Put an end to work on spec

Working with a small chance of getting paid is not a sustainable business model.

I read tonight of a new online business venture which not only encourages work “on spec” but uses it as a model for designers. What a disaster!

Before I get into this post, so you know what “on spec” means, from No!Spec, the definition of work “on spec” is:

“Spec” has become the short form for any work done on a speculative basis. In other words, any requested work for which a fair and reasonable fee has not been agreed upon, preferably in writing.

Back to the story.

The site in question — which I have no intention of promoting with a free link — uses this approach:

by having bidding designers (at least 25 entries) submit completed concepts rather than just proposals in the competitive process

Why have they determined that this model of business is okay for graphic design? Why should a provider — in this case a designer — invest their time, equipment and skills in a project where they’re one of at least 25 submissions to the client. So they have a four percent chance of being paid.

You wouldn’t think of doing this in other environments.

For instance, if you’re building a new home, do you ask 25 builders to build you a house “on spec”, and then choose the one you want to pay for? Hardly! Would a hairdresser cut hair all day “on spec” in the hope that 1-in-25 clients likes them enough to pay for it? No!

Design is no different.

Now, if you’re a new designer (or copywriter, desktop publisher etc) then you might want to take on some “free” work — pro-bono — to build up a credible portfolio before you have a lot of successfully completed projects under your belt. In that way, it’s a legitimate way to build up your reputation by showing a client the type of work (and client) you are capable of producing.

And there’s certainly a difference between creating personalised marketing samples to attract a client and creating full projects you “might” get paid for as one of several or even dozens of potential skilled providers.

But that client then expecting you to undertake full projects without the surety of payment … makes no sense for the provider … so in the end it’ll make no sense for a client. It devalues the intellectual property skills of the provider, devalues their time and ultimately costs clients more money anyway as that lost time is compensated for with paid hours.

A better approach — which I use regularly — is to guarantee my services and involvement in a project. The risk is on me to produce something suitable, or risk not being paid in the unlikely event my work doesn’t fit the bill. But — other than for poor performance — my involvement in the project is paid for, not “on spec”.

If a client is asking for work “on spec” because they don’t know you — then along with a guarantee you could use samples, existing work and client testimonials to help prove your value. So there are certainly ways to persuade a client who isn’t aware of your capabilities of your suitability for a project.

Stick to these proven, persuasive approaches and steer clear of the “on spec” requests!

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