Over the last five or six years as a freelancer, I’ve submitted a lot of spec work to various contests, projects, and assignments – mostly in video, but some in copywriting and audio as well. Work done “on spec” means there’s no guarantee of payment out of the gate: You submit the work, and if the client likes it, they buy it, usually at a price they set, not you.
I’ve walked a fine line doing work either for free or on spec. On the one hand, why do the work without the pay? Some say when you “give it away,” it devalues the work itself, as well as the person (or team) doing the work. And that’s true, when you give it away. However, to me, even unpurchased spec work has value.
Each spec submission, whether bought by a Brand or not, has:
- Allowed me to hone my skills in animation, videography, editing, writing, etc. Whenever I write and produce a piece, I exercise my Creative Muscle. Want to get stronger? You have to exercise.
- Added to my marketing footprint. My storefront is my website, and my “foot traffic” is users of the internet. Each piece I’ve produced that’s viewable online is part of my portfolio, so when I’m courting a potential customer, I can say, “Visit this website and see what I’ve done in the past.”
- Allowed me to share a bit of who I am with colleagues and with potential customers. This is an important one, because in the huge and faceless ocean of “Internet Freelancers,” sharing what’s unique about you is what will draw customers to you. It’s easy to find quality work online nowadays. But it’s not as easy to find people with whom you work well — who share or can understand your Brand’s philosophy or vision. When you share your work, you share yourself, and open the door for a more personal connection – a quality business relationship that transcends more than simple work-for-pay. In such a vast marketplace, those lasting connections are crucial to a freelancer’s success, and make you even MORE valuable than just the fees you charge for your services.
The difference between sharing your work and giving it away is that when you share, there’s still something of value left for yourself. When you give it away, you’re left empty-handed. While there was no cash for many of these projects, there was still value. I still got something out of the transaction, in the form of experience, skill, and/or exposure.
But eventually, the scale tipped the other way. The more experience, skill, and exposure I got from those early spec projects, the more inquiries and referrals I got for later paid work, which was the ultimate goal. Now that paid work is more abundant and time is more scarce, spec work is less valuable to me, so I do less of it.
There are still occasions when I’ll help a friend or colleague with a quick for-free voiceover or animation piece, but those are the exception, not the norm, and they’re done mostly in the name of kindness and good karma. But when I need a voiceover from one of them, I always try to make sure they get paid, at least something. That way, a track record of some universal value is established, so that a future client can’t as easily say, “Well, you did it for free last time, so why can’t you do it for free now?”
So should you do a “freebie” for a colleague, or a project on spec? That depends. If there’s no pay, but there’s still something valuable to you in the transaction, I’d say go for it. Otherwise, I’d pass.
Share often. But never give it away.
At Slater’s Garage Ads & Audio, we help small businesses put a unique voice to their marketing through a combination of audio, video and social media. To find out how we can help you bring your marketing to life, contact us today.