When you’re looking for work, you may find some prospective clients or employers wondering if you’re willing to write “on spec.” If you’ve created spec work for your portfolio, this may sound confusing. Read on to find out what they mean and if you should ever write on spec.
Writing “On Spec” vs. Creating Spec Work
Writing “on spec” essentially means writing for free to prove yourself to a prospective employer or client. A lot of copywriters and copy coaches will tell you never, ever to do work on spec because it devalues your work. (Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? Ahem, so to speak.)
Now, before we go on, let me clarify the second definition of “spec.” Spec work also refers to work that you create for clients you don’t have—essentially “fake ads” to show your copywriting prowess for when you don’t yet have a lot of samples. This kind of spec is always a great idea.
Why Would You Ever Write for Free?!
Back to writing “on spec.” Here’s where I disagree with a lot of copywriters and copy coaches: If you’re new to copywriting, you’re new to the marketing/advertising industry, and you don’t have a lot of copy samples to show, doing a little writing on spec is fine. (Key word being “little.”)
After all, if you don’t have any other ways to show them what a stellar writer you are, why not give them a sample? There are a few caveats to this suggestion, though.
What to Look Out for When Writing on Spec
First, make sure that the spec work is both short and brief—you don’t want to get roped into writing a whole project for free.
That may mean you write something like a short product description or a section of a webpage, just to give a taste of what you can do. It should not be an email funnel, an entire landing page, or any other project that is going to take you significant time.
Second, make sure you’re clear so they understand this is a one-time thing; you’re not going to do free work for them every time they start a new project. It’s perfectly okay to say something like, “Since you’re unfamiliar with my work, I’m happy to write this on spec this time.”
The sample can prove you can write in their brand voice and deliver work as promised, much like a copy test.
Of course, ultimately it is up to you how much (if any) work you decide to take on.
Ask yourself: How much do I want this gig? And is your portfolio a little less than ideal for the project? If so, go ahead and consider writing on spec.
And sometimes, dear readers, it’s even okay to suggest writing on spec. It’s a chance to strengthen your portfolio and show your skill, which can often result in landing more work down the line.
Your turn! Have you ever done work on spec? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on May 10, 2023
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