before hiring us (even with relevant past work samples and references). I've done this for three years, but now I'm stopping. *

Why? My friend and I ran some numbers and we rarely (if ever) get the client when we produce "free samples." How can this be? Is it that we (collectively) suck? Well, the rest of our long-term clients don't think so. Is it that there isn't a good match between our skill set and the clients' needs? Certainly that's a possibility.

But I'd like to offer another possibility. Many people think that they write good test questions, but most of us don't. So the "free sample" of work (essentially a test) is often very difficult to take (and subjective to assess). The instructions don't make sense. The actual task is near impossible. And clarification is most often unavailable. So the test is not a particularly fair measure of our skills.

Of course, there's also the possibility that the potential clients simple want work done for free and divide a project into parts, give each part to a freelancer as a "free sample," and then have their project complete.

However, this afternoon, as I quickly expanded my sample size of freelancers to five, it seems that we share a common experience of losing at the "free sample" game. Hmm...

*I should note that most editors, including myself, don't object to taking standard copyediting and developmental editing tests for potential clients, which are totally different than customizing a "free sample."