If you followed any of the coverage of the US elections this fall, you probably heard the pundits talk about two things: how much the candidates are spending and who has a better “ground game”. This is interesting because the same exact tools that win elections can help you win as a business. It’s pretty well acknowledged that a big part of Obama’s success was his ground game, and I’m a big believer in developing a ground game for your business too. You can win by spending money — many elections have been won that way — but it’s not the only option.
Here are three ways I’ve used our ground game to boost sales this year, even though we didn’t spend much money on traditional advertising:
1. Shaking hands and kissing babies
When people feel a personal connection to a brand or a political candidate, they’re more inclined to throw their support that way. This is why political candidates get out there in front of voters and it’s why I spent most of my year getting out in front of my customers. By the end of 2012, we’ll have appeared at 16 pop-up retail events all over the US. We traveled north to Boston, west to Chicago (twice). We did events in Philadelphia (THREE times), DC (2x), NYC (3x), Pittsburgh, and Baltimore (3x). In March we’ll head south to Orlando. We travel to large events with tens or even hundreds of thousands of consumers, and our primary motivation is to get them to meet us and love us — even if they don’t buy anything right away.
We know just showing our line to people and chatting with them will help spread our brand awareness. They might not buy from us today, but there’s a good chance they will remember us and buy from us some other time.
You can employ this strategy, too. Think about festivals, craft shows and outdoor markets, but also think about trunk shows and home parties. Choose activities that appeal to your target customers and enable you to talk to them one-on-one.
2. Making It Stick
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: give people a reason to remember your brand. Political campaigns are usually happy to give you t-shirts, bumper stickers, pens, all sorts of stuff with the candidate’s name on it. They want you to remember their candidate so when it’s time to vote, you’ll remember to vote for them.
We employ the same strategy. We are always giving away loads of fun free stuff. We give it out at shows, we give it out with our orders. We give out cute vinyl stickers with our characters on them, 1″ pins, funny comic strips. We don’t give out stuff that looks like marketing material; we don’t just give out a business card, we give out something our customers would actually want so they’ll keep it and remember us.
Just yesterday a customer told us he ordered from us because a friend of a friend who lives across the country came to visit, and had one of our vinyl stickers on something. That’s how he found us.
3. Staying on Message
If you have a message that resonates with your audience, you’re more likely to attract their support, whether you’re running for office or promoting your brand. What does your brand do? Does it make life easier, does it make your customers more attractive, does it help your customer be a better parent? My own products are conversation starters — we design items you could wear out to a bar and it’s likely that someone will strike up a conversation with you based on what you’re wearing. We’re not just selling clothing, we’re selling human connections.
When you’re presenting your product on the ground, think about how you can present more than just the product: how can you present the benefits of owning your product? Think about employing signage, videos, live demos or brochures depending on the item you sell.
Have you used ground game this year to boost sales? Tell us about it in the comments below.
If you sell a product to wholesale customers, you’ll routinely be expected to offer net 30 terms. (This means your customer doesn’t pay for the goods until 30 days after you’ve sent them out.) This can be a real strain for a small business, since at any given time you may be owed tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that you can’t collect for weeks. Meanwhile, you might need to pay rent, production expenses, employees, etc. How can you survive with net 30?
1. Get terms from vendors
If you have good credit and a working relationship with suppliers and vendors see if you can get net 30 terms from them. (For example, if you buy blank t-shirts from the same supplier all the time, see if they offer net 30 terms.) This buys you some time to collect on the cash owed to you. While you might still have to pay the suppliers before you collect on the invoices owed to you, the gap in time will be smaller.
2. Sell your invoices or get PO financing
There are companies that specialize in fixing this problem for businesses. They will loan you money to finance the production of an order (Purchase Order financing) or buy your net 30 invoices from you. Imagine you did a trade show and Bloomingdales wants to buy $100,000 worth of product. Let’s say producing the order will cost you $60,000. If you don’t have the $60,000 you need you can turn to PO financing. They will lend you the $60,000 and when you get paid by Bloomingdales you pay back that lender. This of course means you’re paying interest on that loan, so instead of netting $40,0000 you might net 35k or 37k (depending on the terms and interest rate). You’ll want to keep in mind that in order to get PO financing you’ll need good credit.
Another thing you can do is sell your invoices. There are companies that will buy a net 30 invoice, pay you up front and collect on the invoice when it’s due. Again, you are giving up a portion of the value of that invoice to do this, but it’s a way to get cash right away if you’re strapped.
3. Early payment incentives
You might be able to get your customers to pay their invoice before the invoice is due if you give them an incentive. You can offer a deal like 3% off for paying within 7 days, 2% off for paying within 14 days and 1% off for paying within 21 days. Not all customers will go for this, but some will and it gets you paid faster. Again you are giving up some income to get paid faster, but sometimes this is cheaper or more viable than the alternatives.
4. Personal credit
If you’re totally strapped and you can’t get paid fast enough falling back on personal credit is also an option. Check your credit cards to see if any have a low or 0% APR balance transfer option. This would allow you to pay for the production of an order with credit card A, balance transfer to credit card B and then pay off credit card B when the invoice is paid. (Still a better deal than paying 18% by just leaving the balance on card A.) Make sure you read all the fine print before attempting something like this so you aren’t hit with unexpected expenses.
You might also be able to draw cash from a home equity line of credit if you qualify. Interest rates for that cash are typically low and any interest you pay is tax deductible in the US.
I recently said that I don’t relate to a lot of people who read my blog anymore because of how my own business has matured. In response, one of my readers encapsulated a sentiment that perfectly jives with what’s been bugging me about writing for those who haven’t yet made the jump from hobbyist to professionals:
“I have been rethinking this very issue of late and though I don’t have a business background, I believe the problem is what’s called a business model. We “mom/solo” enterprises were sold a bill of goods that if we worked 60 hours a week, wrote a blog, had a Facebook page and tweeted, etc. if we did what we loved and were passionate about, THEN the money would follow. It doesn’t. It’s not a business model that works. It’s a pipe dream that comes true for very, very few. It’s just the way capitalism and the free market works”
In short, YES! Who’s selling this fantasy and why?
1. Failed entrepreneurs
There’s an entire cottage industry out there of self-appointed business coaches who never succeeded at their own business but want to give you advice on your business. They tell you exactly what you want to hear; that if you just work hard enough and blog and Facebook, you too can get rich. This is usually said in flowery language and accompanies pitches to buy ebooks and ecourses and attend seminars on touchy-feely subjects like story telling or showing the real you to customers. The language is always carefully crafted so that it appeals to creatives who have no interest in dull stuff like sales and accounting and SEO. It doesn’t delve into the nitty-gritty of cash flow and supply chains and vendor relations — that stuff is dry and complex and doesn’t usually appeal to creative types, even though it’s the stuff you most need to know in order to succeed.
2. Marketplace websites that target wantrepreneurs
I see some culpability on the part of sites like Etsy as well. Whether intentional or not, they are in the business of selling the fantasy that anyone can start a “business” with just a little creativity. You don’t need a big fancy website or technical know-how or anything — just pay a few cents per listing and you’ll be in “business”. Anyone with an internet connection and a dream can do it!
People fall for these promises because they’re appealing. Who doesn’t want to make a living hanging out in their PJs all day and crafting? The myth is fed by smiling photos of Brooklynites in hip studios in Park Slope who’ve quit their day jobs and struck it rich. “You can do it too!”, is the promise. These stories never delve into what’s really going on there. How many hours does the person work? How much capital did they invest? How much revenue is their business netting after expenses? What specifically do they do all day? Who have they had to hire to help them grow?
When I talk to people who are really in business they all have their horror stories of subsisting on mayonnaise sandwiches, trying to decide if they make payroll or pay the mortgage on their house, investing their whole retirement savings. One of my entrepreneur friends lost his house this year to foreclosure in order to save his business. Perception-wise, I am sure all his customers see is a success, a guy who’s been all over TV and in magazines and is really making it. The sacrifices to get there are never really talked about. It’s the story you aren’t being told most of the time. It’s not a fun, glamorous job; it’s a difficult and exhausting job, and if there was more truth out there about what the job really is there would be fewer people applying for it.
So what’s the reality?
The reality is that creating and running a successful business is hard, expensive and time consuming. I’m telling you this as a business owner shifting thousands of units of product every month to retail and wholesale customers. My business partner and I regularly work 12 hour days on our business and I personally invested tens of thousands of dollars of my own money before we became profitable. (This is actually fairly modest start up capital, by the way.)
We don’t spend our days crafting. We spend our days managing people, making sales calls, managing the company’s finances, coordinating with vendors, and generally solving problems that make us want to tear our hair out. We spend less than 5% off our time doing creative work.
When people find out what I do for a living they often say “that sounds like so much fun, how can I do that?” My first question is usually “well do you consider yourself a creative person? I mean, do you like creating, drawing, crafting, etc.?” If the answer is yes I usually say “then you do not want to do what I do for a living.” The truth is, in addition to the need for time and money, you need a willingness to spend your time doing things you don’t especially like doing. No one likes dealing with the vendor who is ripping them off. No one likes calling that buyer every week and trying to sound upbeat and not annoying while you try to get a purchase order out of her. No one likes staying up til 3am proofing an order that was delivered from a supplier late and needs to go out tomorrow.
But, Meredith, I don’t have $50,000 laying around and I can’t work 80 hours a week! I have kids and a day job! Making sales calls gives me panic attacks!
I totally get it, but given those facts you’re probably not going to be able to develop a mature and highly profitable business. You might be able to pull in some extra spending money, but you’re probably not going to quit that day job or build a seven figure enterprise.
So if you’ve found yourself stuck and frustrated and don’t understand why you’re not making a zillion bucks on your craft, take stock of what’s really going on. Are you sufficiently capitalized? Are you putting in the requisite hours? Are you taking on the unappealing but necessary tasks? If the answer is no and you aren’t going to change any of that, accept that what you’re doing is for fun or to make some spending money. It’s perfectly okay to do that and it’s a lot less frustrating than spinning your wheels and feeling like you’re “failing” at something you aren’t even really doing to begin with.
If you’re thinking of doing a trade show for the first time and the price tag for the booth has you nervous, you’re not ready to do a trade show. Trade show costs are about more than just the exhibit space, in my experience that is usually only a small portion of the total investment. Here are some additional costs you must prepare for:
1. The Booth
While the fee to the show promoters might be a few thousand dollars, actually getting the booth ready can easily cost you as much or more. You’ll need to pay for booth decor, product samples (you typically show one of everything in your wholesale catalog at the trade show), marketing collateral and product catalogs. If you cheap out on these costs it’s a recipe for a bad trade show.
The main audience at a trade show is professional buyers for stores. The last thing a buyer wants to do is write an order and not get the merchandise. If you appear underfunded (meaning your booth and marketing materials look bargain basement) the buyer is going to suspect you don’t have the money to actually produce their order and that will send them in the opposite direction.
2. Travel Expenses
Unless the trade show is in your town you will need to budget for travel. This can include costs such as air fare, hotels, rental cars, fuel, and meals. If your trade show is in an expensive city like New York on San Francisco expect to shell out a pretty substantial amount of cash for these expenses, even if you plan to eat at cheap restaurants and stay in a no-frills motel.
3. Purchase Orders
The main objective of doing a trade show is to get purchase orders. You want stores to place wholesale orders because that’s how you are going to make your money back and earn a profit. So why would I consider this an expense?
Unless you are selling to small boutiques, your wholesale customers are going to want to buy in large quantities and pay you on net 30 terms (meaning you get paid 30 days after you ship). Are you prepared to produce an order for 10,000 units for Neiman Marcus or Macys and not get paid for that inventory until 30 days AFTER you ship it?
While you can get purchase order financing (a loan to cover production costs, based on having a purchase order), you’ll pay interest on that money so you have to be sure that you’ve either got the money to bank roll the production of inventory or margins that allow for you to finance those expenses.
To an entrepreneur time is money and to see any ROI from a trade show, you have to invest some time. The show itself can easily eat up a week. It’s also important to note that a lot of buyers do not place orders at the trade show, so if you want them to buy you’ll need to invest the time to follow up with people who expressed interest in your line. This process can take months.
I’ve personally seen buyers we met at trade shows take 6 months of follow up to write an order. If you can’t dedicate the time to routinely follow up with trade show contacts until they write orders, you will definitely miss out on some business.
One of my readers commented about “that horrible catch-22 where my husband can’t cut his ‘real job’ hours until the business is making more, but the business can’t make more until he cuts his ‘real job’ hours”. This is a pretty common situation and it’s where I was when I decided to focus on my own business full time. Here are three things I think you must do to make the transition work.
1. Have cash reserves
There’s no way around this, you are going to have to assume some risk. If you don’t want to do that or can’t do that you are not going to be able to quit that day job. Don’t expect investors or strangers on Kickstarter to give you that money when you are taking no risk yourself and not putting up your own money. Things might get bumpy here and there once you go to work for yourself full time and you need to be sure you can pay your bills if that happens. Consider options like a home equity line of credit (interest rates are lower than a credit card and the interest is tax deductible in the US), retirement savings, or personal savings. I suggest having access to about 6 months worth of income at a minimum. It’s possible to get outside investors or a business loan but with no collateral or capital of your own on the line that can be pretty difficult.
Make a list of your monthly expenses. How much do you absolutely HAVE to make to survive? What could you cut back on if you had to? Be sure to account for costs like health insurance (if applicable) and taxes. Once you have this information figure out how you’ll fund 6 months of those expenses with zero income if you had to. If you can’t get access to that much cash now focus on a plan to save it up.
2. Have a specific plan to replace your old income
I can’t stress the word specific enough. How exactly are you going to earn the money and how are you going to somewhat accurately make those projections? Don’t say “sell stuff”. What exactly are the sales goals you need to make? When I decide to work 100% on Ex-Boyfriend we made a list of every upcoming pop up retail event we were definitely doing and what we expected sales to be (having done many of those events in previous years). We made a list of every wholesale lead and account we had and what we expected those to generate for us income-wise based on order history and current talks with those customers. We looked at our online sales from previous years and where the sales came from (ads, SEO, media placements, etc.) and made projections about where we expected online sales to be this year based on past performance. We had lots of specifics on costs and sales history that allowed us to forecast expected income.
We set goals that were reach, expected and bare minimum so we knew what we wanted to do, expected to do and absolutely had to do sales-wise to replace income that was being given up from another source. Every step along the way we were comparing our projections with the reality. Sometimes we made the reach goal, sometimes we made the bare minimum. Rarely (though it happened) we didn’t make the bare minimum of expected money from an income source. On average though we made our reach and expected numbers, which is what needed to happen.
If you find yourself struggling with the specifics of how exactly you’ll earn the requisite income, you aren’t ready to quit your day job.
3. Have a cut off number/date
Have a back up plan for what you will do if you aren’t meeting the expectations set up in step 2. How low can you allow the cash reserves to get before you have to get a new job? At what date must you be profitable by to continue with your plan?
If you aren’t making your sales goals you will have to find work again, you want to make sure you don’t allow your cash reserves to dwindle so far down that you’re desperate and destitute. It’s important to always compare your goals and projections with reality to make sure you’re staying on track.
Most business websites will talk at you endlessly about online marketing. How to do advertising, how to do SEO, how to optimize for mobile, etc. Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: These are all worthwhile things. You absolutely can see tremendous benefits from all of these tools and it’s good to know about these things and understand how to use them and why you might want to invest in them.
Now all of that said, in the last 6 months I’ve paid a lot less attention to online marketing. I haven’t spent a ton of time on our SEO, I haven’t been running a ton of ads, I haven’t been desperate for more Twitter followers. Despite this digital neglect our company has grown tremendously this year (even though we focused on those things more in previous years).
What the heck? How are you growing if you’re not blowing up the internets with your marketing?!
When 2012 started my partner and I talked about what we wanted for our business and none of the things we said had anything to do with the internet. We said “I want to be on TV/movies, I want to do events and I want to be in the fucking mall”. (We say “fuck” a lot around here.)
Just about all businesses have limits to their resources. The bigger you are the higher the limits are, but we pretty much all have them. We didn’t feel like we had the resources to do everything under the sun to grow the business so we settled on picking 3 things that we were going to hammer away at this year and really focus on them. That meant backing off some of the resources we’d sunk into online marketing in previous years.
Why did you pick those 3 things?
We really have one primary driver in our business, we want to be famous. We want everyone to know and love our brand. We want to be everywhere and have an army of loyal fans. So we had to pick priorities that served that goal. We didn’t just want sales, we wanted converts.
Wholesale was definitely our top priority this year. We picked it because we know when people see our products they fall in love. Our reasoning was the more stores carrying our line, the more people will see the products and fall in love and the more products we’ll sell. We felt like there was no substitute for being able to see our products up close and touch them and try them on.
Events were priority two, but the thinking was the same. If we just show up at festivals and comic cons and other pop up retail events and set up shop people are going to buy the heck out of our products.
Both pop up retail events and being in stores offers immediacy with the product that selling online doesn’t offer.
The media placements were our third priority, and we chose that as a priority because we wanted to create a sense of legitimacy around our brand that would appeal to wholesale buyers and consumers. We wanted to make people understand that we’re a real brand. We’re in the media, we’re on your favorite TV show, we’re in stores! We are not fly by night hobbyists working out of our mom’s basement.
What happened to your online sales and overall revenue?
While overall revenue increased quite a bit this year, online sales didn’t grow a ton. We definitely made more money via pop up events and wholesale. We still made money with online sales but it wasn’t our primary source of income like it had been in previous years.
Should I ditch online marketing too?
I wouldn’t say you should scrap online marketing altogether, we certainly didn’t. I will say you should pick three things for 2013 that are priorities for you and think carefully about what those things should be. Maybe online really is a goldmine for you and you should boost your efforts with online marketing. Certainly don’t choose to stop focusing on digital marketing simply because you don’t like it. What you focus on should be dictated by what drives revenue and growth for your business.
Pick your top goals for 2013 and let that dictate how you’ll spend your resources.
If you visit Smaller Box regularly you may have noticed the posts haven’t been as frequent and I haven’t sent out newsletters lately. Why is this?
1. I’ve been super busy with my own business
For the longest time I had been balancing my work on my clothing and accessory label with tech work. I did it because I was making tons of money doing tech work but it was also keeping me from making as much money as I knew I could be making with Ex-Boyfriend. I finally gave up tech work entirely and have been 100% focused on Ex-Boyfriend, working 60-80 hours per week along-side by business partner and husband Matt Snow.
We’ve had laser-like focus on the wholesale side of our business and started partnerships with some pretty major retailers. Our eat-sleep-breathe obsession is getting our products in just about every US mall in the in the next 12 months. This hasn’t left me much time to do anything else, which brings me to my next point…
2. I’m not sure how to write for Smaller Box these days
Most of my readers are in a different place with their entrepreneurial endeavors. A lot of my readers are running one woman shows and have no desire to be huge or build a multi-million dollar brand. I’m not disparaging that choice, but it’s not where we are with our business.
In the time since I started blogging here the questions and business situations I hear about haven’t changed and I can’t give the same answers I gave a few years ago knowing what I know now. I used to encourage everyone to make their situation work and I can’t keep doing that.
Creating a successful business requires a much steeper time and financial investment than most people are prepared to make, and that’s the real reason many businesses don’t grow or fail entirely. I can’t cheerlead the cause of starting a business with only a few hundred bucks in your spare time because it’s not something I believe in. I think it’s a road to heartache and frustration and I can’t encourage it. Yes, you do hear success stories about people who made those start up conditions work, but it’s not the norm, it’s not something you should count on.
I am hoping to still get posts in when I have the time, but at this point I really only feel like I can cover topics that are relevant to where I am with my business currently and it may be topics that aren’t relateable to hobbyists. Hopefully it will still be material that will interest some of you and maybe bring in new readers who are in the same stage with their careers that I’m in now.
If you’re a new to running a business the marketing and sales opportunities can be overwhelming. Which ones are good; which ones are a dead end? Here are 3 popular opportunities you will want to consider with caution:
1. Flash Sale Sites Why it sounds appealing:
Flash sale sites come in so many flavors these days: you’ve got sites like Fab, Gilt Group, Groupon, Living Social, etc. They’ll often come with compelling promises of promoting your brand to millions of consumers and selling a ton of product for you.
What might be wrong with the deal:
These sites are often looking for a below wholesale price from you on your products and they aren’t looking to agree to a minimum purchase. Meanwhile, they’ll want you to set aside inventory you could be selling at full price just for them, and at the end of the sale they will expect you to turn around and ship your goods out within a day or two and it could be anywhere between a few pieces or thousands — either result can be problematic.
What if they only sell a few units? Are you willing to set aside hundreds of units of product you could be selling at full price on the chance the flash sale will call for them? Are you willing to then part with only a few pieces for below wholesale if the sell-through isn’t great?
What if they sell thousands of units? Is it realistic for you to ship out that volume of inventory with a short turn around? What if they are paying on net 30 terms (which means they pay 30 days after you ship)? Can you afford to produce all that inventory you won’t see money on for over a month?
Why you might do it anyway:
Flash sale sites really vary with their models these days. Some do purchase inventory up front, like a regular wholesale customer. Some give you a longer turn around time to deliver goods. While there are plenty of flash sale sites with unfavorable terms, some flash sale site operators are getting wise to the fact that bad terms means it’s harder to get brands to participate and are offering more flexible terms to woo brands.
If you’re in a position to work with the flash sale site terms and can make it a break even or profitable proposition, the exposure can be a huge boon to a brand owner.
In a tough economy retailers are looking for ways to cut costs. One way they might do this is by accepting your products on consignment. This means they take your products and you only get paid if the products sell. If the products do not sell you can take them back or leave them on consignment until they are sold (depending on the store). If your products sell you will get, on average, about 50% of the retail price. So if your item sells for $20.00 you get $10 and the store owner gets $10.00.
Why it sounds appealing:
If you are having a hard time getting your foot in the door consignment can be a great way to prove yourself to a retailer. It gets your products in the retail space where customers can see them and allows you to beef up your list of stockists.
What might be wrong with the deal:
I’m not a big fan of consignment; here’s how I see it — I’m parting with a product I can sell myself at full price and trusting a retailer will drive foot traffic, merchandise my goods to sell and then actually follow through on paying me. If all goes well, I’m only getting half what I’d get retailing the product myself. All the risk is assumed by me and the reward isn’t substantial enough. Plus, it’s an administrative headache for me to keep track of which stores have which products, how long they’ve had them, whether they’ve sold or not, etc. For a product like mine, with a relatively low price point (my products all retail for less than $50.00) this nickel and dime game isn’t really worth the hassle.
Why you might do it anyway:
There are really only two good reasons to consign your products:
1. You have a product with a high price point and significant margin, for example an expensive bag or art or piece of jewelry AND you found a retail partner who wants consignment terms but also has a storefront with a significant amount of foot traffic and moves a lot of product. If you have that situation consignment might be worthwhile since your retail partner only has to sell a few pieces for you to make money at it.
2. You have a retail partner you want to work with who is on the fence about working with you. You feel your product would sell for them, but they aren’t convinced. You can offer to consign some inventory with them on a trial basis to demonstrate its sellability — but this is really only worth doing if you expect the retailer will convert to wholesale terms once you’ve proven your product will sell for them.
3. Product Reviews
These days you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has a blog, and product reviews are a popular way bloggers like to get “paid” for their work. They’ll ask you for a free sample of your product in exchange for writing a review about it.
Why it sounds appealing:
When you’re desperate for publicity any write up can sound attractive. You might also be wooed by the idea of link building if you’re trying to improve your SEO. Bloggers looking for products to review might try to dazzle you with stats on their blog traffic or the size of their mailing list to entice you, making it sound like a pretty sweet deal. Just send them a freebie and get this awesome plug on a blog.
What might be wrong with the deal:
Most successful/high traffic blogs aren’t spending their time soliciting freebies. They already get plenty of offers and are making their money from advertising, affiliate programs or selling their own products. If a blogger is asking you for free stuff, it’s not really “free” for you. You still have to pay for the product and shipping. If you keep sending out product every time you get a request those costs can add up.
You also have to consider whether the blogger actually has substantial traffic and whether the traffic is targeted enough. We constantly get requests for free product from mommy bloggers with only a few hundred readers who focus on blogging about topics like coupons and living on a shoestring. With our youth apparel at a $25 price point, we know we’re not selling a product that appeals to shoestring budgets. These offers aren’t a good match for us demographically speaking, and even if they were, the readership isn’t significant enough to make it worth handing out free products.
Why you might do it anyway:
If your product’s sample costs are low and the sample requests are coming from media outlets that cater to your target audience you might want to consider ponying up the goods. If you sell a product like food or skincare goods, you can probably package samples in a way that makes them cheap enough to produce and ship to reviewers.
While I wouldn’t recommend giving away freebies to everyone who asks, a review on a site with decent traffic that attracts your target market can be quite worthwhile.
I wanted to bring up a topic I hear a lot about on some design forums, but that gets little discussion from makers, and that’s spec work. Spec work means doing work on the speculation that you’ll get paid. I’m against you doing it and I’m against you asking other people to do it.
First of all, spec work comes in all sorts of forms. Sometimes it’s someone outright asking you for it. You’ll hear a story like “I’m starting a new business and if you do my website for free I’ll give you 1% of the first months sales” or “I want a new logo so I’m having a contest, best logo design wins a free prize”. Design contests are pretty much all spec work. You’re going to do design work and they’re only going to pay you if they decide they like the finished product.
Imagine if the entire economy worked this way. What if I decided I was only going to pay my dentist if I felt my teeth looked sufficiently white after a cleaning? Imagine if I told my divorce attorney “I’m only paying you if you get me 75% of the assets.” Other professionals don’t work under these conditions and designers/artists shouldn’t either.
Here are two of the most compelling reasons to avoid doing and asking for spec work:
1. It devalues design
If you’re one of those people who’s always pissed when someone criticizes your pricing or complains about how artists are underpaid, you should be the last one to do spec work or hire on spec. There’s a very good chance of the artist/designer doing work and getting paid nothing, which is about the worst deal you can get as an artist/designer. Even if you are looking at entering a design contest for a well known brand because you want the bragging rights or exposure, please know that neither of those things pays your bills.
Anyone seeking spec work is showing no respect for the artists’ work or time and thinks that you should work for free. Don’t encourage this mentality by actually doing it. It only perpetuates the belief that design/art is ubiquitous and no one need pay for it.
2. Good designers/artists don’t do spec work
While there are exceptions to this rule, generally speaking good designers and artists won’t do spec work. They usually value their own time enough to not get involved in that kind of work and they have enough paying customers to actually keep their schedule full of work that is paying them.
What this means for you is that if you are trying to get work done on spec (for example holding a logo design contest) you’re not going to get the most talented people submitting work. People willing to take on spec work might be too inexperienced to know better or not really be skilled/talented enough to get enough paying customers to occupy their time. Even if you have a good designer doing spec work, you’re not going to get their best work since you’re not really working with them. The best contracted design (whether it’s a logo or t-shirt design or new website) comes from a client working directly with an artist or designer and going through feedback and rounds of revisions.
If you need design work done check out portfolios on sites like Coroflot or Behance. Look for a portfolio that represents the kind of work you want done on your project and then contact that artist or designer about doing the work for you. If you can’t afford their rate wait until you can or keep looking for someone whose rate you can afford. Accept that this is a cost of doing business and be willing to pay for design work that you need done so you can get a product that serves your business the best.