Yoga good. Spec work, bad

No!Spec Logo, courtesy David Airey

A couple of weeks ago two friends alerted me of a local yoga studio that was looking to contract a freelance designer. Seeing this as an opportunity to make a new client, I promptly sent an email to the studio. In doing so, I gave them some background, mentioned some key projects and clients, and provided them with links to my online portfolios. I also suggested that we get together to better get to know one another: A chance for them to lay out their requirements and expectations, and for both us of to get a better understanding of our respective businesses. In Sandler speak, this is called “finding fit”, and it encourages relationship-building, and it’s pretty common business practice. Naturally, we weren’t the only studio to do this.

Yesterday, I was included in this group response (It’s been revised slightly to not outright expose the source, and I’ve also emphasized a few key lines to highlight just how ridiculous this is):

Dear Applicants,

Thanks again for your interest in a Graphic Design position with us.

We are going to be having a[n event] in January, so we’ve decided to have our own ‘Designer Challenge’ to help us choose someone to work with us on future projects.

If you are interested, please send us your best poster advertising our upcoming [event]. We are titling it [Snappy event title] We want the poster to be eye-catching, fun & animated. Other details: [Blah, blah, etc].

Please send posters to this email address with ‘Designer Challenge’ in the subject line. Also please indicate if you would be interested in doing an exchange of your services for yoga classes.

Thanks & we look forward to hearing from you!
[The Studio]

Wow. Who does this?

After some thought, I decided this isn’t really that bad. This approach isn’t really hurting any one, right? I soon discovered a practical application of my own for this type of purchasing. After a walk outside the house, I was struck by how poorly conditioned my driveway had become. I quickly cobbled together a “Landscaper’s Challenge” and emailed it to a handful of local landscaping and paving companies. Here’s how it read:

Dear Applicants,

Thanks for all the hard work you put into promoting your businesses. The effort you put into setting yourself apart from your competitors goes unnoticed.

My driveway’s a piece of crap, so I’ve decided to hold a ‘Landscaper Challenge’ to help me choose a company that could potentially provide further business – depending on how the lawn or walkways hold up – and assuming I don’t find someone cheaper by then.

If you are interested, please get over to my house and do your very best job filling the cracks, lifting the sunken paving stones and hiding the portion of the drive that’s been drastically lifted by tree roots. Everyone will have an opportunity to participate, even if it means I get a spectacular new driveway 5 times over. Important: Also please indicate if you would be interested in doing an exchange of your services for free business cards, brochures or shiny new van decals. Because nothing can cover your escalating overhead like a shiny decal for your van.

Thanks & I look forward to hearing from you!

OK, I’m a being little facetious, but here’s the point: Spec (Speculative) work is bad. It’s bad for business (yours and theirs), and it’s bad for your industry. I wouldn’t even recommend that design students take on spec work. Dedicating time to projects that lead only to the prospect of future business is an injustice to the clients who are currently contracting you. It’s also unfair to you the designer. You’ve immediately established yourself as a sucker who’s willing to work for free,  from the (new) client’s perspective.

I have nothing against bartering (or yoga for that matter – I love yoga), but yoga won’t pay the bills. At least the van decals in my silly example could be considered a form of advertising, and might possibly be seen as a fair trade.

My advice: Don’t fall for spec work. Or at the very least think long and hard about what benefit entering this type of contest can really bring your studio. You may just win the job, and your stellar work my warrant some referrals. But don’t think for a second that your new client won’t include the fact that you worked for free when spreading the good news.

If you’re a creative freelancer/studio (or any type of contractor), or someone who is interested in buying design, I’d encourage you to visit the No!Spec blog by clicking here.

Published by

Carson D. Samson

I do stuff. All kinds of stuff. And I really, really like Star Wars.

  • Bernie

    Sheesh! I do hope you sent the landscapers’ challenge letter to the yoga studio so they could see just how ludicrous their scheme was.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t yet responded to the studio’s email, but I have heard from a
    colleague that they’ve since changed the challenge into a portfolio
    review. Little better I suppose.

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