The Worst Word Ever

When it comes to writing copy, I always prefer a simpler, less syllabic word over one that's longer and fancier.

I also have certain likes and dislikes.

I probably overuse certain words and phrases that I like, such as "That's because..." which makes anything that comes after that seem much more believable...

Or "As you may know", which wins either way--if the reader already knows what you're saying after that phrase, you make him or her feel smart. If they don't know, then they're off the hook because you're not assuming they already know it.

But there's a word I really don't like...and it's not one you or I would likely ever use in actual copy.

However, some of you up-and-coming copywriters have probably tossed it around before with clients, and it's likely causing you more harm than good.

What is this "worst word ever"? (I know, a little dramatic--but that's what I do.)

It's SPEC.

Short for "spec assignment".

Meaning, you offer to write something for free...and if the client decides to use it, they'll pay you for it.

Yeah, okay.

So how does that work?

I don't really know, because I've never written a spec assignment in my life.

But here's what I'm envisioning: There's some kind of "cattle call" for entries, or a client who may not be inclined initially to hire you asks you to write something and they'll decide later if they want to use it.

You may figure, hey! I'll get a sample for my portfolio, worst case. Best case, I may earn some $$$ and have ongoing work.

Let's talk about the "sample" fallacy first. Can I tell you how many copywriters have sent me "samples" of Word documents (vs. an actual email or link to a sales page or printed promotion)...and called that a "sample"?

Sorry, charlie. I think of a "sample" as something that's actually been used by the client. The problem is, the majority of spec assignments never get that far.

Instead, they linger in a pile on a far corner of a desk or, worse, remain unopened and attached to a long-forgotten and ignored (yet eternally hopeful) email.

Look, if you're a busy marketing director or publisher, you're going to pay the most attention to the copy you need to review that you're actually paying someone to do.

Or let's say your copy gets looked many rounds of edits do you do for "free"? At what point do they say, we're going with this? And then what kind of leverage and bargaining power do you have at that point to cut a good deal for yourself?

You're mostly relying on the client's good will at this point. Now, if they're super impressed, I'd assume they want to make you happy.

But if you're that good, why wouldn't you have asked for money up-front like any solid professional?

I also feel strongly (having just advised a copywriter earlier this afternoon along these lines), that if you offer right out of the gate to write something on spec for a prospective client, you've just labeled yourself "newbie" or worse, "desperate" (and in the client's mind, probably not very good.)

So I really hate when I see people who ARE good copywriters (let alone faking-it-till-they-make-it)use that SPEC word.

Just avoid it like the plague, hear me?

Let's eliminate it from the copy-universe.

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