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Should you ever work on spec?

July 14th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DC writes:

“In my many years as a freelance copywriter, occasionally a
potential client has asked me to write a free ‘test piece.’

“I’ve always refused but today the marketing director of a huge
European logistics company contacted me with this request:

“‘I am evaluating external support for various projects. One such
project is for small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and

“‘Can you give me some draft ideas of content (blogs, white
papers, etc.) that would appeal to SMEs who are looking to
broaden their horizons and get more involved in international

“So he wants free editorial consultancy work with no guarantee of
a contract or payment, and of course he could just take my best

“This is a variation of the infamous free test piece and it shows
how careful we must be about speculative projects.

“I’m sending you this story partly to help other freelancers and
I hope it’s useful in your excellent newsletter.”

I agree with DC: Avoid working “on spec” — writing for a
potential client with no promise of getting paid.

In spec work, if the client likes what you do and decides to use
it, they pay you something.

If they don’t like it, the project is over — and you don’t get a
dime for your time and effort.

The idea of working on spec to me is patently ridiculous and
grossly offensive.

Try driving to your local gas station today and telling the
attendant: “Fill my car with gas, and if it runs well, I will pay
you for it … but if not, I owe you nothing.”

Order a meal at a local restaurant and say to the waiter: “Bring
my steak and baked potato; if I like it, I’ll pay the bill; if
not, I won’t.”

So if someone asks you, “Write my ad for free, and I will pay for
it only if I like and use it; if not, I won’t” — well, what
writer in his right mind would agree to that?

Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote for any
reason other than money.”

So if you write on spec for a potential copywriting client, you
are the blockhead.

And when you don’t get paid, you have no one to blame but

After all, you asked for it.

Are there ever any exceptions to the no-spec-work rule?

Answer: Precious few.


This entry was posted on Friday, July 14th, 2017 at 8:54 am and is filed under General, Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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