Why Custom Samples are Bad For Business

As a writer who regularly creates web content, I’ve gotten asked to provide custom-written samples for clients more often than I can count. It irritates the living hell out of me every time I get the question. It’s incredibly bad for my business to offer to write a five-hundred word blog post for someone to judge my potential to work with them.

What’s more is that custom samples are bad for clients, too.

Free Samples Never Tell You What You’re Really Going to Get

I had a chance to sit down with a very knowledgable editor during my master’s program: he looked over about twelve blog posts I had written that had all done fairly well (well enough I was willing to include them in a portfolio). He pulled out two posts and laid them side by side, telling me one was great and one was so-so. The real difference was one I was paid for and one I provided as a guest post and a favor. When I write for free, I just won’t put any real effort into it. It’s not going to be a bad post, but it’s not going to be indicative of what I do for a client, either.

Of course, there are people who consider that sort of situation an opportunity and work extra hard to create a great sample post. That’s not really a good example of what they’ll do once they get the gig, either. They may settle back.

Looking at what I’ve written for clients over long contracts will give a client a much better showcase of my work.

Free Samples Raise Prices

If I was to invest the time in creating free sample posts, I would need to pay for that time. Since I still wouldn’t land every client that came along, I would need the clients who I did bring in to pay me a lot more. I’m already at the more expensive end of the spectrum. Writing a free post for every prospective client who asked would lead me to double my prices.

That includes for clients who don’t ask for free work, by the way. Everyone I work with would pay more.

Free Samples Make Me Mad

Back in the early days of my writing career, I did provide a few free samples. I never had the misfortune of someone taking my work, posting it and then refusing to pay me. But I did find out that a prospective client had solicited 15 writers to craft a sample post, when they planned on hiring just one. That’s a lot of time wasted.

I wouldn’t say that I blacklist sites that ask for custom samples. But I don’t deal with them, I won’t recommend writers to them and I’m prone to turn up my nose when I get sent a link from a site that I know does that. It’s a bad business practice and I don’t want to deal with anyone who uses it.

Image by Flickr user Harmon

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Shreeja N September 28, 2012 at 3:22 am

Hi,
Loved reading this! I take up freelance content writing, and it sure would bug me when some clients asked for writing samples. But now its mostly word of mouth business for me. I guess many freelance writers think on similar lines. Have a great day :)

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