As a professional with close to ten years working within the publishing industry, I've run across my share of different approaches to prospective client-contractor relationships. I'm going to list a couple of stand-outs -- some will be immediately recognizable -- and give my perspective.
It is my goal to dispel confusion and hopefully provide the clearest picture to a prospective client of what to expect from me.
1) Writing for "exposure."
I will not hesitate to denounce anyone who approaches me with this sham to Writer's Beware, and/or any other site or forum where publishing freelancers exchange ideas and advice.
2) Submission of a "sample" project.
The publishing industry has a standard, and here it is:
One (1) page = 250 words. This is called a manuscript (ms) page. For copyediting, proofreading, translation and copywriting, asking for anything more than two ms pages exposes you as a scam artist. There is absolutely no other industry outside of the creative one where anyone would ask for a complete project for free up front. Car mechanic? Dentist? Home contractor? None of the above. This especially applies if you're a startup company.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. But, if you're a startup company (translation: not many people can vouch for your professionalism) and have no previous ties to the freelancer, it's a very bad idea to approach prospective collaborators with a "project audition." We're not stupid. We know what you're really asking for is free work.
3) The "audition."
The truth is, if you approached me for a possible project, then I already passed the audition. Again, referring to the industry standard for a sample: If you ask me for a long-term commitment or project with an "audition" rate, I know you're looking for a bargain at my expense. Again, unknown prospective client, startup company asking for leeway from the get-go? Bad impression. Auditions go both ways. I flag clients (and pass the word along to my colleagues) for scams like these.
4) How do I get a bargain from a freelancer?
If you've decided I'm the freelancer for you and you won't take no for an answer, let's start off our business relationship right! Here's another industry standard: if you're an independent client and not an agency (again, being vetted as a legitimate client is very important) bring some fairness to the negotiation table. Any freelancer worth their salt is going to listen to your needs and come up with a quote, complete with a downpayment for the project.
A big client red flag? They don't want to pay the downpayment. While long-standing clients may have the luxury of not making a downpayment on a project, a new client is exactly that, a new client. I have no way of knowing you won't steal my work or not pay. This is why safeguards are in place. Here are those safeguards:
Up to (2) revisions. Any more than that, and it's back to the drawing board, contract or agreement-wise.
New client? Downpayment on initial project (anywhere from 15 - 50 percent of the overall quote).
Rush jobs (24-48 hour completion from initial start of the project) 50 percent extra. Self-explanatory.
Overtime (late evening after 9:00 p.m. and/or weekend hours) - is billed at time and a half. This applies whether the contractual rate was per word, per hour or per project.
Kill fee (30 - 50 percent over the contractual rate). Let's say for example that I agree to provide content for your entire website - from the mission statement to the related links page - and there are 25 web pages involved. In more than one language. Agreeing to a big project like that (I love big projects, by the way) involves dedication. Say a week into it, you've been shopping around, found out that the CFO's niece is an advertising undergrad and want to both save money and give her a shot at beefing up her portfolio. Great. Nothing wrong with looking for a bargain. the problem? We already made a professional commitment to each other.
So, I'm going to bill you a percentage of the remaining, unfinished project. Why? I already committed to doing this project for you and in doing so, turned down other clients and opportunities. This is a standard parachute clause. The more untested the client, the higher the percentage of the kill fee will be.
Additional work (25 - 50 percent 0ver the contractual rate). It's okay to change your mind about what you want the finished product to be. But if we've agreed to a project/word/hourly rate based on the specifics of a project, and then you decide you want me to manage your website, moderate your forum in different languages, delegate projects to a freelancer pool where I'm screening, recruiting, and managing the talent, etc.? That's extra work that wasn't outlined in the contract.
Depending on how widely the requests vary from the original agreement, this may mean renegotiating the contract. Again, the more untested the client, the higher the rate will be.
Sample, or "audition" submissions: The absolute upper limit to this is 2 ms pages and/or 500 words, whichever comes first. If what you're looking for is to "lock in" a professional writer at beginner rates, this will not work. Either you'll end up getting blacklisted by other publishing professionals, or you'll find someone willing to work at the rate you want and get what you pay for.
If budget is your top priority, there are several ways to work around this. You can agree to an "honor" clause (if you have an established relationship with the freelancer or come highly vouched for) to provide services and/or a percentage increase in payment on (return on investment) ROI.
You can offer services in lieu of monetary compensation, but please keep in mind that bartering is only meant to sweeten the pot. No one can pay the rent with six free months of cleaning services or car detailing.
Another very good impetus for freelancers is a steady client. So the size and/or frequency of work is a very good motivator. If you can only pay a certain amount (this is especially relevant with NGO's and government nonprofits) but the pay is steady and consistent, that's worth taking a pay cut for!
Finally, if all else fails and none of the above apply to you, by all means call up a couple universities and offer internship services for aspiring writers! This way, "writing for exposure" becomes college credit. By running a comparison shopping search on the internet for equally qualified professionals, you'll soon see that rates will be competitive and generally within the same range.