What is spec work?
Basically, it means to produce work for a “possible” client without any guaranty that the designer will get the job. Most young designers start out doing spec work just because they don’t have a reputation and no clients yet.
Did I do it? Yes, I did a few times. I regret it deeply. Many hours spent for nothing.
Doing spec work belittles our trade as designers and web developers. I went to school and piled up student loans that I have to pay back to get Degrees in Web design and development, as well as Internet Marketing. What other College Graduate works for free like that?
Here is what I can tell you will work much better than working just to hope that you will get paid for it.
Pick up the yellow pages and start calling, start Networking, find some non-profit Organization and help them if you want to work for free. This way you will get a nice portfolio together and you are doing something good for people that will value your time.
There is too much frustration for the designer doing spec work and participating in design or development contests. Even if your work is good and you get the second place it still means that you don’t get paid. How long do you think you can be doing this until you give in and realize that it just takes too much of your time and too little money coming into your pockets in return. You could be spending your time trying to find some real clients that value your work or work on your own site and create work for your portfolio. A possible client wants to see what you have to offer and where your education comes from and if you have any show off your testimonials.
Testimonials are very important to become a credible designer, developer, or marketer. Yes, you know what you are doing but how should your client know? This is also where doing work for non-profits comes in. You should ask for a testimonial in return. One hand washes the other, right?
Only you can control your future.