Copywriters: should you be offering free samples?

I love shopping at Costco. Apart from the huge savings and the oversized, well, everything, I also love the free samples. Vegan gelato, glazed salmon, huge gloops of yoghurt. Mmm.

Thing is, you’re so damn hungry while trotting around the store, that these little dollops of yummy goodness seem like nectar on a plate. Well, a cupcake dish.

Copywriting Free Samples

But could the same apply to copywriting? There’s lots of debate online these days about whether offering free samples to new clients is the way to go.

To be clear, this usually occurs when a prospect is in two minds about picking you for their contract. So they suggest you write them a few paragraphs as a free sample, based on a (it has to be said) pretty loosely knitted brief.

If you work as a freelance copywriter, I’m sure you’ve had one of these requests.

When it hits your inbox, I reckon you think one or all of these thoughts:

  • Hell no. Are the bazillion work samples on my website not enough?
  • Would you ask an electrician to put up a light bulb just so you check out his work?
  • You’re just after a freebie, aren’t you?
  • Who the heck wants a sample? You’re going to be a nightmare, aren’t you?
  • My copywriting friends would never speak to me again.


Professional Copywriters’ Network

I know, I know. They’re all valid points. Even here in the UK, the Professional Copywriters’ Network is dead against them.

But there are two sides to every story. And in the last year, I’ve brought home over £8000 of new copywriting work after writing a short sample. Those freelance copywriters who went for the same contracts and refused the sample missed out. Big style.

I’ve got good reasons for offering customised samples for new clients:

  • Copywriters aren’t cheap. Prospects get shifty feet when they hear your day rate. They start to waver on the phone. That’s when I hit them with the trial-piece idea.
  • I’m not comfortable working with clients who aren’t comfortable working with me. A sample can put them at their ease.
  • When I write the sample, I show myself that I can slide into the desired tone of voice and work for that sector.

Now, I know what you’re going to say. (I’m smart like that.) You’re going to say, “But how can you possibly know enough about your prospect’s industry and business when you haven’t had time to research it?”

Good point, well made. But before you abuse me mercilessly, let me explain that I do set some ground rules.

The main one is this: I tell the prospect that writing is but a tiny part of the process. We’re as much copy-thinkers and copy-researchers as copywriters.

I then explain gently that the words that land in their inbox will offer only a very general indication of my ability to write for their sector and find the right tone of voice. Any finished work they receive from me will be far more polished and considered.


An unregulated industry

Why do I do this? What, apart from the £8000-plus of work per year, you mean? Well, I guess I empathise with my prospects far too much.

The problem with copywriting is that it’s a completely unregulated industry. Nobody polices it.

Let’s consider our electrician again. In the UK, the chap or chapess who rewires your home will hopefully hold a Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Electrotechnical Services (Electrical Maintenance) or a Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Installing Electrotechnical Systems and Equipment (Buildings, Structure and the Environment).

Last time I looked, you can’t study for an NVQ in copywriting. Want to be a freelance copywriter? Simple. Call yourself a freelance copywriter. Well done: you’re now a freelance copywriter. Your mum will be very proud.

Unsurprisingly then, the quality of copywriting available on the internet falls some way short of desirable. I can’t say I blame prospects for being cautious.



And the freeloaders issue? OK. I offer prospects two paragraphs of copy, I set a time limit of probably half an hour and I also work on part of the business that doesn’t need tonnes of specialist knowledge.

If this little snippet were to be useful to the prospect, they’d probably have to find two dozen other copywriters happy to write two paragraphs. It’d all need to be in the same style. Then all the bits would need to be stitched together. A bit like Hannibal Lecter’s woman suit. And probably far uglier.

Indeed, last month I gave a short sample to an engineering company in Scotland and won £3200 of new business.

Wouldn’t you say that 30 minutes was a pretty decent loss-leader? I would.


Continue Reading: Capture the interest of a potential client through storytelling


About the Author:

Nigel Graber is a freelance copywriter based near Manchester. He works in a shed in the garden with his dog by his feet and a cat in his in-tray. Clients have included Hitachi Rail, Honda and GROHE. The difference between Nigel’s pulse rate and his IQ is 120, but he’s not saying which is the higher.



1 reply
  1. Chas Walton
    Chas Walton says:

    Well said. That’s an easy way to win over a wavering prospect. You come over as more committed and more competent than writers who are sniffy about samples.

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