It's happened to all of us. We are reading through a juicy new RFP or moving through the delicate dance of trying to land a new client, and then the bomb is dropped. They ask for spec work.

The Request for Spec

It's happened to all of us, especially if we are in the business of selling design services. We are reading through a juicy new RFP or moving through the delicate dance of trying to land a new client, and then the bomb is dropped.

They ask for spec work. It's like a long uncomfortable silence on the phone. It's like a record needle being yanked hard off the record. It's like being kicked in the gut.

After I resist the urge to vomit and scream like something out of an exorcism movie, I do some deep breathing exercises and I try to compose myself.

The Critical Questions

Now I have some decisions to make:

  1. Do I even want to continue the dialogue with a team that is clearly working with a different set of rules than I work with?
  2. If I am still interested, why do I think the relationship can still be salvaged?
  3. How can I stand my ground, educate them to why this request was a bad idea, and leave them feeling OK that we declined the request?

Assuming I'm still willing to speak with the prospective client contact, I will usually compose an email to explain to the "offender" why this request is completely inappropriate and ignorant - in a nice way of course.

It's never an easy email to write, and I often find myself struggling to explain the complex reasons why spec work is bad for many more reasons than simply "You're asking us for free work you A$&HOLE".

In the spirit of sharing, I give you my most recent correspondence with a prospective client who will remain unnamed.

The Real Deal

The email I received from the prospective client (from someone I had previously never heard from before), after we'd already been out to pitch in person and spent almost a full day in long meetings with various constituencies.

A few juicy notes:

  1. They spelled my name wrong (a pet peeve of mine)
  2. They were giving us about 5 business days to provide the spec
  3. They assume we've already been conducting research on them from afar, for free - how sweet
  4. Notice how they so nicely say they don't expect operable links - well gee then OK it's not that big a deal

Insert image of me pulling my hair and completely freaking out here. Then insert image of someone doing yoga and trying to meditate.

My Response:

The Take Away

In conclusion to my story, we didn't get the job. I'm actually counting my blessings, as I suspect I was chasing cars with this one and likely would have been roadkill if I'd caught it. Sometimes you just have a bad feeling about a prospect and I had one with them from the get-go. I should have listened more carefully.

However one golden nugget emerged from this pile of crap, and it was this email. I happily give it to you for contemplation, replication, conversation, alteration, copy and paste, or just a good laugh.

Cheers.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published February 21st 2013