2 reasons why I don’t pitch for free and 1 reason why I do

Posted on: February 22nd, 2011

Do you do free pitches to win work? My experience is that some freelancers/agencies will never pitch for free and some always do.

Here’s why I normally don’t:

1. Potential clients nick my ideas

Especially in the case of PR and marketing pitch documents, I’ve come across far too many instances where potential clients ask three or four freelancers or agencies to come up with a full set of campaign ideas. Then, having digested the contents of them all, the potential client mysteriously announces they have decided to do it in-house because they ‘don’t really have the budget’.

So they nick the best of the ideas from all the documents and implement it themselves. Whether they are able to implement it properly themselves is another argument but it still makes me REALLY cross that they a) have the gall to do this and b) get away with it.

2. I don’t have capacity to work for ‘free’

When I’m busy working on client projects (ie: work I’m getting paid for), I don’t have the spare capacity to fit in unpaid work on a speculative basis.

Having said that, there is one instance when I’m happy to pitch for free: when the project is a lucrative, recurring one. For example, I’ve just submitted some sample copy spreads as part of a design agency’s pitch which, if successful, would mean a boost to my income of around £16,000 – £20,000 a year.

It took me around a day to complete but, as it turned out, this week has been fairly quiet so I had some free time to focus on it.

There are six design agencies in the frame, so it’s a long shot. I’ll know the outcome in a couple of weeks.

What about you? In which instances do you pitch for free?

5 Responses to “2 reasons why I don’t pitch for free and 1 reason why I do”

  1. Ben Plopper
    February 22nd, 2011

    Nice article, and something I’ve never given too much thought to, but clearly should.

    I’m a little more inclined to pitch for free at the moment because I’m really just getting my freelancing legs. My portfolio isn’t bad, but it’s just not as deep as I’d like it to be. So I feel like I have to show potential clients that I “get” their vision. Fortunately, because I’m just getting started, I do have the time to devote to some free pitches. And hey, my first free pitch resulted in a book deal that will pretty much cover my 2011 salary.

    Although my last free pitch resulted in a “sounds good,” which – after I did some work on it without demanding some upfront payment – turned mysteriously into “sorry, we’ve changed our minds.” That, however, was a lesson to me – pitching for free is fine, working before upfront payment is not (my own fault).

    Live and learn.

  2. Freelance FactFile
    February 22nd, 2011

    Hi Ben

    Ah yes – upfront payments! I state in my terms and conditions that I charge 50% upfront the first time I work with a new client. And I only start work when the money is in my account and has cleared.

    With ongoing clients, I invoice when the project is complete. Well, if it’s a lengthy project, I usually charge 1/3 at the beginning, 1/3 half way through and 1/3 at the end – helps with cashflow.

    Having been freelance for many years now, I find there’s lots of ‘living and learning’. :)

  3. Richard Hamer
    July 18th, 2011

    I now refuse to pitch with agencies after becoming involved with a marketing one that thought I was an unpaid lackey. I put lots of effort in on the off-chance of some work, and when I did get work they were marking me up by 100%.
    When they fell out with a client they blamed me, and refused to pay £3k that they owed me. Yes, they were really bad at paying as well. Claiming the £3k back is proving difficult.
    I ended up doing so much for them that I couldn’t look after my own clients, and at one stage I pitched for work which was going to be done by someone else. Now that is really taking the p**s!

  4. Carole Seawert
    July 19th, 2011

    Yikes – that sounds like a bad experience, Richard. Have you tried getting your money back via the Small Claims Court? I’ve done that on two occasions and the two agencies paid up instantly once they received a summons.

  5. Richard Hamer
    July 19th, 2011

    I’m making them think they’ve got away with it!

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