David Airey is a graphic designer based in Northern Ireland who is quite talented and well known for his work, his blog, and his book, Logo Design Love (affiliate link).
Airey, has specific thoughts in regard to speculative (spec) work. In the design world spec work basically entails a potential client requesting a project from a designer to be worked on and presented without pay to the designer unless the outcome presented is to the satisfaction of the potential client. Almost always, this situation gives the designer, who has the most skin in the game, the short end of the stick. This is because if the potential client does not like the presented outcome of the project they’ll simply request changes that will eat up more of the designer’s time, talent and energy (which they’re not yet paying for), or the potential client will simply walk away with nothing to lose wasting the designer’s time, talent and energy on a useless project. Meanwhile, the designer could have been spending that , now wasted, time working for a paying client.
Doing work on spec, for any creative entrepreneur or freelancer, is a very quick way to get frustrated and go out of business. You’ll end up working for free, or way below your worth, way too often. This will not only run you out of business, but it can give your brand a misunderstood reputation of being cheap, inexpensive, or sub-par--definitely not the route you want to go if you’re trying to make a go of your entrepreneurial pursuits.
In a recent blog Airey posted his reply to a request for spec work that essentially turned around the request for spec work back onto the requestor. It’s funny, and a bit pretentious, but then again so is any request for spec work.