The Stapler on NO!SPEC

Dear Prospective Client

I understand your apprehension. I really do. Hiring an independent writer – or programmer, or graphic designer, or anyone else – can at first seem to be a scary enterprise. There’s a bunch of us out there, and no one wants to make a bad decision. Both time and money are at stake. It’s totally understandable that you want to guard against every contingency of being burned …

For the rest of this informative post, go to The Stapler – Dear Prospective Client

5 responses to “The Stapler on NO!SPEC”

  1. Refusing to do spec work limits the potential for artist advancement, entrepreneurial action and career development. NO!SPEC should be NOW!SPEC.

    People who refuse spec work are typically established creatives who have so much rewarding, paying work that they can afford to say no. Take this simple quiz:

    (1) Do you have so much paying work that you’ve had to raise your fees, and you still have too many jobs?

    (2) Do you have so many rewarding jobs that you don’t feel the need to do a different sort of work, or do a different sort of job in the course of the work?

    Unless you answer YES to both these questions, you should be doing spec work. Spec work isn’t work for free, it’s work without monetary compensation in advance. Spec work can offer many other kinds of compensation, including future opportunities and the chance to do work that’s more artistically rewarding.

    Spec work can be both financially and artistically rewarding. It makes the creative an investor in the project, instead of an employee. If the project pays off, you could find yourself in a much better position than if you insisted on getting a paycheck up front.

    So while you’re standing on your soapbox, waving the NO!SPEC flag, I’ll be hiring your competitor — on spec — and creating a relationship with them as we work together on a project we both believe in. And when I get a project with a budget, who do you think I’m going to call? It’ll be the artist who suffered with me through the tough times, not the self-righteous troublemaker.


  2. I took your quiz, and actually answered “no” to both questions. However, I choose to spend the time I have when I’m not working for paying clients networking, building relationships with prospects, and marketing myself.

    Spec work, by definition is work without ANY GUARANTEE of monetary compensation, period. So let’s just say that, okay, I decide to work with you on a project for spec. I spend, say, 10 hours on this project, and after all that, you say, “Ya know what? It’s not quite what I was looking for. Thanks, but no thanks.”

    Then what? Chances are, you won’t be calling be at a later date when you do have a budget, because my style or product just wasn’t too your liking. Something you could have (and should have) figured out by simply looking at my portfolio…a step which could have avoided wasting both of our time.

    Now, had I spent that 10 hours networking, meeting people and marketing myself, I probably would have built relationships with people that WILL actually call me when they have a budget, and that would be worth my time.

    We aren’t self-righteous troublemakers. We’re just trying to make an honest living like everyone else. Yet for some reason people continue to ask us to give our time, skill, and experience for free…for the POSSIBILITY of compensation, or future paid work. Funny. My child’s hunger doesn’t go away just because I promise him the possibility of food eventually. Nope. When he’s hungry, I feed him. And to do that, I need to earn a living.

    So unless you’re going to put food on the table for my son, please stop asking us to give our time and efforts for free. I wouldn’t ask that of you.

  3. Dear NOW!SPEC,

    From your post, I am guessing you haven’t bothered to actually read through this site thoroughly. Either that, or you are working in a completely different environment than most designers. (The only other reason you think this way, that I can figure out, is that you work in advertising, which is an entirely different situation. One successful pitch in advertising can often bring in business that will cover the expense of the other spec pitches done within a given year. But this is not the case for other creative industries.)

    Spec work IS free work – there is no guarantee that someone asking you for spec work will hire you. You’ve then just put time and effort into work for a client who has no obligation to hire you, instead of working for an existing client who DOES pay you, or doing something to further your own business (which wouldn’t be client-billable time anyway, but needs to be done).

    I am perplexed as to where you get the idea that spec work will allow you more “artistically creative work”. The only thing spec work really does is establish you as someone who will work for free. More than anything else, it paints you as desperate, in that you are willing to do free work for the CHANCE of getting paid. I can’t ask my doctor/lawyer/plumber/IT guy to work like that – please explain to me why our industry should be the exception.

    I also think your statement about making the creative “an investor” in the project is misguided. True professionals ARE devoted to doing their best work for the client. Holding their pay is a ridiculous method for motivation. Again, do you withhold payment from other professionals? You can’t tell your lawyer, “well, I’ll pay you after we win the case, because then I’ll be sure you’re fully committed to my case because it will matter to you financially”. That would be ridiculous. The purpose of a creative and a client pairing is that it is a PARTNERSHIP. If you don’t want to do your best work for your clients already, then you have problems that go beyond doing spec work.

    I hate to rain on your parade here, but you’re truly misguided in your statements. I can see your point about establishing a working relationship with someone for future work, but if you think you’re going to get a professional working relationship with someone who will work for free, you’re wrong. Most people willing to work for free are either students or newbies. Though it is entirely possible that either group may be inherently talented, the reality of the situation is that they are simply less seasoned in the industry than experienced professionals. You are never going to get the best work possible by fishing for free work.

    It’s not about being self-righteous troublemakers, as you call us. This is about educating both our clients and our own industry about the value we provide and why we are an important PARTNER in their business, rather than someone to be thrown in at the last minute and/or not budgeted for. We’ve stood aside and let ourselves be treated with a lot of disrespect and unprofessional behavior for a long time. Standing up for ourselves does not make us troublemakers – it makes us smart business people. It’s about time the rest of the industry woke up as well.

  4. >>Unless you answer YES to both these questions, you should be doing spec work. Spec work isn’t work for free, it’s work without monetary compensation in advance. Spec work can offer many other kinds of compensation, including future opportunities and the chance to do work that’s more artistically rewarding.

    Are you freaking kidding me? I was going to try to restrain myself but you know what? I’m totally incensed that you actually think that a PROFESSIONAL, who by definition wants to EARN for a living should completely defile their talent and time by hocking themselves for free to benefit companies and organizations who can easily allocate a decent budget towards developing their identity. Like some animal fighting for the chance to savor some scraps. Not to mention that they practically end of giving away any royalty or usage rights to their own creations. It’s the sort of backwater logic that only serves to keep a designer from succeeding. What other industry do you know that does that? Marketers? Architects? Lawyers? Waiters? “Voice of Reason” you call yourself? Please.

    To put it simply, work without monetary compensation means work for FREE. As Tamar said, NO guarantee. A “maybe you’ll be paid…but below it’s actual worth, of course.” Artistically rewarding…is that the new term for “starving artist” these days? Unbelievable. If we’re in a tizzy it’s because we should’ve launched a plethora of no!spec campaigns against self serving exploiters much much sooner.

    The problem is that as an industry we’ve allowed this backwards rhetoric to blur the line between those who work for a living and all others. Also, university design curricula didn’t properly prepare designers to be BUSINESS PEOPLE. Their courses didn’t adapt with the rapid evolution of the computer, which in large part facilitated the boom of sole proprietorships. And in case you or anyone else is unclear, the defining distinction between a professional designer and a “hobbyist” is this: a professional designs to earn a living, a hobbyist does so for fun. So when you encourage people of the former to work for nothing, or when you lump the two in one homogeneous category as though they were one and the same, it’s downright insulting.

    Contests and spec work that targets professionals is unethical and exploitative. Plain and simple. You’re starting out and need to find clients? Do it the right way by properly developing your self promotional marketing, networking and sales techniques. Learn to manage your design communications business.

  5. Actually, VoiceOfReason, you’ve got it exactly backwards.

    Spec work is common for established, high-dollar agencies. Such agencies very often pitch speculative projects to clients that they want to work with. This is how the concept of speculative work began.

    The difference is that these high profile agencies bill with spec work factored in. In other words, their prestige prices pay for the work they invest in a speculative pitch.

    Furthermore, this work isn’t requested by the client. Often, this is a technique used by agencies to fish for new clients.

    Somehow, this concept became perverted by smaller companies into a mindset of asking for designers to pitch a spec project. And then this further devolved into the current state of companies asking for speculative projects from multiple designers at the same time.

    You are way off base when it comes to the concept of building relationships. Spec work, by very nature, denies a level of involvement necessary to create effective design. Establishing a contract and paying for work essentially guarantees a designer’s time and commitment. For that reason, designers must and do give top priority to paying clients. Therefore, the only way any ethical, respectable designer can devote the time and energy to a speculative project is if he or she has no other commitments — in other words, is out of work (because otherwise would be to deny time to clients who have already paid for it).

    So what you’re advocating is support for the notion of a designer essentially “starving” just so you can get work for free and “maybe” pay them in the future. If that truly is your mindset, than by all means, “hire” (interesting choice of word there, by the way) a designer willing to work for free — because, frankly, I wouldn’t be interested in selling my services to you, so I won’t be out anything.

    Good luck!

    — Robert

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *