When you’re just starting work, you’ll do practically anything to get it—including making an offer that’s sure to tank any chances you have of making money or being respected. Oh, and did I mention that the majority of new copywriters make this mistake? Read: It’s a big problem. Let’s make sure you avoid it.
Before you land your first copywriting client, or even after you’ve landed one or two, the desire for work is still really strong. There are certain clients you really, really, really want to work for. And, because of that, that desire will get you to do or promise just about anything. Including…offering to work for free.
See, here’s the thing about offering to work for free. I know it seems like a very fair way of getting them to work with you. It seems like you’re just saying, “Hey, I know it’s a risk to work with me! But I’ll take away all the risk! You don’t even have to pay me!” And that can be a worthwhile message to send—just not right away. (More on that in a moment.)
If you start out your sales pitch by offering to work for free…why would anyone pay you? Or, at least, why would they pay you a good rate? You’ve already told them that you are more than happy to work for free. It would be ludicrous for them to say, “No, no, let me pay you $50 an hour instead.” At the very least, they’re going to feel like they’re doing you a favor by offering to pay you $10 an hour. To borrow a terrible aphorism that actually makes sense here, why would they buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?
If you offer to work for free, they have no incentive to pay you well.
The other problem with offering to work for free right away is that, rather than demonstrating confidence in your abilities, you’re devaluing them. The thought this implants in a potential client’s mind is, “How good can she be if she’s willing to work for free?” It makes them think that you must be very new, very inexperienced and probably not very good.
If someone doesn’t respond to a sales letter with an offer like that, it’s because they’re not interested in working with someone as inexperienced as that offer suggests. (It sounds tough but, again, it’s a common mistake. Stick with me here.)
So what do you do? Get rid of that offer to work for free. Your initial sales letter/pitch should be full of confidence in yourself and your abilities. Don’t feel that yet? Fake it. (Nobody feels confident right away; it’s all about pretending like you feel it.)
Earlier, I made the caveat that the “work for free” offer can be a worthwhile message to send, but not right away. Let me explain that: As I just said, you always want to go into a sales letter/sales pitch/meeting with full confidence. That will often take you far.
But if you give it your all and present yourself and your work and your USP for all you’re worth, but the potential client gives you a “no” (I and mean definite no), that’s the only time you can offer to work for free.
In this case, it’s called “working on spec” (different from spec ads) and it means that you’re willing to do a small project for them without promise of payment on the understanding that if they like it, they’ll hire you for more work.
It’s a gamble, and it’s certainly not one you have to take, but if you really want to work with a client, it might be worth trying. After you’ve presented yourself with confidence and gotten the definite no, it does show confidence in your abilities to say, essentially, “Look, I understand I don’t seem like exactly what you’re looking for. But I’m very confident that I can do great work for you. I’d like to do a project on spec for you to show you what I’ve got.”
Some companies won’t take you up on it because it’s against their policies. And if a company does take you up on it, make sure to clearly define the project and make sure it’s a small one. You don’t want to give away hours and hours of your services to land this client. You also want to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of by a company that wants free labor. You need to make sure you control the terms.
I know it seems strange, but you can see the difference between going in and offering to work for free right off the bat and offering to work for free after the “no,” right? One says “desperation” and the other says “confidence.”
And you always want to say “confidence.” 🙂
On episode 89 of the Build Your Copywriting Business podcast, Nicki and Kate dig deeper into why offering to work for free is a dangerous path to go down for any copywriter—even if it’s writing for family and friends.
Your turn! Have you ever offered to work for free? How’s that worked out for you? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on July 4, 2023