The Problem With Offering Creative Services For Free | Melotti Media

The Problem With Offering Creative Services For Free

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Most creative service providers, from copywriters to designers, at one point or another during their career, will be asked to create or perform something for free.

That, or at a rate so low that it may as well be free. 

Freelance copywriters are commonly faced with this scenario.

The reasons can vary from ‘free exposure’ to ‘free trials’, but whatever the reason, it occurs. So how does a professional service provider deal with this?

​Is there a problem or should you just accept it?

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Have you been asked to do something for free?

We’ve all been there.

Not for a friend or family member. I’m talking about a client. It can be a confronting situation as you need to decide to either stand your ground and explain your value, or play the strategic game in the hope that paid work will follow.

The problem is that, in general, free (or heavily reduced) creative services don’t last. It’s unsustainable and unmotivating. It can also be disrespectful too. 

Then why do some clients ask for free or heavily discounted? There can be a variety of reasons, but typically it’s because they don’t appreciate the time and effort that goes into the creation of creative output.

As professional service providers, we must educate clients that we are worth the prices we quote. But in the meantime, you’re going to face the “can you do this for free?” question sooner or later.

So what do you do?

The price war

We all work in a highly competitive market today.

However, copywriters and other service providers are lucky that we can differentiate ourselves with the quality, speciality and service levels we provide.

Despite this, there is still the temptation to fight over price, both on the provider’s side and on the client’s too.

This is when it gets into dangerous territory.

Don’t get me wrong- price competition is fairly normal within reason and it’s not wrong to want to give and get the best deal. But it shouldn’t be at the cost of quality, as that’s where no one wins.

​Especially if the price drops to near zero!

Why free?

More and more commonly these days, digital disruption has led to many organisational models being turned upside-down. This has seen the rise of the two-sided model which still ends up profitable because one client receives a service for free while another pays.

​For example, most Real Estate portals such as Domain.com.au and RealEstate.com.au work because the house hunter is allowed to peruse listings for free, and so it draws huge numbers of buyers, which is then compensated by the cost charged to Real Estate agencies to list their properties on the portal. 

These types of examples are everywhere. YouTube, Uber, Facebook, eBay, iSelect, and so on. 

Additionally, growth in the digital space means that storage and distribution costs have fallen to virtually zero, meaning that alternative revenue streams can come from offering secondary things to customers for free, while baiting them with the main product (for example, Facebook itself is free, but the ads shown generate the revenue).

​While this is a revolutionary time in the commercial landscape at the moment, and FREE is becoming a profitable avenue for some, it’s also creating a strong mentality that everything should be free.

This is part of the problem- in the service provider and copywriting world, free can mean a disaster for all parties.

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You Get What You Pay and Charge For

Simply put, cheap fees cheapens a business and devalues both the service and the provider themselves.

This disincentivises the creative professional too, and the process becomes an endless, self-perpetuating downward spiral. While the idea of cutting corners, especially in the marketing areas of a business is sadly nothing new, it doesn’t mean that it’s right.

In a world where creativity and innovation are the final frontiers of differentiation, too many clients and copywriters don’t truly appreciate this, and what results is a squabbling over the justification of value for services, produced by a culture of inflated price-sensitivity. 

The Time Quality Takes

In essence, the problem with free is that most clients don’t realise how much work goes into creating a finished product, to the exact specifications and time frame.

While the onus is on the copywriter or creative service provider to quote correctly to the brief and then fulfil the project, we can often be tempted to under-quote just so that the client doesn’t panic when we present it to them. 

However, by the same token, we also must make sure that our clients appreciate and value the copywriting service we provide too.

When quoting, it’s also the copywriter’s experience, skill and expertise that a client is paying for as well.

I know that for me personally, I come with over ten years of Marketing experience and qualifications too, on top of my copywriting services; so the client doesn’t just receive content, but a whole strategic conceptualisation too.

However, this is my differentiation point and therefore built into my fee. I believe this is completely fair because the client is benefiting from this, as it will help them achieve their objectives through the copywriting and the additional consultation I provide. 

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What Quality Means and Why It’s Worth The Money

Quality creative services and copywriting is not just about cramming words to fill space- it’s about communicating effectively to an audience, and that fact alone can make or break a business; so the client must appreciate this and seek quality accordingly. 

A professional copywriter can demonstrate quality by reading the brief, compiling their opinions, and then developing a message that will differentiate a product, make it desirable and position it in a way which persuades the audience as to how and why it will improve their lives.

Don’t Let People Think You’re Poor Quality

If your skills and services as a creative or copywriter are of a high quality, then you don’t want to be undervaluing yourself.

The price-to-quality ratio is a real thing, both in practise and perception, and this must be taken into account. 

A website is now the first point of contact for the majority of creative businesses today, and that means that we must absolutely ensure that the messaging a potential or current customer is greeted with is absolutely engaging and of a high quality.

​A high bounce rate costs businesses thousands, and as a result, clients must understand the value of quality. A badly written website page gives the impression that the company is in the habit of cutting corners, which in turn means less sales and less chance of the business succeeding.

Today’s customers are highly educated and highly demanding – so it’s absolutely essential that every organisation meets this head on.

So, as a copywriter, designer or creative, don’t give off the perception that you are cheap.

Be proud of the quality of your work and the results you achieve. This means, while you should always charge a fair rate and quote reasonable hours, under-valuation or free is not a territory you really want to tread, especially in the long-run. 

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What To Do? My 8 tips to help you

Basically, the next time you’re approached by a client obsessed with free or cheap, just remember that it is your work that makes the difference for them!

If they are a high-quality business that doesn’t want to give their customers the impression that they are also cheap, then they shouldn’t be expecting it from you either.

In the end, if you have the experience, the skill and the expertise to back up your creative and copywriting services, never work for free because the end result doesn’t add up and then, everyone loses.

Consider these 8 tips:

  1. Try to discuss the work with them and why they’ve requested it. Get to the real reason why they want it for free. Is it because they don’t have the budget? In this case, you can offer them a payment plan or a temporary discount.
  2. If it’s because they want a free sample of your work, perhaps show them past work examples and a portfolio for them to look at, rather than having to undertake their project.
  3. If they insist a sample, just provide a discount for a one-off job and make it really clear that’s what you’re doing, for their benefit. That way, if they ask for the same rate again, you can remind them that this was a once off trial and if they want to continue, then the full rate applies.
  4. If there is a promise of future paid work, then get an agreement of this in writing so at least you have something tangible that they’ve agreed to.
  5. If they don’t want to pay upfront, then perhaps consider getting them to pay after they see your work. It’s a risk, but at least they agree to pay you after.
  6. If you want to help them out because they’re offering you something else that’s valuable, such as exposure or useful connections, you may decide it’s worth it. But, not get lured by the promise of ‘exposure’ as that’s usually just an excuse.
  7. If you really must do it for free, make sure that there’s at least something in it for you. For example, that you can put the work in your portfolio to get paying clients in the near future.
  8. Try not getting into the habit of under-quoting or providing your services for free. Do your hard yards and then find clients who respect what you are providing for them.

No one can tell you what is best, but working for free shouldn’t be an option you’re considering too often. Try to find a political way to decline or find alternative options.

How Can Melotti Media Copywriting Help You?

​To engage your customer and achieve ongoing business success today, you need quality copywriting and consistent content. However, we understand that this is easier said than done.

You’re time poor and spread thin, and writing isn’t your expertise. So, focus on what really matters, while we take care of all of your copywriting and content marketing needs!

For more information or to speak to a quality copywriter to get the results your business deserves, contact me now at chris@melottimedia.com.au.

I can sharpen your words to achieve your goals, today!

Christopher Melotti

Melotti Media Copywriting and Marketing Solutions
www.melottimedia.com.au
 
Click here to view the Copywriting FAQ page for all you need to know ​​

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