By: Alex Hornbake
Your butcher wouldn't let you take a roast home, cook it, eat it, and then only pay if you enjoyed the meal. So, why would you ever consider doing the same with your own time and resources?
Working speculatively has become unfortunately too common in today's economy . The advent of "design contests", and other euphemisms for working without a secured payment, are only making matters worse. If you're a freelancer, it's important to value your time appropriately, and if your a consumer of freelancer's services, it's important to understand that only amateurs work for free, and you get what you pay for.
Let me quickly clarify that I don't consider RFP's (requests for proposals) as spec work, unless they make requests for spec work, and that although they do take time to respond to, they are part of a dialogue between you and your clients. Also, the term amateur doesn't as a rule exclude talented people, but does generally exclude the kind of experience needed to guarantee success in a project. Additionally, I'm going to assume that if you have no portfolio, are a student, or have no track record in a particular field - be it design, programming, writing, etc - then working on spec, or on passion projects that are unpaid, is not "stupid", it's a normal part of building your reputation as a pro who can command top rates in the future.
The Buyer: Back to the Drawing Board
If you are currently or are considering being the consumer of spec work, then you're an amateur too. It doesn't mean that you won't be successful in your project or search for a solution on spec, it likely means that (a) you don't know what you want, (b) you aren't sure if you know how to get it, or (c) you can't recognize what skills are needed to get the job done. Your project may lack direction and vision, and it's time to go back to the drawing board and get a better grip on the situation.
The Provider: How to Say "No"
Not sure how you feel? The spec debate has been roaring for some time, particularly in the world of design. Below are some links to some other opinions that you may find interesting. Share your own opinions in the comments:
"Is Spec Work Evil? The Online Creative Community Speaks" - a podcast of a SXSW panel of the same name.
"Spec Work Analysis: Here To Stay –But Not For Everyone" - Jeremiah Owyang-a panelist in the above discussion-offers a levelheaded analysis of the spec marketplace.
"The fine line between laziness and crowdsourcing" - Jefferey Kalmikoff's notes the differences between spec work and community-based crowdsourcing.
No-Spec.com - an entire site dedicated to not working on spec.
"The Rise of Crowdsourcing" - The wired article by Jeff Howe that coined the phrase "crowdsourcing"-also his blog is worth a visit.