Wisdom Nuggets: RFPs


On one level or another, this has probably happened to me, and I didn’t realize it. Or, maybe I did, and just didn’t give it the credence it deserved. I gave away my work. For free.

But, it’s not what you think. A friend didn’t ask for a favor. I wasn’t doing someone else a kindness. I was trying to win business. Against friends. Granted these friends are technically considered my competition. But, we share laughs. We share horror stories. We share bar tabs. We also might covet each other’s clients.

What am I talking about? RFPs. Requests For Proposals are the craziest thing that seems to be accepted in our industry.

First, someone puts together a document comprised of an insane set of requirements. These requirements might be to tell them who is going to be on the team working on their projects. How are we to even know? What are these projects? Then, they give a listing of vague notions you have to interpret. There’s no legitimate discovery process. Frankly, you’re researching in a vacuum. What if you’re wrong?

It gets better! Not only do they ask some seemingly invasive questions, like how much profit are you going to make off of them hiring you. All of it, right?

To make matters more fun, they expect you to deliver a shiny package for zero dollars. That’s right. They’re going to pay you exactly nothing to spend countless hours completing a turnkey campaign. If you’re lucky, you might get short-listed. Cool! You just got the opportunity to spend more of your own time and money to try to impress people who have no clue how to do your job. But, if they really love your design and your price is the lowest, they might choose you. Of course, if they love your design, and someone else has a better price, the RFP says they own your IP. Yeah. That’s right. By submitting your work, for free, they own it, for free. Did I mention you just spent dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars in hard costs with zero potential for remuneration?

So, what am I getting at?

If someone sends you a document outlining their expectations, and they seem unreasonable. Well, it’s because they are.

So, this is really more about doing work on spec than anything else. If you’re not familiar, spec work or speculative work is ostensibly work done for free in the hopes of getting paid for it. It’s like competing for a prize. If they like it, they pay you. It should be noted AIGA (the American Institute of Graphic Arts) lays a solid foundation stating “AIGA believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through an engagement with clients. To that end, AIGA strongly encourages designers to enter into client projects with full engagement to show the value of their creative endeavor, and to be aware of all potential risks before entering into speculative work.”

In other words, don’t be an idiot. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

An agency a few years back, created a fantastic video. The Toronto-based ad agency known as Zulu Alpha Kilo has this guy going around town asking people to try their goods and services before he considers hiring them and/or paying them.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I would never have the balls to ask a barista to make me a cappuccino, let me drink said cappuccino, and then decide if I want to pay for it. It goes one step further, though. The price on the menu for the cappuccino is, I don’t know, $5, which might be a really good or really bad deal, depending on the café. But, here’s where it gets sticky. If I decide to pay, I obviously am going to want a discount, because I am going to only buy my cappuccinos from that one café. I think it’s actually cappuccini. But, we’re in the US. So, screw it. So, I’m going to exclusively buy my coffee from this one café. That’s right. It’s best drink I’ve ever had, and I want it for half price. Insane, right?

Well, I may have recently gotten an RFP from a real estate group. I’m not going to go into detail. Because, I’m making this up, right? Yeah, we’ll go with that.

So, I thought it would make sense to ask them if people see houses they are interested in buying, and ask to live in the house mortgage— or rent-free for a couple months to try it out? I may have also sent them a youtube link to the Zulu Alpha Kilo video.

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t devalue your work by giving it away for free in the hopes for some sort of big payoff. You’re worth more than that. Save your time and effort AND money. Go buy yourself a lottery ticket. Your odds are practically just as good.


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