Free Samples

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 at 7:54 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 4 comments
Farmer's Market

Image from user awottawa

“It bothers me to watch the hordes at the farmer’s market, swooping in to each booth, grabbing a sample and walking away,” writes Seth Godin. In his post, he explains that it bugs him to see farmers giving away free samples at a farmer’s market. Instead of offering samples, they need to focus on building connections. Of course, building relationships leads to trust and eventually the buy. No argument there.

I’ve been guilty of picking up a sample and avoiding eye contact with the person at the booth. But I do the same thing in clothing stores. Two reasons for this. One: I want to make my own decisions without interaction. If I need help, I’ll seek it. Two: I don’t want to risk having an awkward conversation or embarrassing situation if I can’t read the person’s lips.

Example. Years ago, I was trying on clothes in a store with my mom nearby. Apparently, the sales person had been trying to talk to me while I was in the changing stall. She admitted to my mom that she thought I was a snob. We had a nice conversation, I bought a few things and I walked away with a good story.

If I I decide to buy the sampled item, then I’ll go back and grab it.

Granted, Godin could be speaking of farmer’s markets and not other situations. After all, he has given away many books. It’s true that free samples don’t work for everything. Writing and designing on spec has had plenty of controversy.  Yet, sites like 99designs thrive. These sites allow clients to post a project posting a fee for the winning design. Designers submit their entries based on the client’s requirements and cross their fingers. Imagine the time the designer invests in creating the work. If the designer’s work isn’t selected, that’s time wasted. And many do it again and again.

I’ve bought many things as a result of free samples. Some of these, I continue to buy. While 10 people may have sampled items with no plans to buy, the company turned me into a loyal customer. My regular purchases paid for the 10 little samples and then some.

Heck, I’ve even bought from companies after receiving their swag that had nothing to do with their product or service. The swag helped me remember them when I needed their services. Yes, I researched the company before hiring them. No one expects you to buy on swag alone.

Building relationships is important. No question. Still, free samples. They can be a good thing. Maybe not for farmer’s markets, but certainly for others.

What are your thoughts on samples? Spec work?

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The Dark Side of Designing on Spec

Monday, October 2nd, 2006 at 8:20 AM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 7 comments

When I posted the entry about designing a logo, I didn’t expect to get the kind of emails I did about designing on specs. I didn’t think about the issue with such “contests” where a business posts its requirements and offers a set price. People would respond with their creations and then the business picks the winner. The winner gets a few bucks and the business a new logo, design, template and whatnot.

Since I’m not a designer and don’t participate in design discussions, I wasn’t aware of the controversy behind spec work. However, I do know that it is controversial in the writing world. Some businesses post a spec job where the writers create a direct marketing campaign. The selected piece gets paid and the others get nothing except wasted time or a potential addition to their portfolios depending on the quality of the work.

But those who think spec work is OK say that it’s a way for beginners to enter the field. There’s one major difference between design and writing specs — design requires software and the people designing the logo could be doing it on pirated software. Is that something a business wants to associate itself with? You might think “What you don’t know won’t hurt you…” But when you hire and work with a specific designer, you know you’re working with a professional. Software is just one of many issues with spec design.

A designer’s perspective — from an email

Places like Sitepoint Design and others like it are very frowned upon in the graphic design industry. They devalue design and treat it as a cheap commodity. These sites exploit designers, and often any skill level can participate. Usually these sites pull in young designers looking for a quick buck. The focus is more on how to get the most design looks for one low price rather then to find the right designer who’s working style, talent and experience will meet the company’s advertising and marketing needs.

The designs are often done quickly with no research. Some designs are not original and are stolen which can also can cause legal problems with copyright infringement. There is also no one-on-one interaction between the client and a designer to develop a custom solution.

The other problem is this site and others like it base the job on spec work. This means work done for free by designers in the hopes of “winning” a contest of some sorts. In the Sitepoint case the prize is often low amounts of money, way below industry standards for that type of work.

For example, if a client contacted you and asked you to put hours of your time into writing a technology article for the chance that you might get paid if your piece is better than all the other writers that submitted articles, would you waste your time? I doubt it. You want people to come to you because they like your work and value your talent and experience, not because they are trying to get something for nothing.

It is just not professional to invest time and resources into a project that you may not receive payment for in the end, unless you are offering your services pro-bono to a charity.

No!Spec provides a lot of information on the topic.


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