Spec Work: the Fine Line
The other day I was sitting in a restaurant with my colleagues, happy to put my teeth onto some Italian gnocchi with tomato and basilico (basil.) We just had a meeting, but there were questions I couldn’t ask in that meeting as they were not pertinent.
I thoughtâ€”let’s see what these other designers think about spec work, so there was my question, “What do you do with a client who asks you to make changes to a design concept? How many times do you allow them to do it, and do you even have something in the contract about this?”
The discussion was pretty much one sided, “We just make the changes, whatever they are, and regardless of the number of times.”
I argued back, “But don’t you at least charge something for them?”
Guess what the answer was. “No.” So here is an entire graphic design studio, its designers, its salesmen and editors all saying, “We don’t charge for extra work because we keep the client. Of course there are the extreme cases…”
I could go into the ins and outs of the conversation, but something just came home to meâ€”don’t forget you are there for the client, and that “extra” work might save you the time and effort you’d have to put into finding a new client. It’s true that some people might just walk away with 5 proposals, which they will then give to brother Joe to finish off with his MS Publisher, but if you have a contract, your clients are bound to pay for the whole project. So why would they go away? You can get fixated about getting paid for that one draft, but then you earn 30 while you could have earned 200 for the whole project, if you just did that additional draft. And just to reiterate, I am talking about a job you have a contract for.
Then there are the special cases. Those who keep coming back and monopolize your time. Well, I won’t blame you if you decide to let those clients go or charge them extra. Some clients are best when they are lost. Many are nice people who just want you to do some work for them.
So when do you do that little extra work? You have got to use your judgement. Whatever you do, a contract will save your back. It depends on how you get paid too, is it by project or by hour? And do you actually have clients you are setting aside because of this one customer? Are you making the client believe he can just come and monopolize your time? Have you actually educated the client about your profession? Are you forgetting you are giving a service? Did you understand the client’s brief and did you do your research?
There are a few things you have to consider before you make the decision of doing that extra design concept or before you decline it. Cover your back with a contract, make clear who has the rights for the design and then evaluate the situation.
Even though you are supposed to run out the fire escape when the building burns, make sure the fire isn’t waiting for you on the other side. There is no standard answer you can give a client. Make sure both you and the client know well what spec work is and then make your decisions.
The truth is that a designer without clients doesn’t eat. Designers need clients. It is up to us to make clients understand that they need us, the professionals, and that as such we hold a professional conduct.
August 29, 2006