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When is a proposal free work?

This is something I struggle with both here and in my consulting business. Here it seems worse because I can't meet with clients to show them my skills and what things I can do for them. I'm a consultant. Part of what I do is help clients design studies. Now if I meet with clients in real life, I usually know they are aren't experts and can't implement my ideas without me. However here, when a job posting asks "how would you run such and such study," or "what variables would you control for," it feels like hey are asking me for my professional skills for free. I know they have to vet people, but also it's a great way to get free consulting advice. If it was so black and white, like hand over some very specific sample I'd tell them "no,". But these are my ideas and my training and they are not tangible. It's the same when a client on Upwork interviews me and asks to write out a more specific bid for an hourly project. Part of the expertise I offer is in planning projects, but it's a fine line and clients do need to know what I'll be doing and how much it will cost. How do programmers manage clients asking what algorithm or process they would use? Advice?
Thanks! Michelle

On the data science side, it happens as well. 


My response to them depends on the other details within the job posting. If they are asking questions that I notice directly correlate to "free work" then I won't apply to the project. 


For most "what variables would you control for" type questions, I won't apply. Or I may give them an example of something I've completed in the past =


"For example, when I pulled x training data and y test data, I constructed this particular model. But, each use case scenario is different depending on the type of data and your purpose for the model (e.g. what question are you trying to answer or behavior you're trying to predict?). I'll be happy to discuss further details with you through the interview process to gain a clearer picture of the scope of work."  




I write resumes and I run into much of the same. People want me to explain exactly what changes I will make to their resume. I tend to answer in generalities, and have in the past gone so far as to say that I couldn't be more specific without giving away my work product. I also worry about this when I am asked for job-specific samples - it is my work, but doesn't stop anyone from putting their info and jobs on it. I think it's an interesting position since anyone can pull a resume sample off the internet and claim it as their work.



I notice this too -- and I will respond:

"I have an idea of precisely how to solve your problem, am eager to show you after I am awarded the project and it is fully funded."  Finish it off with "What do you think?"


If they are genuine AND if they are still considering you, they will oblige.  Difficulty is knowing what is behind their lack of response.


SIDE NOTE: I just this week had a potential valuation client ask me for an Excel valuation model (in the real world, not online).  It happens everywhere and with more regularity: people seem more brazen and less ethical than ever. 


Good luck.