Providing free samples can be game-changing for you as an intern or a newbie freelancer. Contrary to popular belief, I think it can actually help you.
It gives you a stage to present your expertise. The chance to show your work and tell why you’re worth it.
Starting out, you don’t have the means or access to bring in big clients or intern with giant corporations unless you prove your worth. One way or another you’d have to show something. That something is where “free samples” come to the rescue.
I know what you’re gonna say. “But, but…free samples are a waste of time,” Why should I work hard for free?” And I get that. I really do. But I think the reason most people suffer is because of not having a system in place.
You don’t know how to use samples to your advantage. Yes, they can be used in a better way. You just need to develop the sixth sense to judge when to provide one and when not.
I’d never ask you to provide free labor for anything. The best way to do samples is to adopt a strategic approach. It requires a mind shift too. Here’s how to get strategic:
1. Set a limit for yourself. Don’t go over and above your limit to provide free labor until you feel like this is your dream client/company. It’s easy to get sucked into future promises of making money. You need to be mindful about your efforts when they are not being exchanged for the same value.
Eg: For writers, it can be limited to 250-500 words. For designers, one post, etc.
2. Don’t stretch projects. Give yourself deadlines and finish them as soon as possible. It doesn’t mean you deliver subpar work. It means being conscious of your time and not investing a ton of it just to get your foot in the door.
Do what needs to be done and stop at that. (Unless you want it so bad, you can’t miss it for the world). It’s eating up your time, so make sure you do more in less.
3. Never work on a free sample if you know that you already have at least 3-5 strong samples in your bag. It is enough to prove your worth in a niche. Be confident and stick your ground.
If they still ask for a sample, counter with a paid offering or leave it if you can. Time is money and, you are wasting both if you’re still having the negotiation exploration.
4. Always, always, always give your best shot to the samples. So that you don’t just send them to your clients but also include them in your portfolio. Give your heart and soul to your sample. Start with a win-win mindset. Even if you don’t get the part, you are proud of the work done.
It’s a win-win if you manage to produce a great sample. You might not get the recognition you deserve immediately. But your portfolio is compounding. It’ll only get bigger and better with time.
5. It requires a mindset shift on your part too. Be conscious of your time, energy, and efforts. It’ll help you identify the difference between when you’re being used for free labor and when you’ve got the best chance to showcase your talent.
Your job is to learn how to be an expert in the middle ground. With time, you will.
Providing samples is a way to change your worldview. Not all is a fairytale where you’d get what you deserve, and not everything is so evil that you’d always suffer. The balance lies somewhere in between, and you’ll find it sooner or later.
The only trick is to start right away. Not taking action won’t give you any too.
Some of my favorite portfolio items have come out of free samples, and I’m glad I did them. I explored something new and challenged myself to do it.
Now it sits like a trophy in my portfolio cabinet, and I’m super proud. Do it for you even if everyone rejects it. You’ll feel good.
There’s always a better way to do things. This just might be yours. Get out there, show your work, and don’t start until you’re absolutely sure that there’s a need to prove your worth.
What is your opinion on free samples?
Let me know in the comments below.