Sometimes a client will ask to see some samples or ideas before hiring you for a project, otherwise known as a creative pitch. This practice is fine as long as it’s a paid pitch – the client pays you for the work regardless of whether they end up using it or not – because if you start providing free samples you probably won’t be in business long; the time you spend creating work for free is time you’re not spending on projects you’re actually getting paid for.
So are paid pitches actually worth it?
A paid pitch can be a good way to test drive your working relationship with a client. You get to see how quickly the client provides information and if their feedback is vague or specific, negative or constructive, and they get to try out your creative process and customer service standards.
If all goes well, you know that you can work together easily for any future projects, and if you find that you’re not a good fit for each other, by working on a small pitch first you can part ways a lot sooner than if you had both committed to a larger project.
However, there is also a downside. Sometimes paid pitches have tight budgets, especially if more than one freelancer has been asked to pitch. It may be less than what you would usually charge, so if you can’t negotiate a better price, you need to decide if the possibility of future work is worth working at a slight discount now.
You may also find yourself choosing between putting in less work than usual to fit the smaller budget, or putting in more work, above the budget, in order to deliver better results. Since there is no guarantee that the pitch will lead to more work, depending on how much extra work you end up doing, you might end up making a substantial loss.
I’ve worked on several paid pitches over the years; some have led to further work and some haven’t but on almost all of them I’ve put in extra work in order to get a better result. I don’t usually mind the extra effort as at least I have the knowledge that I’ve done a good job and on the pitches I’ve won, the future work has made up for any small losses I’ve made on the failed pitches.
On the latest pitch I’ve worked on however, it’s become clear that putting in extra work isn’t the only was to make a loss on pitches.
The pitch had a small budget and I ended up putting in a lot of extra work. When I submitted the work, along with my invoice for the project, the client decided that it wasn’t what they were looking for and announced that since they didn’t like the work, they didn’t want to pay for it any more!
The client had agreed to my standard terms and conditions and provided a Purchase Order for the work, so I made the mistake of not getting a deposit. This means that I have put in a lot of work and now face the prospect of not getting paid a penny of what I’m owed. I shall do what I can to enforce our contract though.
I’ve also definitely learned my lesson. I’m not sure any more that paid pitches are worth doing, and I’ll think very carefully before agreeing to do another one. If I do work on another one, I’ll be asking for full payment upfront so that the client can’t change their mind about the pitch being a paid one and thus avoid the situation I currently find myself in.