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It's penny-wise and pound-foolish. Many of the best contracts you can land won't pay for you to do scoping work. Contra the graphic designer orthodoxy, spec work is in fact the norm for the seriously well-compensated professional services sector.

I'm just one perspective on this, there are others on the thread. But this stuff is all I've been doing since 2005 and I'd make a case that I've gotten reasonably good at it, so I'll go to bat for my perspective here and say that the advice to charge prospects for scoping work is bad, and you should avoid it.

I understand. We used to not charge for specs, and this resulted in a lot of "spinning wheels" where we would spend a bunch of time (e.g. 5-10 hours of engineer time) on the specs, and the client would come back with "OK, we will discuss internally and let you know if we have any questions!" and we would never hear back from them. This hurt our bottom line quite a bit, when added up.

It stopped happening entirely once we started charging a token fee. We realized that if we could convince clients to pay for a spec, even if it's a small amount, we have basically "soft-closed" them, which makes the rest of the engagement easier because money has already exchanged hands and trust has been built. Indeed, in our CRM system we move such clients to "existing customer" category, because that's what they are, and we treat them as such. (It also gives us the opportunity to name-drop them when needed, e.g. "we have done business with X").

It does occasionally give clients pause, especially if they are, like I said, just shopping around, and need convincing. But we don't care too much about such clients anyway.

Yes, that's the norm with all clients. It's the idea behind spec work: sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. My advice is, again, look at it like karma.

If you get to a point where pre-sales work is grinding you down to the point where you need to do something about it, the right response is to raise your rates, so that the work that does close offsets the work you do on projects that don't. You should be constantly doing that anyways (it's hard! we're not awesome at it either, though we do try to do it once a year), so look at spec work as a forcing function.

That's another reason charging for nickel-and-dime rustproofing stuff like specs and proposals is bad business: it's way less valuable than actual delivery, and so charging for it makes it harder for you to set high rates.

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