Just say NO! to spec work

(why spec is bad… and other stories…)

By Tamar Wallace of TAMAR Graphics

Spec work is defined as producing a piece for a potential client with no guarantee that your work will be chosen and/or paid for.

When put that way, spec work just doesn’t make sense. I mean, doing the work in the hopes of maybe getting paid for it? Who does that? No one outside of the creative community, that’s for sure. Yet this is becoming a common practice throughout the design industry, and companies are just preying upon the young and inexperienced.

Here’s an example:

Once upon a time, way back when I was just starting my business, and frankly didn’t know any better, I bid on several jobs online. I was young and naive, and thought this would be the easiest way to pick up clients.

One person responded, saying they wanted a logo for their online business. He sent me some examples of logos that he liked, and then asked me to email him my logo ideas for his company, saying that he’d pay me for the chosen design. I was SO excited, and thought this meant I was hired, even though there was no contract (I didn’t know any better.)

So I went to work. I spent days working on logo ideas for him, absolutely thrilled at the idea of having a client and making some money. I submitted 6 logo concepts to him, believing if they weren’t quite right, he’d let me know and we could go from there. However, after sending my ideas to him, I never heard from him again… and of course, was never paid.

Around that same time, I received another response, this time from a jeweler wanting a series of direct mail pieces designed. He asked me to design some postcards showcasing wedding bands, and assured me that he would pay me, even for the designs he didn’t like.

So again, I began working on these postcards – and again without a contract – and sent a few ideas to the client to make sure I was on the right track. He said that I was, gave me a few suggestions, and back to work I went. In the end, I sent over 10 fully thought out and designed direct mail postcards, and an invoice – only to never hear from him again, either.

To have this happen twice in such a short period of time was so discouraging. There I was, a relative newbie to the design world, trying to make a living, only to realize that I’d spent the last month or so essentially working for free. And because I didn’t know anything about contracts, I didn’t have one, and had no way to protect myself or my work. In truth, those two jokers could still be using my ideas and designs, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

“So now what?” you ask. Well now, you can join me in letting designers – and people who use creative services – know that this practice is unacceptable. No more will you work on spec, under the possibility of getting paid for your time and effort. That no job will begin without a contract and a deposit. That you are a professional and demand to be treated as such.

You wouldn’t go to a restaurant, eat the food, and expect to pay only if you’re happy. And you’d never go to a mechanic, have them work on your car, letting them know you’ll only pay them if you think they did good work. So should the design industry be any different?

If you have questions or suggestions, contact us.