Writing samples: the hidden agenda

Something many new writers assume when they get started in the industry that they can just walk into a business relationship with someone and walk away with money as soon as the job is done. This is not always the case. Scams exist in many forms these days, and Internet scams are some of the most prevalent, especially when it comes to clients requesting “samples” of your work to prove whether or not you are qualified.

There are a few things to look at. First of all, as a new writer you might not have any previously published work that you can refer a client to. This is when a blog is extremely important because it allows potential clients to see the way you write. This is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve long held that an individual’s personal blog should not be used as a reference of quality when it comes to determining the final product that a client may require from the writer in question. Everyone goes through an editor. Period. Every professional author and writer out there has to answer to an editor. Rough drafts and personal blogs are rarely as polished as a final product will be because they have not passed the desk of the editor in charge. As such, blogs should only be used as a reference…a way to show your potential clients that you can in fact string sentences together in some semblance of the English language. They should never be used as a reference for what your final work looks like, because no writer out there can tell you exactly what the final product will read like because they aren’t the editor in charge of the final say. Now, while the blessing is that blogs are a great way to give clients a sample of your work, the curse is when said clients look at your blog and cannot see the potential that is there because they can’t see with an editor’s eyes.

One thing you never want to do in this industry is give a client a “free” sample of your work. By this I mean any work that has not already been published in some way, shape, or form, either on your personal blog or for other clients. If you give someone a sample that has never been used before you are opening up the door for that client to abuse the client-clientele trust, and believe me…there are a lot of scam clients out there who are simply fishing for free content for their websites.

Let’s take a look at clients who say they need “previously unpublished samples”. This is a major red flag and common sense should dictate your first response: tell them to take a hike. Any potential client who asks for previously unpublished samples is fishing for free content for their site, guaranteed. No ifs, ands or buts about it. But there is also another type of fisher out there, and that is the one who asks you for your resume and samples, but after you have provided them then asks that you write them an original piece “just to make sure we are on the same page”.

Again, the red flag should go up. An example I’ve used in the past with a client who used this very same request on me was the following:

Let’s say you are a home owner and you want a new study built onto your house. You look in your local phone book or the Internet and you find various builders who you proceed to contact. They come out to your house, they show you their credentials (resume + samples), and they give you quotes on the project. As a home owner it is your responsibility to verify their credentials, and to make a decision regarding their quote based upon the information that you find when calling their references. What you do not do is tell the contractor, “Well, we verified your references and it looks good…but we are going to need you to come to our home this weekend and build us a tree-fort for our son in the back yard so we can make sure that your work is up to our quality of standards. Oh, and we need you to do it for free because we can’t be sure that your standards are as high as ours until we see you in action.”

If a client doesn’t bother to check your references then you cannot be bothered to work with them. If they cannot trust your credentials, even after they have been verified, they are never going to be trustworthy enough to work for. They are simply fishing for free content, and that is something you never, ever want to give away. Ever. Time is money, and if they want your time then they need to pay for it.

If a client cannot be satisfied with your resume, walk away. If they are not willing to verify your references, walk away. If they want free work from you, walk away. They wouldn’t ask the builder to construct a tree-fort for their son on his own time, and they shouldn’t be asking you to do the same thing.

If someone asks you for samples, don’t panic. Just make sure that whatever samples you give them have been previously published in some way to make sure they can’t use them for free. It’s just smart business.

T.W. Anderson is the founder of Complete Writing Solutions, and is a freelance writer specializing in travel writing, website content, interior design and home improvement, green-related topics, as well as anything else potential clients need him to be.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
2 comments on “Writing samples: the hidden agenda
  1. Patricia Hines says:

    I’m new to freelancing, and this was informative. Thank you.

  2. Hi, Patricia! Thanks for stopping by :) I’m glad you were able to glean some information from the site. We aim to please!

    Writing samples are something that a great many newbie writers get screwed over, and it’s very important to understand how to avoid that happening to you. I hope you keep us informed of your progress!

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