How to avoid giving work away for free

A guide to reducing the amount of work you give away for free

As a freelancer, getting a new client is exciting. But the process of winning that new project can be expensive, especially if the client asks for you to prove yourself with a free trial.

In this guide, we'll explore some of the ways you can control how much you give away for free.

A freelancer's guide to contracts and NDAs

Improve your profile

Build credibility

Unlike with traditional recruitment, the hiring process in the freelance economy doesn't have rounds of interviews or assessment days. It moves so much faster.

The speed of hiring can make clients feel uncomfortable. A client used to 'proving' a new hire is worth the investment with traditional recruitment methods, will look to reassure themselves in other ways when hiring a freelancer.

In a lot of cases, this can involve asking the freelancer to do some work upfront to prove themselves.

Create a professional profile

A professional profile with links to a comprehensive portfolio is a great way for any freelancer to build credibility in the absence of traditional interviews or assessments.

Create a professional profile

The client should be able to look at your profile and see that you:

Read more on creating a professional profile

Submit better applications

Your application to work on a client's project is sometimes your only shot at making the right impression.

A thorough, relevant, timely project application can help build the credibilty you need to avoid having to prove yourself with free work.



Offer pilot projects

No matter how professional your profile or applications are, there are some projects where you simply can't avoid the need to prove yourself.

For example, if you're a Rails developer, it's extremely likely you'll need to work on something small before you get access to the client's complete application.

In these scenarios, you have to do two things to avoid giving away your time and skills for free.

  1. Reduce risk
  2. Create a win-win

Reducing risk

The key to success is reducing the risk for both you and the client. Both of you need to be comfortable with the level of risk before you proceed.

Creating a win-win

Both you and the client also need to get something positive from the trial

Pilot projects do both

By taking a small piece of the larger overall project and using it for a small pilot project it ticks all the boxes:

Here's an example:

Client: "I need a help with marketing a new product. Can you do a day's free work so I can see you're right for the project?"

You: "How about I charge you a small fee to work on a project to design the logo. If you like that, we can create another larger project for the website?"


In summary, there are proactive things you can do as a freelancer to reduce the amount of free work you're asked to do:

Other Resources

Freelancer's guide to IR35

Understand IR35 and the tax implications of freelancing in the UK.

A freelancer's guide to contracts and NDAs

Freelancing for a new client will normally start with getting a contract and an NDA in place. Learn where to start.

A freelancer's guide to handling client feedback

Feedback on a your work is almost guaranteed. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. But how should you respond? Find out here.

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