Before signing on with an illustration agency, I hadn’t really heard of or had been asked to produce spec work. “Spec work” or speculative work, is work a client may request from a designer or illustrator to submit so that the client can determine if they want to use that designer for a project. In most cases, this work is not compensated for and landing the project is not guaranteed.
Since joining my agency, there have been a few times I’ve been asked to submit spec work. Being new to this process, I thought that the client may have seen my work, liked it and wanted to see a more specific piece of work to determine if my style was right for their project. In essence, I thought I was pretty much chosen and just needed to prove myself. Long story short, I spent a good deal of time on a piece and I didn’t get the job. I was disappointed but I felt relatively good that I had been in the running in the first place.
After that first opportunity fell through I was presented with a few more requests to do spec work. Those all fell through as well. This started me wondering why was I doing all this work with no results. Well, I looked into this process myself (via Google) and pretty much found out I could be one of a dozen, if not more, illustrators vying for the same opportunity. It's common practice in this industry so I don't blame anyone (but myself) for not clueing me into this process.
My Feelings About Spec Work
Ok, I’ll preface this saying that these are my own feelings from my personal experiences with spec work.
Although it’s not made clear that most spec work is done without any compensation or guarantee for paid work, that may not always be the case. If you are approached to do spec work for a prospective client, it doesn’t hurt to ask if there will be some type of compensation and if the likelihood of you being chosen for the project is good. If the answer for both is a “no”, then it is up to you to determine whether or not doing the work is worth your time. Sometimes it may be worth putting in a few hours of work creating a piece that will be seen by a dream client.
I personally do not think I will pursue any spec work in the future. The deadlines are usually really tight and you may either find yourself giving up a big chunk of time out of your schedule and/or creating a piece of subpar quality. Both options are not worth it for me.
One thing I’d also like to note is that with spec work I ended up with an unsettled feeling after each attempt I made. I’m not sure if this is the same in all cases but with the 3 spec jobs I did do, I had no actual contact with any of the clients. I received a creative brief, produced the requested artwork and pretty much received rejection notices through my agent. I felt that with the time and effort put into each piece, it would have been nice to get feedback from the client and a simple “thank you” but that’s my personal feelings.
Why I Feel Accepting Spec Work is Not Necessary to Boosting your Career
Even though it is possible to land a great job or client by doing spec work, I found that my favorite jobs and best clients to work with are the ones that have hired me outright based on my work and my style. These clients saw my portfolio, liked my work and decided that my style would fit their project. From my experience, the clients that really took the time to inspect my work and style to determine if I was right for their project seemed to be more satisfied with what I produced from the development stages (sketches and comps) and asked for less revisions after the illustrations were developed.
Three of the Benefits of Having a Client Choose You Is:
They most likely have seen your work
Know what you are able to do (and do well)
They want what you do!
It’s your choice to accept or decline the job, not theirs.
I’ve personally found that it’s easier going into a job knowing that the client wanted you for what you can do. A client who chooses you has already done their homework and has decided that your unique style fits their project. They are enthusiastic about what you can bring to the table. You also have the upperhand in this situation. They are approaching you with an offer which you can then accept or decline (politely).
Now clients won’t just come knocking on your door. Initial work will have to be done such as sending out promos (to let potential clients know you exist), posting work on social media and updating your online portfolio but if you do good work and promote consistently the right people will eventually find you.
Still Not Sure Whether Spec Work is Right For You?
If you are still wondering if you should accept spec work ask yourself a few questions first:
Is this work worth my time even if I don’t get chosen for the project? What will I have to give up (time with the kids, watching a favorite tv show live, sleep, working on a paid project)?
What rights am I giving up? Sometimes the terms of the spec work include signing over certain rights to the client, even if it is not used or you’re not chosen for the project. Or you may have to sign some sort of non-disclosure agreement which may prevent you from even sharing or adding your work to your portfolio.
Does this benefit me in any way if I do not land the job? Sometimes having a chance to get your work in front of a dream client is worth the work even if you aren’t compensated.