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The Geek's Guide to Internet Business Success by Bob Schmidt- Book
By Bob Schmidt


A Few Words About Working on Spec...

By Bob Schmidt


In the ad agency business there is a famous story about an agency guy meeting with a new business prospect. The prospect comes to the agency to get the new business pitch. The agency guy shows him a number of campaigns the agency did for other clients. The prospect was impressed by the work and couldn't wait to see what the agency had in mind for his account. Then the agency guy said, "Let's go to lunch." The prospect says, "I thought you were going to give me your agency presentation for our account before we went to lunch." The agency guy says, "I just did."

Nevertheless, there will be times when it seems appropriate to do spec work. This is always a judgement call and no one can second guess your decision. However, there is always the potential, or apparent potential for getting ripped off. When I was a freelancer, my motto quickly became, I would rather starve to death than work for free. This should become your motto, if you want to stay in business. Do not give away your services unless you do so for reasons that will benefit you.

Leaving aside the fail safe of not doing any spec work, we end up in a situation where we can easily sympathize with the music and movie industry concern over digital recording media. The minute you put a spec site on disk and hand it over to a client or give them the URL, you know exactly how the record people feel about pirating.

In the past, spec work meant showing handmade comps for an ad or brochure, not the final art. So, while the client could theoretically steal the idea, by itself the idea was not the total solution to their problem, it still had to be implemented. Besides, we all know the typical client doesn't have the foggiest notion of what to do with our ideas anyway. And, even if they stole it, we know that we have ten more good ideas where that one came from and a hundred more we didn't even have time to think of. That is the creative person's revenge and secret weapon.

Showing a completed web site is a different ball game. It's easy to duplicate and easy to steal. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

5 Ways to Handle Spec Work

1. Do not show your site on live media. Use a dead piece of paper that the client can see but not use. Use it as a talking piece and a sales tool, not to do the selling for you. Tell him what happens when you click on the buttons. Tell him what will be on the other pages. Talk the talk, but don't walk the walk until you get the money.

2. Treat your web site like a comp-- make it a shell of the real thing. Stay in creative control. Gray out the photos, greek in all but headlines, code only partial pages, partial tables, etc. You should only have to give them a taste. That's all you want to do anyway. You have to leave them wanting more so they'll sign on. Do not spend more than 10% of the total project time doing the comp. Anything more will be unprofitable.

3. Take your cue from the agency story and only show the work of other clients as examples of what you are capable of. "We'll use the same creative problem solving approach to create a unique site specially designed to meet your needs." Sell your success stories. What was the problem the client had, how did you solve it?

4. Make the spec site conditional upon their signing an agreement to compensate you if they use the material in any way. The agreement should state a liquidated damages amount that they will pay you. Many ad agencies do this. A lawyer should be able to take your rough draft and make it legal for $150-$200 or less.

5. In the event of the very worst case scenario, what do you do? Add the site they ripped off from you to your portfolio of links. What the heck, you created it didn't you?


Bob Schmidt, author of The Geek's Guide to Internet Business Success

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