Clients requesting applicants to write sample articles for free is a common practice. It also happens to be one of the most divisive issues within the freelance writing community. Some writers, for instance, feel it is an abusive practice. Others, though, accept it as a good vetting process.
As for me, I agree that you should refuse but only under certain circumstances. At the same time, I can also see a middle ground where you have much more to gain. You can, for example, leverage sample articles to land more clients. In due time, you could even sign up five-star clients.
Write Sample Articles: Yes or No
Clients may differ in their hiring process, but they all need to see sample articles. Those with high standards, in particular, would ask you to write about a specific topic.
Do clients pay you to write a sample article?
No. It is rare to find a client that pays you for the time it took to complete a test article.
In either case, try to be flexible. I implore you not to agree or refuse as a matter of principle. Instead, understand where a client comes from and help them choose you.
I. Why do clients ask you to write test articles?
A few years ago, a long-term client I worked with did not ask applicants to write sample articles. Based on submitted samples, we picked the top prospects and discussed the requirements. I also showed our articles and explained the writing style and quality level needed. Once hired, we have to integrate the new freelance writer into our system.
Our experiences were horrible because:
- Several freelance writers quit before completing an article. I remember one, in particular, who went AWOL five minutes after starting the time tracker.
- The articles written for us did not meet the client’s expectations. Even more troubling is that most of them did not measure up to the sample articles they provided. It led me to believe those freelance writers provided us edited samples.
After months of never-ending frustrations, I realized one thing. Sifting through tens to hundreds of applicants is no easy task.
I went through all the applications and concluded that:
- 9 out of 10 applicants do not have decent portfolios. Among those who did, most did not show their ability to analyze and process information. The majority of samples, unfortunately, were rewritten versions of published materials.
- Only 2 out of 10 applicants took the time to compose a proper email. Although they stood out, most of them also oversold their skills. As proven later, most of them struggled when writing a high-quality, informative article.
We changed our vetting process, requiring top prospects to write a sample article. One tiny change and that allowed us to find competent freelance writers.
II. Why should you refuse to write sample articles?
Some freelance writers believe clients should pay them for writing a sample article. If you hold that view, then decline – by all means.
No one can force you to write sample articles. The worst thing that can happen is not knowing if you passed up on what could have been a fantastic opportunity.
For me, there is only one plausible reason why you should refuse to write sample articles. If a client is unprofessional or untrustworthy, then walk away.
III. Why do you need to write test articles?
A typical article is 1,269 words long and takes almost four hours to complete (Crestodina). No one is arguing that four hours is not valuable because it is valuable. I understand how frustrating it is to write several samples without securing a gig.
Know that behind each successful application is a series of missteps and rejections. Instead of feeling frustrated, you should aim to reduce the rejection percentage.
Before you decline, think about these three conditions:
- Is the client legitimate?
- Is the compensation acceptable?
- Are the required articles doable?
A freelance writing career is much more like a business instead of employment. Thus, every sample article you write is an advertisement. If the three conditions mentioned above are in your favor, then go ahead and “pitch” your services.
Writing Sample Articles Is a Chance to Learn and Earn More
In concluding this article, I would like you to focus on three things.
- Yes, writing a sample article is time-consuming, but it is not only you who have to endure. Clients, too, have challenges they have to handle when hiring.
- Each time you write a sample article and fail to land a job is not a waste of time. Recently, I backed up my drive – and to my surprise, I had written almost 1,000 articles in a little over three years. I cannot use articles written for clients due to NDA, but I can use plenty of others when pitching my services. How many do you have? Those custom samples you wrote are not exclusive, so you can use them when applying for writing gigs.
- Have you reviewed articles you wrote over a year ago? Each time I do that, I end up editing, revising, or rewriting them. It is an opportunity for me to apply the new things I learned. In the same fashion, every sample article you write is a chance to practice what you learned. Enhancing your skills, as a result, makes you more valuable and deserving of higher pay rates.
As you can now see, writing sample articles can bring you more opportunities. It is what you can do to show clients that you are the “chosen” one. Furthermore, those samples become a part of your portfolio. Most importantly, it is a way for you to practice. As you improve, not only do you reduce the rejection rate. You also become more qualified for high-paying writing gigs.