Should You Do On-Spec Writing As a Beginner Freelance Writer?

With so many freelance writing terms floating around out there, you may have stumbled upon the term “on-spec writing.”

I know how confusing everything can be when you’re a beginner freelance writer, so I’m here to make things easier for you!

On-spec writing is a type of writing you can do to attract more clients and make more money – which is great for new freelance writers!

Should You Do On-Spec Writing As a Beginner Freelance Writer?

But it’s not a strategy you want to focus a lot of your time on.

Let’s take a look a look at what on-spec writing is, how to do it, and when you should use it to wow potential clients.

What is On-Spec Writing?

On-spec, also known as “speculative work,” is a type of free work that writers do in order to win business from potential clients.

I wouldn’t suggest spending a ton of your time writing on-spec pieces since there’s always a chance that clients will turn you down, but they are a great way to showcase what you can do when pitching your services!

Just make sure if you do decide to pitch on-spec pieces that it’s worth your time, never spending more than 20% of your time on speculative work.

Think of an on-spec piece like interning.

It can help you break into the writing industry or gain work when things are slow.

Think about who you are competing against.

It can be difficult for a solo freelance writer to go up against big agencies but submitting a spec piece is definitely a significant way you can stand out from the crowd.

What if the Potential Client Doesn’t Want to Pay for the On-Spec Piece?

When you send an on-spec piece to a potential client, make it clear that you own the rights to the content and that they are not allowed to publish it without your consent.

If they do publish your content without consent or payment, this is a legal offense.

Technically, you can sue, but this may not be worth your while.

The best thing you can do is pitch your on-spec pieces to reputable publications, or you can watermark your content and send it as an image.

Can You Use On-Spec Content in Your Writing Portfolio?

If a potential client turns down your on-spec piece, all is not lost!

You can use this content in your writing portfolio.

Just make sure you remove the client or business’s name and replace it with something made-up.

For example, if you write an on-spec piece for Walmart but it gets turned down, you can rename it something generic like “Big Box Store” and add the content to your writer portfolio.

Using spec pieces in your online portfolio will help you sell your services to other potential clients!

When Should You Write On-Spec?

As I mentioned, writing on-spec can benefit writers who are just starting out or looking for new writing work.

Here are some situations when writing on-spec makes sense:

  • On-Spec Requests: Some clients will ask for a writing sample or on-spec piece when posting writing jobs.
  • Breaking Into the Market: If you are just starting as a freelance writer or looking to break into a new niche, writing on-spec can show clients you are a good fit for what they publish.
  • Timely Pieces: Instead of pitching an idea to a potential client, you can send them a completed on-spec piece to skip the typical submission steps.
  • Gain Experience: Even if your piece is turned down, writing on-spec content will help you gain experience.

For more’s my masterclass, Writing Sample Starter Kit

6 Steps to Write an On-Spec Writing Piece

Writing an on-spec piece generally follows the same process as writing any type of online content, but you have to take the time to understand who you are writing it for.

Here are steps to writing a winning on-spec piece.

1. Find a Potential Business or Industry You Want to Write For

Before you write an on-spec piece, you need to know who you are writing it for!

But how do you find potential clients?

You can start by looking at startups in your niche, as they tend to want to get their name out there. Try Googling “Starts up {Your Niche} to find them.

Google search

You can also look for companies that don’t have a lot of written content on their websites, or if you think you have what it takes, you can pitch on-spec pieces to big brands.

However, as a new freelance writer, I would definitely start with startup businesses and businesses with little online content (or low-quality online content) – they are more likely to appreciate your value!

2. Get to Know their Industry Niche, Audience, and Voice

Even when I write content under my name, I make sure I get to know my client’s niche, audience, and voice.

Why? So I can create content that flows with their brand!

Pitching on-spec pieces to potential clients means you’re going in cold – they’re not looking for you, so they’re not expecting to be offered your services.

This means you have to really catch their attention with high-quality content that will fit in seamlessly with their online personality.

Read through their blog and website content to get an idea of the type of content they post and what type of voice they use when sharing information.

You should also check out what social media platforms they share their content to – this will give you a good idea of who their audience is!

Checking out their About Page is also a goldmine for getting to know a potential client. Pay attention to their story, mission, and values.

For example, if I wanted to get into the beauty niche, I would find a few startups to see if they have a blog and are on social media.

Mamaearth has a blog and all the pictures are women and since the name has, “mama” in it, I know their audience are moms.

At the bottom of their home page I can see they are on 5 social media platforms.

This tells me they are dedicated to social media and probably sell a lot on their social media accounts.

All of this information can help me writing an on-spec writing sample.

3. Come Up With a Topic

Now that you know a little more about your potential industry and client, it’s time to come up with a topic for your on-spec piece.

Look at what they already have published on their website and take into consideration the message they are trying to send.

Are they trying to sell a service or product?

You can write something about one of the benefits of that service or product.

Or maybe a how-to guide on how to use their product.

Just make sure you’re not spending the time writing an on-spec article on a topic they have already covered on their website.

Taking the above example, I could write about:

  • How to Get the Best Out of Mamaearth Natural Face Wash
  • 8 Fresh Tips to Make Your Face Appear Glowing with Mamaearth Rice Sleeping Mask
  • What Works Better for Dry Skin: A Moisturizer or Mask?

4. Research the Topic

In order to wow a potential client with your on-spec piece, you have to know what you are talking about.

But you don’t need an advanced degree in the topic you chose to make an impression!

You just need to do research on the topic, using relevant and accurate information. If you can incorporate information from their website, even better!

5. Write the On-Spec Piece

Now, it’s time to get to writing!

If you’re new to online writing, it’s important to understand how online content is written.

Here are some important elements to keep in mind in order to impress your potential client:

  • Catchy Headlines: Include an attention-grabbing headline with your on-spec piece.
  • Hook: Your introduction should hook the reader. You can do this by asking a question, sharing a fact or statistic, or bucket brigades (words or phrases that keep people on your page).
  • Subheadings: Subheadings break up your content to make it easier to read and help to organize your information.
  • Call-to-Action (CTA): A CTA usually comes at the end of the content and includes a question or action you want the reader to take, such as buying a product or service.

6. Edit the Piece Before You Send It

One of the biggest selling points of an on-spec article is that clients can take the content and post it right away (after paying you, of course!).

You don’t want to submit an on-spec article that needs to be fixed and edited before it can be posted.

I personally love using Grammarly to make sure my writing is free of spelling and grammatical errors.

It also helps with things like word flow, sentence structuring, and more!

But make sure you also read through the piece yourself to make sure the topic and message of your content are clear and concise.

If you have some writing buddies, you can always get them to take a look at your work before you send it off!

What About a Writing Sample?

A writing sample is another way that you can showcase your writing skills and your expertise in a topic.

You can tailor your writing sample to what will benefit the client, such as blog posts, brochures, emails, books, and more.

Writing samples aren’t full pieces of content like on-spec is.

Instead of writing an entire piece, you only write an excerpt (which can be 500 words or less).

When I was approached by a kid tech company, they wanted an example of what I could do before hiring me.

I sent an unpaid 300-word writing sample about the Gro Clock.

However, you can always ask for a paid writing sample when a potential client requests one!

Some people ask me if you can use your blog as writing samples.

If you have a blog on your writer’s website, you can definitely use this to post your writing samples, but they shouldn’t be the only writing samples you showcase.

That’s because writing samples, as well as on-spec pieces on a blog or in a portfolio, aren’t specifically tailored to the client you are pitching to.

Which Is Better: On-Spec or Writing Sample?

While both on-spec pieces and writing samples serve the same purpose, writing on-spec does take more time and carries more risks.

However, it can serve to land writing jobs and start making money as a new freelance writer!

But before you jump into writing on-spec content, I would suggest starting with building your writer’s website and portfolio, followed by perfecting your pitching game.

From there, you can start with writing samples to attract potential clients.

If that doesn’t seem to be working (make sure you give it some time!), you can move on to sending on-spec pieces.

In my opinion, writing samples and on-spec pieces both have their place in your freelance writing strategy!

So, Is On-Spec Writing Worth It?

If you’re new to freelance writing, then you know all too well the catch-22 of, “No one will hire me without experience, but without jobs, I can’t gain experience!”

On-spec writing is a great way to give yourself experience, and a great on-spec piece might just land you a great client!

Overall, I think on-spec pieces are a solid way to attract potential online writing jobs, but I wouldn’t commit a lot of time to writing and sending them.

You can set yourself up to write one on-spec piece a month and see if you can land some paying clients with this strategy.

How about you?

Have you ever tried on-spec writing?

Is it something you think you’ll include in your freelance writing strategy?

Let me know in the comments!

Hi I'm Elna and I'm a freelance writer and mom blogger. I help people just like you become a profitable freelance writer. Within 6 months of starting my freelance writing business from scratch I was able to earn a full-time living as a part-time freelance writer while taking care of my twin toddlers. Check out my free email course Get Paid to Write Online and learn the steps you need to take to be a freelance writer.

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