When I first started my freelance career, I made more than a few mistakes. One of them, was handing over creative concepts free of charge, without any contract or copyright terms. Sometimes you can be so eager to land a new client, that you compromise the value of your work. I was eager to build my freelance business and add to my portfolio, which is why I fell into this trap, more than once.
Providing Creative Services for Free is Risky Business
If you find yourself in a situation where a potential client would like you to show them concepts for free, in order for them to "see if you're a good fit" for the project or position, here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you decide if the risk is worth the reward, or lack thereof.
1. Will the work enhance my portfolio?
If you deem the experience valuable and worthy of your portfolio, you may want to throw your hat into the ring. It's an opportunity to enhance your portfolio and get some free feedback on your design esthetic. If you don't land the client, be sure to ask for feedback. Constructive criticism fuels creativity and thickens the skin. The experience alone can be very valuable.
2. Will I get the opportunity to present my designs in person?
Make sure you will meet the client in person to present your designs. You will see their office space and get a feel for the energy of the company. This is the perfect opportunity to sharpen your presentation skills. I try to meet my clients in person, every chance I get because meeting in person is much more engaging and memorable.
If you are competing against other designers, it may be smart to go the extra mile, put your designs on boards to show your professional style and work ethic. If you meet in person to present your concepts, have the potential client sign and date the designs (I always have my clients sign and date designs, it's a good way to keep a project on schedule, and prevent any misunderstanding about when and who created the concepts). Never leave your designs behind.
3. Is there a real chance for future work?
Once (of the many times I provided my creative services free of charge) I did actually end up with a great freelance job working onsite twice a week at a broadcasting network in NYC. I learned a lot and held the position for 4 years which provided me with a steady source of income while I continued to build my freelance business. Landing this one job was worth all the free work I did prior.
You are the best judge of what opportunities are worth pursuing. It's important to put yourself out there and take chances, but just remember to protect your best interest and creative property.