Jeremiah Owyang led a panel at SXSW and now has a well-commented blog post about spec work for design. One of the big issues seems to be that with people more desperate for work, and less money for companies to spend, we’ll see more of spec work for design.
On the plus side for workers, you could make a case for people doing spec work for design when they get work through the Web, competing with other designers in the same situation. In this case, spec work is simply a new business cost. In the scheme of things, this might be one of the more efficient new business spends, as long as you win some business through it.
On the plus side for businesses, you reduce costs but get lots of choice. Of course, as a business, you’d be hard pressed to complain when the same thing hits you: cheaper priced imports, Walmart moving into your area, etc. If you’re not into paying for and building up value, please don’t complain when your business suffers from the same ailment.
I see a lot of issues with this one. As Jeremiah points out, spec work leaves out strategic development. The biggest question I have with spec work is how it’s possible to create something authentic and unique for a business if you know little to nothing about it or its clients. Sure, you can make something look good, but that’s just one part of the equation. With such intense economic pressures and competition these days, you’d think businesses would want to develop marketing builds something lasting. A logo or brochure doesn’t go as far as it used to.
Another issue I have with spec work is that for the designer, or any of us, we want to develop business relationships with our clients beyond one-night stands. Does spec work lead to other work? Maybe as part of a longer RFP process, but you have to ask yourself two questions with that:
- Is it worth it? I know an agency that supposedly spent $100,000 of its internal time doing spec work on an RFP. They won, so they'll get a $250,000 contract for $350,000 worth of work. Is that an acceptable ROI?
- If the client treats you this way at the beginning of an engagement, do you seriously expect them to treat you differently later on? I wouldn’t. Please don’t tell me clients change over time. Some do but most, just like people, establish patterns early on. If they’re looking for something without paying a lot (or not paying some people at all) that’s what they’re going to be like for the most of your relationship.
It’s funny that we have spec work in design but not in other service areas. I think if we’re going to accept spec work, why not apply it to other service areas.
- Accountants – Send your tax work to three accountants. Only pay the one who gets you the biggest tax return (But you may be in trouble later).
- House Painters – Hire four firms to each paint one side of your house. Only pay the one who does the best job.
- Lawyers – Hire three firms to deal with a legal issue. Only pay the one who gets the issue resolved most favorably (e.g. this does not apply to litigation where they take a cut!).
I was trying to figure out a way to do this with car repairmen but couldn’t figure it out. Any other suggestions of professions we can use spec work for?
The best antidote for spec work? Talk to other people and agencies in your industry. There will always be those who do this but we would be remiss if we train clients to think this is a good way to do business. Honest and open talk between competitors is sometimes uncomfortable but incredibly valuable.