Everything that you Need to Know About the Spec Work

All About the Spec Work

The freelance marketplace is a competitive sector where you need to bid for jobs, draft your quotes and send them to your potential clients. But have you ever been approached by any of your potential clients who are interested in your work? If yes, then you might have noticed them asking you to complete a test before proceeding further with the assignment. The scenario requests for spec work which is mostly made to the freelancers. Maybe you are a seasoned professional but might have come across this term for the first time. Even though you are unaware of spec work theory, there is a good chance that you have completed some form of spec work in the past.

Prospective clients asking you for samples or requesting you to attempt a test to exhibit your talent before agreeing to compensate, is a common scenario. And, you are doing it in hope of getting paid, but there is no certainty that you will. In this article, we will give a detailed insight into the scope of spec work and its merits and demerits.

Read on to know more!

What is spec work?

Speculative work or in short ‘spec work’ is a kind of work that is completed before payment is guaranteed. This kind of situation arises for mostly freelancers in the guise of a test or exam. If the clients like your work they’ll pay you or else you will get nothing. Spec work may seem like taking up a project without signing up a contract, but it is more prevalent than one can think. A client can even adapt unethical means to exploit a freelancer by getting the job done as per requirement and then rejecting the freelancers. As there is no legal repercussion in this kind of work due to the absence of freelance contracts. Therefore, it is essential to know how to respond to spec work requests and how to avoid them if you feel negative about the client’s approach.

Keep reading to learn more!

Different forms of spec work

Just because spec work involves completing a project without guaranteed compensation, it does not mean that these are only done by inexperienced people. Even though these kinds of work are not known by their actual name in the real world, these are quite a demand also. Here is the list of the most common spec work that every freelancer has encountered in their career.


Creative pitches by agencies are common in most industries. It is a common scenario where a solo freelancer or agency pitches for getting projects from big clients. Presenting a detailed draft of the project before agreeing, is not unusual. The only thing that can backfire is the trust issue. Not winning a project after all the effort made impacts not only freelancers but agencies of every size. But the pressure to bring in paying clients tempts one to move forward with spec work to turn the case into a win-win situation.


The creative contest is the most common and controversial form of spec work. These kinds of contests are held where freelancers participate to get paid for their work. This happens in companies that look for designers to create logos, slogans, shirt designs, etc. It’s fun engaging in these types of contests where they can flex their talents. But these contest-style spec works often give rise to varieties of problems. A creator forfeits all the legal rights of their design, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Whereas, some contest does pay the winner after winning the competition, though this is rare.

Bidding of work

If you have just started and want to build your portfolio, then freelance bidding may seem tempting. You could try out everything to win a big contract. But make sure you do not lose the creative rights before being awarded the contract.


Trial work or take-home assignments are another common form of spec work that includes interviews as a part of the decision process. Connecting with prospective clients would involve completing a small piece of work to exhibit your skill. In some cases, payment is contingent on clients moving forward with you. In other cases, they promise to pay while requesting for the work. In either case, you need to be careful before accepting the request.

Types of non-spec work

Going in-depth with the theory of spec work, you must also know which are non-spec work. As some work may not involve compensation but that does not mean it should be considered working on spec. Take a look at the below points to know what is considered as non-spec work:


If you are placed in a working environment as part of an educational course or initial phase of professional development, then those are known as internships. These kinds of work generally do not compensate you. Some may do, but mostly these are done to gather professional experience and build a portfolio under a mentor. These do not come under spec work as this kind of work certifies you after successful completion of the internship despite the fact that it may or may not compensate you.

Volunteer work

If you agree to work without compensation for any organization, then it is not considered spec work. This could be either for a social cause or simply to build your portfolio. These are volunteer work often done to gather experience.


Crowdsourcing is getting work done and paying only those who work for it. It may seem like spec work, but there is a fine line of difference. A client wants a logo design and asks a forum to design it. The client pays the only one whose work they approve. This is spec work. Whereas crowdsourcing is completely different. This client pays for multiple logo designs and asks a forum to vote for the best one.

Pro Bono work

This is more of volunteer work that involves working without compensation for a social cause. Therefore, this is not considered a spec work.

Pros of spec work

Helps you to impress your clients:

The freelance world runs on first impression logic. Despite all your hard work and a strong portfolio, you may not always succeed to impress your clients. Therefore, by completing a portion of the project you can impress your clients and win the contract.

Allows you to build your portfolio:

If you are planning to revamp your portfolio, spec work can be the best form to rebuild your professional identity. Performing spec work gives you exposure to the real world, allows you to practice your skills, and gains a worthwhile organization by winning a big contract.

Cons of spec work

Involves a lot of effort and money:

Spec work has got a positive background only when you walk away with the contract. Otherwise, simply investing your time and money and you end up losing the contract may seem frustrating. For such cases, spec work is risky and not at all trustworthy.

It does not reflect your best shot:

For freelancers, spec work consumes a lot of time and money for building client relations and winning the contract. It takes a lot of time to understand what the client wants and is expecting from you. As a result, placing this kind of work in your portfolio does not give a high impression about your skills and efficiency.

How to respond to spec work requests

There will be many instances in your freelance career where you may have to come across spec work. Not all clients opt for ethical means. Rather mostly prefer to get the work done, and you walk away with just a ‘no’. But this should not be the case all the time as you are investing your valuable time and money. Therefore, you must learn how to respond to the spec work requests.

Here are some of the tricks:

  • Explain to the clients the working methodology that you follow. Make them understand that you do not work without a written agreement. Convince them that spec work is not good for either side and it would affect the work quality.
  • Break the work into phases and offer your clients the freedom to step out whenever they want. The positive side is that you receive payment with completion of each phase, as you have a proper contract in place.
  • Spec is always risky for the freelancer. Hence, offer your clients a guarantee that you would return the half or full payment if they do not like your work. But in this case, you need to be confident about the project that you would complete it as per the client’s guidelines.
  • Lastly, you have one option available all the time. Refuse the project by explaining why you won’t work. Getting emotionally attached to a big contract is normal, but do not compromise with your skill and what you deserve. Therefore say a ‘no’ if it does not suit you.

Wrapping up!

Spec work is not always an ideal situation for all freelancers. The scenario may be tricky sometimes where you may feel that prospective clients are taking advantage in the name of spec work. It is rather better to establish your own business to get valued customers and high-standard projects. This way you can improve customer satisfaction without putting a question mark on your professional worth.

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