Spec work for web developers
As a company edgeofmyseat.com don’t need to do a lot of responding to tenders. We sometimes help our design agency clients with their pitches but it is fairly rare for us to get a RFP direct to us. However, when we do get sight of these documents – perhaps because we have been approached directly to do development work for a company that already has a designer on board – I am often very surprised at the amount of work they expect us to do at a very early stage. Just to be able to have the “opportunity” of pitching for the work.
The main issue I have with these tenders is that they directly ask, or at least insinuate, that what should be submitted is an entire proposal for the development of the application. They often ask large numbers of very detailed questions about technology, approach and the finer points of how we would recommend certain features be implemented. To fully respond to these documents would take a couple of days of time for a senior developer – if we were to really do our response justice – essentially a couple of days of free consulting for the company putting out the tender.
As far as I am concerned this is as much spec work as asking design agencies to pitch with concepts. So when we are asking to put forward a proposal for these jobs, then our response tends to be a polite “no, thank you”. Even when the work looks interesting and very much the sort of project we could do well.
If an agency is spending a lot of time responding to tenders then they have to recoup that cost somehow, in our case it would mean having to charge a higher hourly rate for all jobs to cover the non-billable time used in responding.
In addition to the amount of non-billable time these proposals will consume, this work is in reality free consultancy for the person or company requesting the tenders. They can start the process with very sketchy ideas as to how their application should work, get 10 companies to present their concepts and suggestions and take all that knowledge, research and understanding with them to the final build – without paying a penny. When your input is ideas and experience it would be very difficult to prove that the information came from you, it isn’t the same as someone stealing a design concept. There are the occasional instances where an agency could cry foul over an idea that was so unique it would have been unlikely to have also come from another source, but these are unusual. This post from Solid State Group makes for interesting reading.
When it comes to clients with whom we have an existing relationship we are always happy to discuss ideas and approaches prior to a project beginning – that is all part of a good business relationship. However I will not give away days of consultancy to every company who turns up with a large document and a distant promise of a profitable job.
We have found that often these vague proposals expecting a lot of work are because the end client does not have a clear idea of what they want to do. With projects we have taken on we have found that a good approach is to suggest an initial stage of consultancy work. We work with the client and their designer to come up with a specification for the work, often producing wireframes of functionality; making suggestions for approaches and technology; essentially bringing our experience as developers to their ideas. At the end of that process that work is handed over to the client – along with a quote for our development services if we were to continue and build the project. However if they decide to then take the work elsewhere, there are no hard feelings, we have been paid for our consultancy work and we would hope that our years of experience will help to get the project off to a good start.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article we are fortunate in that most our our work comes via long-term partnerships with the design agencies we work with, or from people who have already decided that we are the company they would like to work with. I know that many companies do get a lot of their work via responding to tenders and I would be interested in hearing how other people manage responding to RFPs, and balance that with billable work, and not giving away a lot of consultancy time for free in the process.