Say YES to spec work

Or maybe more accurately say “yeah, alright: sometimes” to spec work.

Contests are still pretty shady because they’re so impersonal, but putting out a tender for a job in our creative line includes actually doing a portion of the work — enough to give an example of where we’d go with it should they accept. That’s called speculative labour.

“But woah!” you say, “spec work is evil sent from Satan himself or worse: the faceless corporation who doesn’t care about art, only stealing our logos and not paying us!”

No no. That’s called a bad client.

It’s up to you to avoid them. That’s just business.

Spec work itself is impartial. It’s just one of many mediums for the middleschool dance where all the employers are standing against one wall and all us creators are planted wallflowers against the other.

See, all throughout time we’ve tried this in different approaches. The guy who carved the hieroglyphics into the pyramids was probably selected for his hieroglyphic carving ability, and that ability was probably shown beforehand to the pharaoh — he did some work up front. They didn’t just point at a random worker and hope for the best.

You’re the rando in this example.

The masons took it a step further and made a whole society around secret handshakes to prove they had the skills they said they did. You leveled up your mason abilities by showing people things and they taught you the next level handshake so you could go to any town and be recognized for that accomplishment. Now, we have portfolio websites. You just look at the goods.

Actually, forget spec work. Say YES to cool secret handshakes.

The point is, there’s an army of salesmen out there right now and they’re knocking on doors under their own dime hoping to make the sale that’s worth it in the end. Every architecture proposal, every military contract. Actually, the military is one worse because you’ll build your very expensive thing and give it to them and they’ll do everything they can to blow it up and IF it survives, then maybe you’ll get the gig to build more of ‘em.

Taxi drivers buy medallions worth up to a million dollars so they’re legally allowed to drive taxi and hope that over the year they make enough money to pay off that medallion price. In the end, a lot don’t.

Tragic right? That you could work hard all year and in the end lose money?

That’s us!

Except, logos are easy. And free to make.

“Oh, no! There’s a lot of very careful deliberation, you don’t understand!”

Dude. Dudette. You sit in a soft chair and wiggle a little plastic block around for a few hours. Your grandpa came here in the cargo hold of a fishing boat across the freaking ocean just so he could work from before sun up to after sun down plowing the earth and growing life out of it, spending months on a crop that could die at any moment from a dozen freak problems just so they could eat that food through the winter which was spent huddling around a manure fire because their house was drafty and made of wood and sod.

Logo design is easy.

All design is easy. I did some engineering for the Algerian military Land Rovers in a different language and it was easy. We sit in ergonomic chairs in climate controlled rooms and listen to our favourite music all day. Shut up about your poor posture aching back and the hardship of your local not having the exact $11 pint of craft beer you like. Go back and watch that Draplin video again, how many shovels did he pick up during the whole thing? I shook his hand and it was smooth.

So are mine.

So are yours.


True fact, some of the best gigs I’ve ever gotten were spec. You know why I got them? Because no one else even bothered. Maybe they were too lazy, maybe they were all hopped up drinking the #saynotospec punch while hanging out on the wall waiting for some angel perfect client to swoop over.

Meanwhile, I was on the dancefloor.

Here’s how it actually goes down:

Find the job and make a proposal. You should always always be doing the first one, so that’s zero additional time. The proposal is where we invest (ie: do free work) in the hopes of getting attention. What’s the longest it takes to do the most rough draft of anything? Like, maximum five hours? So now you’re 5 hours in the hole. Probably more like 2. Call it a thousand bucks of value, maybe more, but remember, you’re at home on the couch with Netflix binge watching Arrested Development again in the background. You can call it sunk time, but it’s a pretty comfortable time to sink.

You’ve in no way lost that money. You’re not giving them anything to blow up.

The most real money you’ll sink into a proposal is the price of a beer or two.

Submit it to your guy. You don’t care. Never think about it from there on after.

In a few weeks they’ll be like “wow, you’re the only one who submitted any interest, the job is yours!” and you’ll be like “thanks, what I sent you is worth $2500 and the real work from here on out is <hourly rate>. We’re looking at a budget of <whatever>.”

“Great.” “Great.”

Shake hands, go eat a freaking steak or something together. You’re in business, they’re buying.

Meanwhile, all the folks who said “no, I read on a blog that spec work is bad and devalues our industry” are a) not eating a free freaking steak and b) not valuing the industry any higher by not working. You know what values the industry? Me. The guy making up quotes and doing the work.

You know who values the industry? Fiverr. Because they’re working and you’re not. That’s not about spec work, spec work is just a format for connecting dancers from each side of the room. Fiverr is people on the dancefloor. Why aren’t you dancing?

If you want to be legitimate. If you want to work and have people pay you a lot of money. If you want to bring up the industry as a whole you just need to work for the price you think is fair. But you gotta actually work and you gotta actually be fair. No one said you could get rich with a pirated copy of Illustrator. Some people actually work hard for money. You want a cushy job AND things to just fall in your lap without some up front hustle?

Doing spec is just an investment. It’s up to you to invest in the right things and the right places. It’s up to you to pick the right clients or run when your gut is churning to tell you they’re sleazy. It’s not spec’s fault if you choose poorly.

You are responsible for your work. That’s business.

Say yes to projects.

Say yes to doing.