What the Spec?

Blog_SpecWhy You Don’t Want Unpaid Design Submissions

Should you ever ask a graphic designer or creative agency for spec work? Although it used to be a fairly normal way to do business, we don’t think so. In fact, we’ve made it a Tingalls Graphic Design policy to politely turn down any requests for on spec proposals relating to websites, logos, or print projects.

Before we explain why, let’s take a moment to explain what “spec” or “on spec” work actually is. It basically means that a potential client comes to an artist or agency and asks for a sample. That sample could be a logo, a mockup of a web page, or a printed brochure (as examples). The idea is that if the client likes the sample that’s provided, they will pay for the finished work, and then possibly even hire the company who gave the sample for more future projects.

If you are a business owner or marketer, that might sound like a great deal. After all, you could get a sample, or maybe even several, without having to commit to anything. But, asking for spec work—or even accepting it from someone who offers it—usually doesn’t turn out being the bargain you expect.

Here are a few of the reasons why…

The Best Creative Minds Are Too Busy For Spec Work
Presumably, the goal of your marketing piece is to generate sales or positive impressions. That takes great creative work. But, the kinds of companies who have a track record of successful websites and marketing pieces (like ours) simply can’t devote time to working on spec. We already have clients who are willing to pay for our time and expertise, and those projects have to come first.

And, we’ve worked for over 900 businesses and completed 1000s of projects throughout our 15 years which makes for a pretty extensive “sampling” of our potential capabilities.

You Won’t Get Anyone’s Best Efforts by Asking for Spec Work
Even amongst the designers who will work on spec, it would be hard to find anyone who is willing to put significant amounts of time into a project that they might not get paid for. If they are submitting spec samples to you, they’re probably having to do the same for dozens of other clients. As a result, you may find yourself getting a lot of lackluster samples from many different sources.

That might not be a problem if you don’t mind spending hour after hour digging through examples of what you don’t want, but it’s not an effective strategy for moving your projects forward quickly.

Some Spec Submissions Could Get You in Trouble
When you appeal to the least known and experienced designers out there and give them little incentive to spend time on your project, you motivate them to take shortcuts, and even commit fraud. Many vendors will respond to spec requests by submitting the same ideas over and over. Or worse, they may steal something they found online and send that in, hoping to make a quick buck off of someone else’s work.

At best, that means you’ll end up with a marketing piece that’s generic. At worst, you’ll end up paying for something that could get you sued the minute you use it and violate someone else’s copyright.

When you put these realizations together, you come to one inescapable conclusion: by asking designers to work on spec (basically work for free), you’re risking your credibility and greatly decreasing the odds you’ll get something that’s actually tailored to your business. If you’re lucky, you might get some sort of usable designs, but they aren’t going to be nearly as effective as they would have been if you had just paid a professional to do a good job in the first place.

Do you agree? We’d love to hear your perspective on spec work and how it’s helped grow your business.

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