When Does Free Work Become Too Expensive?
Bob Speyer, Web Success Team
This article is intended to be a discussion about spec work, from both the client and the creative or marketing consultant perspectives. Spec work can be defined as performing a task or service for no charge in exchange for the opportunity to win a client’s business.
A client may ask a web designer to develop a “few samples” of branding or site design in order to help them decide a direction for their company. Or a client may request a detailed online marketing plan to generate more leads and sales and to increase their Internet visibility. Then if they like your creativity and online marketing acumen, they will hire you.
We are familiar with the latin phrase, caveat emptor – buyer beware but the venditor or seller also has their viewpoint. The client doesn’t really have sinister motives, they just want to see what they are buying. Because the field is subjective they may want to compare companies and see who is a better fit. But the seller must also guard against being taken advantage of and must weigh the risk.
As a small business owner for over 30 years, developing both offline and online campaigns, occasionally spec work requests are made. It’s a dilemma that most creative companies confront from time-to-time. There is no one solution or best answer to a “spec request.” It can be rewarding to win the business or disappointing when you come in second (or they postpone making a decision for budgetary concerns).
The Risk – Reward Scenario
In a perfect world, you work, you get paid. In the realm of spec work, you work and we’ll see if we want to pay you. It’s a risk-reward scenario. The question is what are you willing to do to earn their business. You have invested years in time, talent, experience and expenses. Your value is what you place on these components.
From personal experience, we have run the gamut from free spec work to a polite no. We have been on the receiving end of spending countless man hours developing a marketing proposal or creative pitch only to be told “we went with another company” or told “we liked your presentation, you earned our business.”
At times we have offered a reduced fee to show them what we can do. If they accept, we know they are serious and a budget for development is agreed upon. If they are unwilling to pay, we rationalize that they weren’t too serious and they just wanted free marketing or creative ideas.
Another determinant is if you have worked with a consultant in the past on their clients. They bring you a new client opportunity, but that client wants spec work. Depending upon your relationship with the consultant, you weigh the pros and cons about performing the spec work. Sometimes your decision will come down to how busy you are and can you afford not to do spec work? Perhaps a happy medium is to allocate so many man hours a month to new business (and that includes proposals, research, and creative mock-ups).
You Can’t Make an Omelette without Breaking a Few Eggs
For the client spec work can be a two-edged sword. They may not get a company’s best creative effort or they hold back from giving you the golden egg laying goose and a roadmap to do it yourself. You don’t always get what you pay for, but you will rarely get what you don’t pay for. That’s human nature. Again there may not be ulterior motives, just flirtations.
Clients want to be assured they will get value for money and ROI; vendors want to feel valued and do the very best for their customers without their hands tied. It’s not exactly a chicken or egg scenario. In order to make a great omelette and satisfy both appetites, you have to crack a few eggs. That requires coordination, teamwork and trust to achieve web success.
Your Comments Please!
I encourage all my Blog readers to weigh in on this tête-à-tête client-vendor issue of when free work becomes too expensive. I am looking forward to your comments and personal experiences. A healthy interchange of ideas makes for a well-rounded discussion.
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