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How much should you give your clients for free?

Posted by Lief Kendall on Jul 18th, 2013 | Get paid

How much should you give your clients for free?, image of people sharing good news

New clients want to get to know you. They want to look into your eyes, to smell your chinos and gauge the heft of your mettle. They want to know if they’re making the right decision. They want to be absolutely sure that you are right for them, before they invest time and money by engaging you.

Some clients will want you to provide a sample, or give them some ideas, or some outlines of the work you would do for them. So should you jump through these hoops? Should you give clients these samples or test pieces – should you effectively work for free?

 Give no quarter

When you walk into a restaurant, do you expect a sample of the chef’s best dish, before you order? Or do you ask to see the recipe before you order the result? Heck no. I would pay good money to watch you try that.

Your default position should be that your work costs money. Your time is money. You do nothing for free. It’s simple. There is no deviation from this.

You can get clients excited about your work, without giving yourself away. The trick is to talk about hypotheticals – to say: “I can help your company by…” and “With past clients I have…”. You can tell clients all about the work you deliver, and the results you achieve, and you can get them excited about working with you. Talk about your past clients, and show them the great results you’ve delivered for other clients. Just make sure you stop there.

You’re effectively saying, “this is what you could have…” and then letting them decide if they want to hire you.


Give them everything they ask for

In the real world, you’ve got to jump through all the hoops the client lays out, wagging your tail as you go, or else you won’t get the work. It’s that simple. Do you want to compete for a job, or do you prefer to bow out and leave the gig to your competitors?

So  – what do you do?

First, ask yourself this question (and then supply the answer) Do you want the job?

There are loads of reasons why you might not want the job – such as:

  • Dodgy client (uses a random Gmail, Yahoo or Microsoft email address)

  • Tiny budget

  • Sky-high expectations (often paired with ‘tiny budget’)

  • Miserable work

  • Limited chance of actually getting paid (often indicated by the random email address)

  • Miserable client (never says “thanks”, thinks any idiot could do your job, and expects you to work all night to meet a deadline they created on a whim).

If you don’t want the job, politely decline – or say you’re too busy.

If you do want the job, and are prepared to accept their challenges, you can still make it clear that their requests are onerous, and possibly flawed. For example, if the client is asking you to provide a sample of work for them, make sure they realise that a sample will not be indicative of your actual work, because your actual work involves research, and preparation and planning – and cannot be “whizzed off in a jiffy”.

Any sample you provide is likely to be a weak, watery simulacrum of the work you do. Robbed of any insight or richness, the sample will be a bland lump of stuff – but if that’s what the client wants – who are you to deny them?

Having proffered your caveats and made your reluctance clear, you should do the best damn job you can do, in the hope of making your competitors look like small-brained nincompoops. And then you’ll get the job and be able to recoup the time lost to winning the work in the first place.

Of course, you may well lose out, and find that your time is, sadly, wasted.

Pitching for projects is a bit like gambling – you should only stake as much as you can afford to lose. If you spend hours and hours producing a sample for a client, you must do so knowing that you are gambling with your time – one of your most precious commodities.

It’s ironic that when clients ask for a sample it can feel like they’re taking the piss.

What do you do? How much will you give clients for free? Do you make clients pay for meetings? Tell us in the comments below!

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