A Few Words About Working on Spec...
By Bob Schmidt
In the ad agency business there is a famous story about an agency guy
meeting with a new business prospect. The prospect comes to the agency to
get the new business pitch. The agency guy shows him a number of campaigns
the agency did for other clients. The prospect was impressed by the work
and couldn't wait to see what the agency had in mind for his account. Then
the agency guy said, "Let's go to lunch." The prospect says, "I
thought you were going to give me your agency presentation for our account
before we went to lunch." The agency guy says, "I just did."
Nevertheless, there will be times when it seems appropriate to do spec
work. This is always a judgement call and no one can second guess your decision.
However, there is always the potential, or apparent potential for getting
ripped off. When I was a freelancer, my motto quickly became, I would rather
starve to death than work for free. This should become your motto, if you
want to stay in business. Do not give away your services unless you do so
for reasons that will benefit you.
Leaving aside the fail safe of
not doing any spec work, we end up in a situation where we can easily sympathize
with the music and movie industry concern over digital recording media.
The minute you put a spec site on disk and hand it over to a client or give
them the URL, you know exactly how the record people feel about pirating.
In the past, spec work meant showing handmade comps for an ad or brochure,
not the final art. So, while the client could theoretically steal the idea,
by itself the idea was not the total solution to their problem, it still
had to be implemented. Besides, we all know the typical client doesn't have
the foggiest notion of what to do with our ideas anyway. And, even if they
stole it, we know that we have ten more good ideas where that one came from
and a hundred more we didn't even have time to think of. That is the creative
person's revenge and secret weapon.
Showing a completed web site
is a different ball game. It's easy to duplicate and easy to steal. But
there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
5 Ways to Handle Spec Work
1. Do not show your site on live media. Use a dead piece
of paper that the client can see but not use. Use it as a talking piece
and a sales tool, not to do the selling for you. Tell him what happens when
you click on the buttons. Tell him what will be on the other pages. Talk
the talk, but don't walk the walk until you get the money.
your web site like a comp-- make it a shell of the real thing. Stay in creative
control. Gray out the photos, greek in all but headlines, code only partial
pages, partial tables, etc. You should only have to give them a taste. That's
all you want to do anyway. You have to leave them wanting more so they'll
sign on. Do not spend more than 10% of the total project time doing the
comp. Anything more will be unprofitable.
3. Take your cue from the
agency story and only show the work of other clients as examples of what
you are capable of. "We'll use the same creative problem solving approach
to create a unique site specially designed to meet your needs."
Sell your success stories. What was the problem the client had, how did
you solve it?
4. Make the spec site conditional upon their signing
an agreement to compensate you if they use the material in any way. The
agreement should state a liquidated damages amount that they will pay you.
Many ad agencies do this. A lawyer should be able to take your rough draft
and make it legal for $150-$200 or less.
5. In the event of the
very worst case scenario, what do you do? Add the site they ripped off from
you to your portfolio of links. What the heck, you created it didn't you?
Bob Schmidt, author of The Geek's Guide to Internet
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