How to Say “No” to Spec Work. Or Should You?

 In Creative Agency, Graphic Design

How to Say “No” to Spec Work. Or Should You?

If you’re a web designer…or own a design service… then the chances that you’ve been asked to do speculative (spec) work is highly likely. If it hasn’t happened yet, you can be sure that it eventually will.

Speculative work is when you’re asked to provide work for free… or for a very nominal fee. Usually it’s under the intention that the designer will develop the creative concept for the client, let the client “okay” it, and then pay for it. Essentially to try before they buy.

With the internet, this is unfortunately becoming more and more standard in the design industry.

Because of the increased competition many designers (new and experienced) think this is a way to win work over the competition. What they’re really doing is setting a very bad standard that devalues the work for themselves and the industry as a whole.

Why Doing (or Receiving) Free Work Is Not Wise…

Your time, skill, and talent are valuable to both you and the client. That’s why they’re coming to you. They’re not skilled in the areas that you’re skilled at.

What most don’t think about however is how bad it actually is for the client themselves.

Let’s say the designer’s been hired on spec for a project. Then in the very beginnings of working on that project…another project comes through offering a nice deposit and solid contract to pay the balance at delivery. Which project will take precedence?

Which project is the designer going to work hardest at and lend more of their time, skill, and talent to?

The one that puts food on the table and pays the rent! So the spec work client actually loses. Their project will simply not get the quality standard that the paid work gets.

Is Speculative Work EVER a Good Idea?

Unless you’re literally volunteering your time because that’s how you want to give back to society, performing free work is usually never a good idea.

For instance, if you’re a pet lover and there’s a pet rescue that you would love to donate your skills and time to, then sure. You feel good because you’re giving back, you have a nice piece to stick in your portfolio, and the rescue now has a better chance of adopting pets out. It’s win/win in that case.

What About Building Your Portfolio?

no-to-spec-workIf you’re just starting out, and you think that you need to do spec work to build your portfolio, then you’ve been mislead.

This will set a precedence in your business, and among clientele that will be very difficult to regain. More crucially it set you forward with a bad business mindset.

There truly is an abundance of work out there for designers and service providers. Now more than ever. Get paid for your time and effort. It’s valuable and the clients that realize this are the ones that you want to work with.

Just say NO to spec work!

Please share your comments & your stories with #SayNoToSpec. You can also visit to see the debate initiated by Zulu Alpha Kilo evolve.

Zulu Alpha Kilo—Say No to Spec Video

YouTube video

James Faulkner is SodaPop Media’s Content Manager and Creative Director.

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