Why you should NEVER do spec work.
We don't get spec requests very often, but today we were lucky enough to talk with a company who demanded it. This may sound familiar, "the COO is pretty firm on requiring all web design candidates provide 3 mock ups, with 1 mock up having been developed with navigable links."
I was polite and said, "we don't do spec work, the design concept portion of that type of a project is worth thousands of dollars and many man hours. Frankly, I think you will have a hard time finding a good firm to work that way..." then he cut me off and said he had found several other agencies who said they would work that way and that making a concept into a small website is not that hard, he would know, he's an IT Manager.
I responded with an "uh huh," then hung up. Regardless of who you are, you should never assume a professional agency will work for free, nor should you treat them with disrespect and argue that you know more, when you are not in the same profession or industry.
Below are many reasons why you should N-E-V-E-R do spec work.
The fact that anyone would ask so much of an agency while silmutaneously considering multiple other agencies is a big red flag. Who's to say they will work with you or any of the other agencies at all? If they have such an amazing IT Manager/Web Development/Guru/Walk-on-water-with-anything-techincal-guy, who's to say they won't take a design they like and have this modern day techincal jesus develop the site? They are already telling you with this crazy demand, that they are CHEAP and have no respect or value for what you do.
Working for free.
This is the number one reason why you should never do spec work. You are working for free, with no gurantee that you will be hired to do any paid work. Design, despite what people think, takes many long hours and research, not to mention schooling and years of experience from working in the industry. Your value is based on that and you should always stick by your values and never agree to do something that you don't feel good about.
A company who requests your agency (or you if you are a freelancer) to do design concepts before agreeing to hire you (or signing a contract) is completely unprofessional. They may promise that the company is willing to pay a lot for a good website if you get the job, but it doesn't matter, they are already demonstrating to you that they don't value you enough to pay for the first part of the web design process. You would never ask for your doctor appointment for free or "hey can I try out this lighting installation for free, before I buy it?" It's the same thing, no matter how you cut it.
You won't win.
You know why? Because you didn't get to meet with the client and you weren't given enough time. The design process requires hours of interviewing company executives, analyzing the company, a competitive analysis, your own concepting time, and revisions. Delivering what they are looking for won't happen, since they gave you NO direction, aside from an RFP, because in every case you are being summoned to a cattle call with no information.
Clearly, the company does not value you or your abilities. Bottom line. This sets you up for failure if you do by chance win their affections. You giving this client a ton of work for free, will be the expectation throughout your entire working relationship, which is usually short-lived. Why is it short-lived? There are several possibilities as to why. A) You get so frustrated with a client demanding everything and your left arm too. B) The client never paid you, so the job was cut short. Or you were a fool and delivered everything to the client before getting paid and they moved on. C) The client decided working with you wasn't so great because you couldn't get them tickets backstage with the Rolling Stones and decided to move on to their next victim. All three of these scenarios happen, time and again, plus 300 other scenarios. Don't be a fool, listen to designers who've already made these mistakes.
Obviously, when you work with a client who has such high demands and a strong hold on your leash, other problems surface. Let's paint a nice picture of how those problems could unfold. You get the account, after 3 FREE concepts, what is the first thing they ask for? 3 entirely new concepts, in a very different direction. Okay, that is fine you think, I will have them sign our contract so I get paid for this new round of work. You deliver your contract and project quote and guess what? They think your fees should come down. So you mark down your fees. Then they tell you their lawyers had an issue with section 8 of your contract, you know the part that the client will pay all fees associated with this job? The downward spiral continues from there. They don't know how to use email. They want you to drive 3 hours to their office, EVERY time you meet, which is about once a week and they don't want to pay you for your travel or meeting time. That should have been a part of the quote, didn't they tell you that? I could go on and on, but you're picking up what I'm putting down, right?
Design agencies are not ad agencies.
Maybe this company has watched too many episodes of Mad Men, but design agencies are not ad agencies. Ad agencies may pitch a concept to a client before they have the work, but once they get the work they buy all of the client's media, which earns them millions in commissions. So a couple ad concepts are worth it. Design agencies labor hours and hours and hours over branding, identity systems, print campaigns, marketing and web interactive work and development. Design agencies are a professional service, they make thousands on the work and work their tail off for clients to the bitter end.
Another agency in town told me about a woman who came to them needing a brand for a fizzy water she wanted to come out with. She didn't however, have the capital to pay them for their services, she had some, but not their full service fees. They wrote up a contract that stated that they will do this work for her brand, but IF the fizzy water becomes popular and she makes orders with it, that their agency gets a commission of the product sales. The commission had a limit, which ended once the estimated actual fees were met. She agreed to this. In doing so, the agency took a chance on her brand, and guess what? Her brand was wildly successful, she also fulfilled her agreement and paid the agency back for their work. That type of arrangement is rare and certainly comes with its own risks, even a signed contract could not protect that agency from getting hosed. That said, if the contract was not honored, the agency would have grounds for a lawsuit, but who wants to waste time in court?
All in all class, what did we learn? DON'T DO SPEC WORK!
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