Design agencies such as ours strive to offer clients the best graphic design services and to make sure they are satisfied. Despite having a positive reputation, sometimes potential new clients will ask us to demonstrate our skills with a free test project. The reason that businesses feel comfortable asking us to prove our skill level, despite positive reviews, recommendations, and our portfolio is that many times, other agencies and graphic designers give test projects for free. This makes this practice the norm. While this could be a very generous offer for the potential client, it takes a toll on you nonetheless. Unless the design is a hobby for you, you deserve to be compensated for all work that you produce.
Here are four reasons why graphic designers should never agree to work on a test project for free:
Never devalue your time, it’s the one thing you can’t get back in life. To assure you’re working with serious businesses, you could discuss consultation fees for your expertise to assure the project runs as efficiently as possible. It’s important to consider that working on a project for free requires the same amount of time and skills as a paid gig because the quality matters in both cases.
I can take hardship. I can sleep on the cold floor anytime. I can also sleep on a feather bed.
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, economist and international development expert.
2. Financial Return
Another aspect to keep in mind is that working for free will cause a gap in your financial status.
It’s not recommended to work on a design project that’s less than $100, let alone for free, when you could be using that time to play around with a personal project or court clients that will really respect your time. Graphic designers should not have to suffer, especially considering they are putting an equal amount of work on non-paid projects. It’s not fair for paying customers.
Instead, you could agree to perform a sample project at a discounted rate. In return, the potential customer could contractually agree to invest in promoting your agency as an in-kind sponsor. If they are a 501(c)(3), the remaining balance of your fee is tax-deductible for designers. You could consider asking the client to sign a retainer, meaning they’ve agreed to pay you for continuous upkeep of your projects with them. This allows you or your design team to correct any issues, with the client promising to commission additional projects in the future. This creates an even balance of work and makes it financially worth your contribution.
Some people will ask for samples for free and they never really planned on paying you for your efforts. Think about the free things that you have in your life, like the free shirts that you use as rags. People tend to devalue what they receive for free because they hold the impression that it is not worth paying for. People that think this way will take a toll on your spirit and drain you for everything you’re willing to give.
4. Waste of Effort
If you’re not desperate, and you’re getting projects frequently, you don’t need to offer a sample design project for free. There’s an 80/20 rule where only 20% of your customers will provide 80% of your income. Focus on the good customers that genuinely support you instead of chasing empty promises. If some can’t afford to pay for graphic design services, and they don’t trust you to work without a test, it’s likely that they don’t have the resources to use the designs you would have provided effectively and may never trust your expertise.
You should not agree to work on a test project for free. Sample work goes through the same process and requires the same amount of time and effort as a paid gig. Your clients must respect the expertise that is put into every project and value you as a designer.