Newcomers to the glamorous world of freelance copywriting have so much going for them. They have enthusiasm, a love of writing and fresh ideas. They also have, at their disposal, countless books and web pages; each with tips and advice on how to make the breakthrough into what is a very competitive industry.
There is one thing, however, that many newbies lack – an extensive portfolio. It stands to reason that, a copywriter with little or no experience, will have few pieces of work to show to potential clients.
Some may have some small writing jobs, often unpaid. Others may have managed to find work via websites such as People per Hour or Copify. Most new copywriters, however, will have few substantial examples to fall back on.
Many of those books and websites mentioned above will contain suggestions from copywriting gurus about the use of speculative or 'spec' pieces of work. These are basically pieces of work you come up with yourself – no client, no payment and no brief other than whatever you decide to set yourself.
At first, the idea of using 'spec' pieces may not seem overly appealing. Every copywriter wants to make money (it can't all be for the love of writing) and spending time over a piece of writing which isn't 'real' and with no financial gain at the end of it can be disheartening.
It's also important to note that this post isn't urging writers to spend hours on unpaid work for firms who aren't prepared to give a copywriter what they're worth. The type of writing we're talking about here are examples which work for the copywriter, rather than a client.
However, 'Spec' work has many advantages, including those below.
1. 'Work' for Some of the World's Biggest Firms
You can decide on the work and the client. If you've ever dreamed of working for Apple, Coca Cola or Mercedes, now you can. Dream up your own tagline for any product and you might just come up with the replacement for 'Just Do It.'
2. Compare Yourself to Other Copywriters
Ever seen a piece of copy and thought 'I can do better'? Of course you have. So regardless of whether it's a piece of ad copy from a big firm, or a sales letter from a local business, take the chance to improve it.
3. Play to your Strengths
A portfolio should show you at your very best. So, fill it with work at which you excel. Regardless of whether it's blog posts, product descriptions, website copy or any other form of writing; if they're good, get them in.
The same applies to your own knowledge of any given subject. If you're an expert on paperclips, pasta or plumbing, use them as subject matter.
4. Updating Your Portfolio is Easy
You don't need to wait on a big new job to update your portfolio, nor do you have to gain permission from a client. If you want to another piece of work to what you already have, then go for it.
5. Improve Your Writing
For a copywriter, particularly an inexperienced one, any opportunity to write is a good thing. And without a 'real' client, spec pieces allow the writer to experiment and take risks. New words or styles can be tried free of the usual pressures.
6. No Deadlines
You're sitting at home in front of the laptop, brainstorming for some ideas just in case Microsoft decide they need you. Then the phone goes and you receive an offer of work. It's not exactly Madison Avenue but it pays.
Immediately, your focus changes to the real thing. The spec work has no deadline and can be revisited at your leisure.
7. Some Clients Like Spec Work
Not every employer will judge you based on who you've worked for in the past. Rather than looking at a list of company names on your website, some will focus on your portfolio page. They will be more concerned about what you can do, rather than who you've done it for.