Last week I was contacted by a startup who needed to work with a freelance designer on a regular basis. I will call him Mr X throughout this article as this is not meant to cause them any embarassment or offense, simply to educate.
Mr X explained the work involved initially helping to steer their overall brand aesthetic in a new direction and then continue to work on and improve their website.
He was complementary, professional and polite and the conversations back and forth went well. We discussed the project as a whole, my rates, schedule and their expectations for the new brand direction.
Then they dropped a bomb.
Mr X stated they were choosing from 3 designers and in order to choose the most suitable candidate he wanted me ‘do a couple of mock pages for their site so that he could see my ideas and vision’. This was so the candidate who best understood their brand direction, be chosen.
There it was staring me in the face – Spec Work.
For those of you who are not familiar with the term, ‘Spec’ is defined as work produced on a speculative basis, meaning the designer/developer invests time and resources into a project with no guarantee of payment.
My initial reaction was one of disappointment, having only experienced this type of request only twice before, It came as rather a shock to think professional businesses still thought this was acceptable.
I decided to do some quick research and read through both No Spec and AIGA for advice on how best to respond. I found a fantastic sample letter from AIGA intended as a response to any request from a firm to compete for an engagement on the basis of spec work. It is a succinct explanation of why speculative proposals compromise the profession and the resultant work.
I combined this with my own response and promptly emailed Mr X. His reply was (as usual) polite and professional and that although he didn’t mean any disrespect, he understood my position.
The best way to deal with Spec Work requests is as follows:
1. Take emotion out of the equation and stay both calm, polite and professional in all communications with any potential clients.
2. Aim to educate (respectfully) the client in exactly what Spec Work is, how it affects both your business and the industry as a whole.
Since discussing this particular issue on Twitter, I was asked by a wide variety of you to make available the actual email I sent to the client. I have now created a Shared Google Docs template which you can access below:
If you would like me to make this available in another format please let me know.
Moral Of The Story
Figure out exactly where you stand, how you operate your business and what you’re comfortable with. That way when this type of request appears in your inbox, you’re ready with an appropriate response.
- Spec Work – Is It Good or Bad?
- SXSW Panel Discussion â€“ Is spec work evil?
- Spec Work and Crowdsourcing
- AIGA President Debbie Millman on spec work
- Spec You! Never* Work For Free
Instead of focusing on whether Spec Work is good or bad (everyone has their opinion), I would like to know if you’ve experienced a request like this and if so, how you dealt with it?
I look forward to hearing some of your experiences!