Personal Finance

What trial work says about your professionalism


A job interview. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A most exciting prospective employer or client would like you to work with the company on a three-week trial period before they can decide whether or not to hire you.

It sounds a little unorthodox to me but this kind of situation plays out in life a lot more than we realise so it is smart to consider it before you find yourself face-to-face with it.

It reminds me of when I worked for an advertising agency many years ago. Clients, especially those who ran the big brands held all the cards in the advertising game. They would ask all the advertising agencies in town to pitch for their advertising work on an annual basis. Now if you know a little about advertising pitches, you know that the level of involvement in preparing a pitch is the same as what is required to actually work the contract.

The distinct difference is that clients expect nearly ten different agencies to burst their rear-ends burning the midnight oil night after night for a good week of two preparing perfect brand communication pitches without any level of commitment or payment on the clients’ parts… and they got it. What a wealth of free ideas!

These lucky clients would then buckle up and enjoy a week listening and watching ad agencies pour out their brilliant brains on excitingly prepared power point presentations, select one or two agencies to do their work for the year and have them incorporate all the ideas picked from other presentations into their projects. The unsuccessful contenders would leave crestfallen, empty-handed and patiently wait and do it all over again the next year at no cost.

Yes, client was truly king. You can choose to call it fair competition, but the fatigued agencies eventually got smart. They started charging hefty fees just to pitch their work. Needless to say, the number of agencies invited to pitch reduced and fewer agencies' time was wasted in the process. Further, clients were treated to recycled ideas and a few too many companies ended up launching more or less the same adverts with the exception of the logos.

Not much has changed over the years. Clients still keep a long list of vendors for everything on their “preferred” procurement lists and send frequent requests of interest to over 10 vendors for various products or services every week - at least in the brand collateral space where I worked when not writing this column or coaching.

You should know that there is no single surefire way of handling such situations. What you choose to do when faced with them is your prerogative. That said, you want to be very clear about the payoffs, fallouts, or consequences depending on which way you go.

When a prospective employer or client asks you to prove yourself before they hire or engage you, what they are saying is that they are unsure about your ability to deliver. No matter which lens you use to view the situation, one thing remains crystal clear; they need to test-drive you. Now I don't know about you but at my level of expertise, I have no qualms being in competition. In fact, I like my work compared to others’. I simply choose not to spend valuable time doing exploratory work.

Yes, even if it is paid for because I still remain an experiment in the process. This is by no means a measure of how I view the requesting prospect. It is testimony to the level of dignity with which I treat my regular existing clients by according them my undivided attention and the respect with which I regard every single minute of my time.

If the revenue potential is great and depending on where you are on your revenue target, go on and give samples or test sessions as requested. While you accept to do that, be very aware that from that point on, you most likely cease to be the experienced trusted expert that you want to be perceived as in the relationship with that employer or client. You will forever be the underdog.

Your options are limited and you have to pick one. You could politely decline the request because as a professional with a proven track record, you should know by now that this is not one of the smartest ways of starting a new relationship.

I am a staunch believer in the client’s royal blood. I also know that as the experienced expert, a client does not exactly tell you what to do. You, as the expert, guide your client on the courses of action based on desired outcomes – that is why they come to you in the first place. That is the expertise they pay you for whether as an employee or an external consultant. There is the greater matter of your reputation to be borne in mind here, remember?

Your other option is to let your prospect know that do not work without a fee. You can appreciate that he/she wants to be sure. It still is a service where your experience is required and therefore chargeable at the full fee. The right decision is as unique to you as your thumbprint. It is dependent upon where you are at professionally and whether the trial period makes sense and cents for you.