Never, ever, write anything for free.
In my attempts to learn what it takes to be a successful copywriter, I've read that advice many times. A host of articles and blog posts warn against working without financial gain.
Broadly speaking, I agree. No copywriter should put in hours of research and writing without being paid at the end of it. Should he or she become known for providing free copy, it becomes more difficult to charge reasonable rates for future work.
There's also the impact on the profession as a whole. If there are enough eager newbies out there giving away their services, many companies will never pay for copywriting. A worrying thought.
However, in my opinion, there are some exceptional circumstances where writing for free is acceptable. This is particularly true in the case of new copywriters, like myself.
To Raise Your Profile
So, you want to be a copywriter. You want to attract clients. But you don't have a portfolio, other than 'spec' pieces.
Well, you have to start somewhere. It's not ideal, but if you need to write a freebie piece or two to gain a foothold in the industry, so be it. This approach won't sit well with everyone but needs must.
Writing for Charity
Many small charities and good causes can't afford professional copywriting, ruling out the industry big boys. However, like any other organisation, they still need website copy, blog posts, newsletters and marketing materials.
By offering your services, you not only do something worthwhile but gain much needed experience of working for a client.
Blogging is a great way to show off your knowledge or expertise. If you're able to do that on the website of a fellow copywriter then you have an opportunity to make yourself known to your contemporaries.
There's also the added bonus of said copywriter returning the favour and providing your site with a new post. Everybody wins.
Providing a Sample
No, not that kind of sample.
This isn't something I've tried as yet but I'm seriously considering it. In order to show off your talents, you send a small piece of work to a firm you'd like to work with. If you want to write web copy, it could be an 'about' page. Or, if it's for product descriptions, take something from their website and write a better one.