I don’t believe freelancers should ever be asked to work for free.
There may be occasions where you decide the opportunity warrants doing a test piece without payment; only you will know when the opportunity feels right.
To date I have done two unpaid test pieces. The first was for an agency that was pitching for a large project and as part of the tender they had to submit a number of test pieces. I agreed to help because I loved the client and knew that it would be in both our best interests. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the tender, but the client has subsequently passed on a number of referrals.
The second was, again, for an agency. They wanted to ‘see what I could do’ and asked me to write a client’s LinkedIn profile. Impressed with the results, it led to a much larger project – what started as a one-hour investment, led to a month’s worth of work.
When I was asked to do my first test piece, I wasn’t sure what to say so I found a mentor and asked for their advice. He said if I wanted to do the test, to submit it with a disclaimer, saying that if the work was to be published, I had the right to invoice for the work. I thought it was a wonderful way to ensure you’re not being taken advantage of.