Business Rants

Spec Work? Just Say No!

  • January 8, 2016

Wakely is not amused.

I’m going to start setting up the grounds for this rant by sharing a little recent personal anecdote:

For the first part of 2015 business at Spinland was more than slow: it was nonexistent. That situation was of my own making as I let myself become drawn into a lengthy on-spec project that consumed all my time (which also meant no time spent marketing). This project was potentially a Big Deal™ with promise of paying back the time investment handsomely. It actually fizzled when, after no few months of hard (and uncompensated) work on my part, circumstances forced the other involved party to back out and move on to other things.

During that period I ran through my “war chest” and racked up a couple of nontrivial debts to cover expenses. Not a comfortable feeling but at the time it was supposed to be simply an investment.

The good news is I recovered. I went back to marketing my services and pushing hard in every arena and landed enough well-paying gigs to finish out the year with a respectable profit. This morning I made the last payment on the last of the debt I incurred during that bleak period. Spinland is again debt free (except for the mortgage on the Studio property, of course), with a decent sized war chest already rebuilt and a rather nice pile of cash coming in from outstanding invoices.

I learned a valuable lesson about spec work: mainly, don’t. If you want to draw on my skills to support your project you’re going to need to absorb the bulk of the risk while compensating me for my time. I will probably be open to a discount rate based on the likelihood of the project bringing me more revenue once completed, but I will not work for just a promise.

This stance goes double (maybe even triple) for “contests.” When you hold these contests what you are really saying is you want numerous professionals to spend uncompensated hours of their skilled time to create a suite of products from which you can choose. The lucky chosen get paid for their work while the rest go away empty handed.

If you don’t understand what a total scam—and an insult to the valued time of creative professionals—that process is then I don’t know how to get you to understand what is wrong with your thinking. “Exposure” is a great thing, but you have to provide both that and a fair compensation for the time we spend that benefits you in the end. You can’t pay bills with “exposure.”

Creative skills are valuable, and can be expensive. I’ve spent nearly 20 years developing and honing my craft, not counting the vast sums invested in the facilities, hardware and software it takes to do what I do. Add to that the overhead simply of living, plus keeping my skills and infrastructure current, and you should easily understand why I don’t work for free. That attitude holds for every freelance professional on the planet, but today’s focus is on those who seem to think creative skills don’t merit every bit as much respect (and compensation) as those of a doctor, a dentist, a plumber, or any other profession and trade out there.

Would you think to get a dozen different lawn mowing services to take turns at your lawn over the Summer with the understanding only the service who did the “best job” will get paid for the season? Why, then, would you think a graphic designer, a website designer, or an animator would be willing to work under similar terms? I contend that attitude is based on a fundamental lack of understanding of—and appreciation for—the level of skill and experience that goes into making that “It’s just a logo.”

Think about it. Then think again. Don’t ask it of us, and don’t be put off when we shut you down if you do.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a high-tech branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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