Design agencies such as ours strive to offer clients the best graphic design services and to make sure they are satisfied. However, despite having a positive reputation, when it’s time to gain new clients we’re sometimes asked to perform a test project for free to demonstrate our skills in a particular area. The reason that businesses feel comfortable asking for free sample projects to prove our skill level, despite positive reviews, recommendations, and our portfolio is that many times, other agencies and graphic designers give out their test projects or samples for free, making this the norm. This could be a very generous offer for the potential client, however, it takes a toll on you nonetheless. Unless the design is a hobby for you, you deserve to be compensated for the all work that at 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 also discuss consultation fees for your expertise to assure the project runs as efficiently as possible. It’s also important to keep in mind that the same about of time and skills goes into working on a project for free as for a paid gig because the quality is important 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 Aspect
Another important aspect to keep in mind is that working on a test or sample project 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 only if the potential customer agrees through a contract to commit to and invest in promoting your agency as an in-kind sponsor if they are a 501(c)(3) so that the remind balance is tax deductible for the designers. Or consider asking the business to sign a retainer, meaning they’ve agreed to discuss any issues they might have with a project to allow the design team to correct them and the business is promising to commission additional projects in the future. This will balance out the work more evenly and make it financially worth the 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 are trained to devalue things that they receive for free because they are under the impression that they are cheap and 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, there really is no 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.