Why I don’t do free trials anymore.


I recently had a prospect who wanted me to do a ‘trial assignment’ for him. I asked him, “what’s the budget for this pilot?” He didn’t like the question. He argued that I’m under no compulsion to work for him; any vendor will do free trial for him; large companies gladly do POCs (proof-of-concept) for free and I’m merely a small one; that I had no background in his industry etc. — All of which is true.

As someone who has over 12 years of experience, and a strong portfolio, I don’t do anything for ‘free’ anymore. I don’t have to prove my concept for free, I have a proven track record. But I understood that he is taking a risk on me.

So, I suggested that we try on a real assignment — something he needs written.

  • We can agree on a price.

  • If it’s worthy, he can pay me in full. He’ll use my work anyway.

  • If he’s not happy with my work, he can pay me a kill fee of 50% and we can shake hands honourably.

He didn’t like the idea. He said, “If it doesn’t work out, I will lose 50% in cash, in addition to the time spent working with you. And that’s a 1.5x risk for me.” — which is also true.

However, what this means is that he never saw it from my perspective. If I do a free trial for him and he doesn’t like it, it’s loss of time as well as the opportunity cost (the money I could have made by using that time to work for someone else). In his words, this is 2x risk for me. But he didn’t care.

And that’s why I don’t do free trials. Those who ask for free trials are generally those who don’t care. They don’t want to bear any risk in this ‘trial’. They don’t want to invest in a relationship. They are not willing to participate as equal partners to make this project work.

And worst of all, they know they are the more powerful party in this relationship and are willing to exploit it.

That’s exactly the customer I don’t want.

P.S: When I started my career as a freelancer, my first client offered me the same deal I offered this customer — except he committed to pay me in full, whether he liked my work or not. I went on to work with them for over five years!