The problem of free pitching and how to overcome it

by Gary on November 20, 2007 · 4 comments

in Website Design

Do you often find yourself working for free in an effort to obtain more prestigious assignments?

Many web designers work for free to build up their portfolios or and to try and secure new clients. This form of doing work for free is termed as “free pitching”.

Many clients have this habit of inviting design samples from multiple web design agencies or individual web designers without ever intending to pay for the samples. They say they will pay when/if they have accept your work.

Every sort of work requires time; if you spend a few hours creating a sample design then during that time you are not earning. Of course one can argue that you may end up earning a lot more once/if your sample is accepted and this would make up for the time lost creating the free sample. The problem here is, first of all you are never sure from how many web designers your potential client is inviting free samples from, and whose design they will finally accept, and even if your design is accepted you’ll be setting a wrong trend for your future web projects – as most clients will now be expecting free samples from you.

Free pitching is considered ethically wrong by most web designers for a reason: it undermines your abilities and time, and it sets a wrong precedence for the other web designers who don’t believe in resorting to shortcuts in order to build up their portfolios.

But what if you are a new entrant and don’t have a single design to showcase on your portfolio page? My personal suggestion is that do some designs for some non-profit organizations (NPOs) — there are plenty of NPOs that require excellent web designers like you but don’t have sufficient funds. Do your best there so that you can include those designs in your portfolio to get professional work, without free pitching.

It’s a misconception that new or even experienced designers have to often work for free. It may take a bit longer, but you can create mockups and put them on your own website as sample designs and let your prospective clients to go through those and hire you only when they are satisfied with you samples and then charge them the standard rates. Otherwise avoid those clients that want free work from you because it shows that even if they give you a bigger projects they will never respect your time.

Further reading on free pitching by John Frostell.

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  • Marc Levy

    Hi Gary, great article (as always) – I couldn’t agree more! I think every web designer at some point feels like he (or she) is in the only industry where people don’t want to pay the respected rates.

    Everyone wants free samples and cheaper prices and the best advice I can give, is to back up what you originally said “Don’t work for free, and don’t work for less than your worth!”. Quite often I will pass work onto smaller (or less talented) web design firms who charge far less than I do and that’s fine as it is the same in any industry, the client will pay less, but also receive less.

    Also another tip for new designers… Don’t do a project for cheap because the client promises you more work in the future, I think many web designers have been burnt on this one! So just learn from my mistakes ;) Tell the client you will do the project at your regular rate and then discuss discount when the other projects come around.

  • SEO Carly

    Very true Marc, it happens in SEO also with every second customer. The “If you get my keyword to top 10 i have 50 other friends who will want work done”.

    That’s also a good tip about non-profit sites too Gary. The little known fact is doing this can benefit you greatly, alot of these non-profit sites have alot of authority/pagerank so if your design has a small provided by footer link, it can boost your domains SERPs and in turn get you better rank and more customers.

  • WTL

    Unfortunately, I think if the (potential) client is asking for a freebie, you’d darned better be sure there is a tangible reward in the near future. Otherwise, you may want to gently turn them down, and suggest they go to someone lives in their parents basement and works for free. ;-)

    I’ve gotten a few clients this way. Sometimes they just have to learn the value of spending money after not having spent money.

  • Chris Boswell

    Carly has a very good point here about SERPs, but it is still a mine field out there. I think the worst scenario we ever got was from a guy who almost begged for his website doing then 2 days after work commenced emailed to say he didn’t have any money and he’d have to ask his business partners about whether it was ok to go ahead. Lesson learnt for me. Now we always get a deposit of at least 30% for web design and SEO is paid upfront.