Confessions of a solopreneur – Yeah, I’ve done spec work. Still do sometimes.
The first commandment of solopreneur-dom: Thou shalt not give away work for free. That makes complete sense, right? And ‘spec work’ is just fancy speak for free. So don’t do it ever.
It’s never quite simple as that. While I am not advocating giving away work like a hooker on crack (or something less offensive), I am saying you’ve gots to have game, yo. Long game. Being good means spotting the opportunities early, and taking them.
When I first went solo, I was given this rule and pretty much told by most fellow solos that I talked to that it was the devil. ‘Stay away from it,’ they said. ‘Never go down that rabbit hole.’ And so when the first instance came about, I was very, very hesitant. Finally, my inability to say no to things kicked in and I agreed. Long story short the result has been perfect for me.
In an ideal world, there’d be a project, someone would contact you for it, you’d give them a price, they’d accept, you’d sign a contract and get 50% up front, you’d get the job done, it would go through with no back and forth, and you’d get paid in full the second your invoice hits the client’s inbox.
Even as you read that paragraph long sentence you see that’s life in ridiculous la-la land, don’t you?
Sometimes you need to throw out a little fish to reel in the big one. And don’t let anyone tell you different. To continue with that cheesy fishing metaphor, if your current bait, is getting you your little fish, and you put out more of it to catch more high maintenance little fish, there’s not a whole lot of point is there? As some point, to make things sustainable, you’re going to need the big fish.
The thing is, though, you need to decide where your line is and what makes it valuable for you. Just without the burden of feeling like you’re going against the grain of normal if you decide to do it. ‘Everyone does it.’ This is the real world.
While I’m already feeling the haters coming at me with the ‘why are you fucking things up for us by telling people this’, refer core title of the series. It’s got to be said. There are those who will take advantage of you, and there are those who’ll just need you to help them make a case for you. With practice and a gut that gets well-honed the more it’s just you watching your own back, you learn to tell the difference.
And if all of that doesn’t convince you that everybody does it, think about every large communication agency ever, and how ‘pitches’ make up a fair chunk of what they do. When I worked for advertising agencies, depending on the time of year and the agency in question, it was sometimes as much as a pitch a week! And advertising pitches often involve giving people a strategy and finished work to show them where you might be able to take the brand. Yeah! Now as a solopreneur or even a small consultant there’s no way you could afford that, and you should probably not try.
So, mostly just remember, there are no absolutes. When you decided to work for yourself, you probably had a set of goals. Maybe one of them was to get away from the way the ‘herd’ did things. I know that was a motivator for me (along with flexibility). So step away from the herd when it feels right.
Also, nobody ever went bankrupt from crafting the odd spec piece.
Of course, if you’re surrounded by nothing but clients who’re asking for freebies, you’ve got a problem. It’s ok to step away and say no. Trust me, as panicked as you’ll feel at first (or even well into things) for turning away a chance at a paying gig, someone who’s taking advantage of you at the start is unlikely to stop. That should help the decision-making.
Whichever way you do it, it needs to make you happy. That’s the beauty of being a solopreneur, isn’t it?