Requests or Demands for Free Work Samples
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Dealing with Free Sample Requests
Some freelancers deal with the problem of free samples in the simplest, clearest way possible: they Just Say No. These contractors deal with requests for samples by showing the client past work they have done, usually by referring them to their portfolios or attaching portfolio samples to proposals. It is unlikely that the portfolio will contain exactly what the client needs, so there’s little risk of theft if the client is not honest, while it does show what the provider can do, so it’s a good compromise.
Even with portfolio samples, there will still be clients who insist that they need to see what their work will look like before hiring. This is a more potent danger sign, obviously, and experienced freelancers will usually simply refuse to do this, preferring to risk losing the client rather than having their time wasted. You can of course ignore this advice, but you do it at your own risk.
The only situation where I feel comfortable with free pre-bid work product is where the sample meets all of these conditions:
As I mentioned above, you cannot provide a sample of an idea, theory or model in such a way that it cannot be taken without payment. If the deliverable is more tangible, and there’s a way to protect it from being stolen, then that is an option to consider. For example, photo editors can watermark their samples, programmers can provide crippled demo programs without source code, audio engineers can add background noise, etc. However, don’t forget that protection measures aren’t foolproof (for example, watermarks can be removed.) And as always, you need to limit how much time you spend on something you aren’t being paid for.
Finally, you have to respect the rules of the freelancing site you’re using. Some of them outlaw clients from asking for any type of sample, as well as freelancers from putting them forward of their own volition, to discourage theft or abuse. Of these, certain ones allow “non-functional” samples as I just discussed, but others make no distinction at all. Even if it seems unreasonable to prohibit small unusable samples, you need to follow the terms you agreed to.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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