Spec Work: Beneficial or Not?

Stop Sign

Over the past two weeks I have been asked to do four separate spec pieces. Normally, when I get these requests I email the potential client and let them know that I don’t do spec work, the reason why and I send them some of my published clips. Generally, I don’t hear back. Ever.

My issue with spec work is that in the past when I have done it with no questions asked I have never heard back. Once, I even found that my spec piece had been used, without my permission or even my name and after repeatedly trying to get in touch with the company, I never heard back. Yes, I got burned. How does the saying go? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me…..

I’m not sure why all of a sudden there is a flurry of spec work requests but, here are some tips on how I handle these requests:

  • Don’t do it if it sounds like they are asking for spec pieces from a bunch of people. You know those emails that start out “You’re in the top 20 candidates, to determine the best fit we are asking for…..”
  • Always ask questions before you do any spec work. Clarify that your article won’t be used without your permission and get it in writing.
  • If you can’t get in touch with the company about your questions, it probably isn’t going to benefit you to do the piece anyway.
  • When a company asks for a spec piece just to apply for the gig, give a few sample paragraphs, but not a whole article. Explain why you can’t give a full article and direct them to samples of your published work.
  • Follow your gut, if you have a bad feeling about it there is probably a reason.

I have not actually gotten a job off of a spec piece. Most clients that hire me look at my online portfolio and can determine if they want to hire me based on my published clips without needing additional writing. That being said, I don’t like to rule out opportunities, especially if it’s a gig I really want. I try to handle every request on an individual basis. How do you handle spec work requests? Have you had any luck with spec work?