Join Petrula Vrontikis for an in-depth discussion in this video The pitfalls of spec work, part of Running a Design Business: Starting Small.
Work on spec is common practice for architectural firms and agencies. Speculative presentations are pitches where a number of agencies compete by producing work for free, without any promise for a return on time invested. Traditionally, designs are created without much meaninful context, or collaboration with a client. This shoot from the hip model is very risky. What the chosen agency wins is a long-term contract lasting from two to four years. So, the risk to do speculative work can be worthwhile because the return sustains the firm over a long period of time.
But, spec work is death to a small design practice, as our work is project-based versus account-based. The reward isn't a long term contract, but just a website or a brochure or a logo. It's not enough pay off for the effort it takes. Before starting my own business, I worked for two other design firms. The first one did spec work and the second just said no. I've adopted the just say no model because I was able to observe how doing spec work cost the first company hours of time, and created many disappointments.
The theory is that the best agency wins the contract. But that's usually not the case. It's often a political decision, or a myriad of other crazy things that have nothing to do with good design. Today, designers are being brought to the table earlier in the project's life cycle. We're being compensated for our process as well as the end result. Working on spec undermines the designer's ability to have input into the early phases of a project. It places the designer in the position of merely decorating a, a mostly formulated idea.
It diminishes collaboration and trust and sets a poor precedent for a meaningful and respectful business relationship. Working on spec has its place in larger agencies. But, from the small business perspective it's the wrong tool for the job. You're not going to be able to establish long-term profitable relationships in a work on spec model.
- Naming and structuring your business
- Keeping records
- Cultivating business relationships
- Hiring employees and subcontractors
- Creating schedules and managing deadlines
- Understanding industry trends
- Avoiding the pitfalls of spec work
- Promoting your business through social media