Spec work, haven’t heard of it? You’re one of the lucky ones. Clients refer to spec work as “work we can get for free without signing a contract”. Sure, some amount of spec is unavoidable at times. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get paid or sus out a client trying to take advantage.

I learned a lot about how to avoid spec work while running my dev agency. Hopefully I can help you avoid some of the same mistakes that I made.

What is spec work? 🔍

Spec work is any kind of work done by agencies for prospective clients before any contract is in place. Free work.

For agencies earlier in their career, spec work may seem necessary. It may be pitched as a way to “boost your portfolio”. In reality, these situations rarely lead to profits or referrals. Trust me.

Is spec work unavoidable? 🚌

Okay so spec work is the devil and you shouldn’t do it… ever? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
There is work that goes into acquiring a client that is unavoidable. So where do you draw the line?

2 calls, that’s it.

I would give an hour of my time to a potential client. 30 minutes of research, and then 30 minutes on the phone. If needed, we would have one more similar call. Anything past that was covered in our discovery process.

After 6 years of tinkering, wasting time, and learning, we finally found what worked for us.

Setting up a discovery process that earns 💰

After running into the issue of spec work too often we decided to build an offering to solve this problem. We built out a discovery process that helped us avoid spec work and bad clients.

It gets better:
It enabled us to increase revenue, client satisfaction, and project completion.

Here are the essentials for a good discovery process.

  • Give it a name. Sounds a little silly, but branding it helps gets clients onboard. It makes it feel more like an integral part of working with you, rather than an add-on they have to pay for. We called ours“The Dig”.
  • Keep it short. Keep it shorter than a month. 2 weeks is ideal. You want to get to the meat and potatoes.
  • Make it inherently valuable. This helps ease potential objections from clients. Here is a line we used that worked well: At the end of this process, you will have a plan of attack for taking next steps. That way, even if we don’t work together, you have something you can run with.

We built out a deck that encompassed our discovery process. If you’d like access to it, join our newsletter below and reply to the welcome email.