Losing Clients to Crowdsourcing Sites

designers losing to crowdsourcing project image

This article is a true story and mild-mannered rant about something that happened to me recently.

Basically, I was contacted by an American organisation to redesign their site. Now, the project was a little more complicated than average jobs, so the potential client (let’s call him Barry for this article) and I held a mini-video conference via Skype. After attaining all the details of the job, I set about compiling a quotation for Barry — and it took a while to do due to the complexity of the job.

Very Good. What Happened Next?

The day after I emailed the quote, I received an email from Barry thanking me for the quotation, but he was turning it down.

This is fine. This is okay!

That’s totally up to him. However, this wasn’t what riled me. He politely told me that he had decided to use a well-know crowdsourcing/competition site instead. Let’s call said site “66Designz” to avoid finger-pointing.

Well That’s up to him…So what?

Well, I was informed that my quote price wasn’t the problem. In fact, the organisation was willing to pay more for loads of ideas…this is what they were after.

If this wasn’t bad enough, I was then invited to then join the competition! I couldn’t believe it. I had several thoughts going through my mind: Do I present myself online as some kind of non-professional designer? Do clients think they’ll get endless design concepts from me for the prices I quote?

What I’ve learned…

This experience has taught me much about the mindset of potential clients — and how they may view my own working style. I often update my online Quote Forms, so I’m looking at ways to make it clear that only a certain amount of design concepts are provided in a quotation. If a client wants a gazillion concepts, I need to be clear that I’m not the designer for them!

I emailed the client, but then never heard back again. This is part of it:

Thanks for getting back to me. I’m a little disappointed with your decision, but not because you’re not hiring me, — it’s your choice. However, I’m disappointed that you’re going to use [“66Designz”] instead. This service is a “crowd-sourcing/competition website” which is quite unethical as many people (including myself) see it. This kind of business is putting hard-working designers out of business. 99% of the designers on [“66Designz”] effectively work for free (Spec Work).

Using this service is not that dissimilar to hiring 100 plumbers to come to your house to fix a major water leak. All the plumbers work on the pipes for hours on end, and then only one gets paid!

So no, I won’t be competing in the competition.

Don’t worry, the email ended with pleasantries, but I don’t think our business ethics match. There was a time a few years back when I signed-up to a crowdsourcing/competition site to see what the new ‘fuss’ was all about. I had no work on at the time. but it didn’t take me long to recognise my mistake. I did make some money through a contact I made on the site, but needless to say I experienced first hand how unethical the site was. I left shortly after joining never to return!

With this experience in-mind, I can see how uneducated clients can make the same mistakes. In the case of ‘Barry’, I don’t blame him for wasting my time and I hope his project is completed by a professional. However, I will be looking into minimising time wasted on quotes for ‘Window Shoppers”in the future.

Graphic Design Blog Divider Image

What do you think about crowdsourcing/competition sites. Like myself, have you ever lost-out on a project due to them? Please leave your comments below…


No-Spec.comSpec Work and Crowdsourcing, when will they ever learn?

Taprootcreative.comWhy Crownsourcing Your Brand is Bad

1106design.comWhy Crowdsourcing Book Cover Design is a Bad Idea

Futurelab.netWill Agencies Suffer Death by 1,000 Cuts through Crowdsourcing?

LogoDesignLove.comSpecWatch on design contests

Wired.netTwitter Paid $6 or Less for Crowdsourced ‘Birdie’ Graphic

21 thoughts on “Losing Clients to Crowdsourcing Sites”

  1. Ray Vellest

    You’re not the first professional designer to bring the subject into discussion, and probably will not be the last. David Airey, also another great professional designer, had mentioned receiving similar outrageous propositions.

    Sadly, I foresee crowdsourcing growing in the design industry. The business model is absurdly attractive for a huge percentage of clients who have the false impression of getting a lot for their money.

    However, who work in the professional creative industry know very well how professional design can influence in a business results. So, if the client takes his business seriously, I’m certain he will look for professional design.

  2. Andrew Kelsall

    Ray → Oh yeah, I’ve the horror stories, too! I thought I’d take my turn to write my own for a change, hehe.

    I totally agree with you. For clients who really want to take their business seriously, it should be obvious with a bit of online research that crowdsourcing is not in their company’s best interest.

    Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. Andrew Kelsall

    Thanks to commenter “d” for the alert…you know who your are 🙂

  4. Kiren

    Sad state Andrew. But alas, people are always looking for the better deal in the end. That’s why it’s important to stand your ground and offer something the crowd sourcing sites are not.

  5. Paul Murray

    This subject is a very sore point, and although it isn’t directly affecting me at my student level, I’m still infuriated by such sites devaluing an industry that I will effectively be relying on to survive in the near future.

    It seems the belief of clients using such sites is that it’s filled with professional, experienced designers who are just looking to make a bit of money on the side, when in fact the vast majority of people bidding for jobs are simply amateurs with cracked Adobe software and no understanding of design basics, who often rip-off other copyrighted designs and hope not to be caught.

    Sadly many business owners don’t understand the value of a well thought-out, professionally designed BRAND and instead seek out a simple logo to stick on a letterhead or add to the side of a van.

    Until some form of regulation and removal of such sites is implemented (unlikely to happen) the industry is going to continue to suffer. We can only hope that educating prospective clients as a whole will help them understand the value of a one-to-one relationship with a professional and experienced designer.

  6. Andrew Kelsall

    Kiren → So true. I’m sure also that clients are very unaware that what they see as entries in these competitions are often not done correctly at all. For example, logo designs produced in Photoshop. Nuff said…

    Paul → In regards to ripping off other copyrighted designs and hope not to be caught; sadly this has been the case many times, and I’m sure you’re aware.

    The really sad thing is that the clients often wont know about such infringements until, a logo for example, is plastered all over their print materials and livery.

    Yes, educating clients is the only real way forward. As you saw above, I tried to educate my potential client to no avail.

    I suppose we could always alert them to the No Spec Website if need be.

    Thanks for commenting…

  7. Andrew Keir

    I’ve never given much thought to competing with spec sites, personally I don’t consider them competition as I would expect the clients they appeal to are, in most cases, not the ones you want anyway?

    In my limited experience with such sites, it’s either people wanting to spend some trivial amount for an idea or 2 and just picking one. Or those spending a notable amount of money ( $800 – $1,000 seems to be the peak on “66designz” ) but expecting 50+ unique concepts.

    Either way you can’t be reasonably expected to provide the service they want or wouldn’t be willing to anyway.

    To me spec work is like the “science vs religion” debate, you can’t convince the opposite party to adopt your views so there’s no point trying. You’re time is invariably better spent focused elsewhere.

    IMO anyways…

  8. Gareth Coxon

    I hear you Andrew, I think that the client/customer thinks they are getting a great deal with these sites, but in reality they get cliché under developed solutions.

    Because these are basically competitions and the designers stand very little chance of being paid they spend very very little time on the concepts they put forward. Ultimately meaning it’s lose lose on both the part of the designer and the client.

  9. Bex White

    Crowdsourcing and competition sites have grown over the last few years, however I firmly believe that any clients wanting quality work and to form a long term relationship with a designer/design company will see through these after their first project.

    I can see why they are appealing on the surface to clients, unlimited designs, free work and cheap prices – however many people on the sites are either working from foreign countries where earning expectation is lower or are students and out of work designers. This may well work for some projects, however a local designer who gets to know a client’s business and spends time with them will always produce a better results for anyone wanting a unique high quality product tailored to their business and undertaken by experts.

    It is simply a case of people getting what they pay for and have always had a choice to use Wordart or stock images for logos or to have one designed by a professional so these sites are really only really catering to a certain percentage of the market.

    I wrote an article on this relating to logo design a little while back which might be of use: http://www.weareblink.com/articles-news/logo-design-quality-or-quantity-from-your-design-provider/

    Bex White
    Blink Design Studios

  10. Rob Cubbon

    I know it’s a subject that’s been discussed before but I think your interaction with your client shows just how crowd sourcing is becoming mainstream and, as a result, we have to take it into account. Yes, proper clients will always want to hire a professional, but also we can improve our communication of what we offer as well as improving upon the design packages we offer in order to compete.

  11. David Airey

    I’m happy to lose clients to spec sites. I prefer to work with those who value their design.

    I can’t imagine it’s a profitable business to be in (pimping free work) which’ll account for all the horror stories from those who unknowingly participate.

  12. Andrew Kelsall

    Bex → I would hope they clients would through these sites after their first project, but sadly this isn’t the case. Sure, I assume many clients will feel ripped off, but many more will keep coming back for even cheaper work.

    Thanks for the extra resource link.

    Rob →I agree. This is another reason why I think it’s important to work for clients locally who require services that cant be produced by a worldwide designer network.

    David → You’re keeping on form with your strong views on the topic, as always!

    Thanks all for your valued feedback…

  13. Ryan Murphy

    I think any compnay wanting a genuine, respectable design would always go to the individual. I recall seeing a logo ‘contest’ on ’66Designz’ in which two contestents came out with nearly identical logo’s. Fortunately one of the contestents was a genuine proffesional, doing this to expose the habits of these sites.

    However, as a student it is a worry, as i know of many people getting into Designing, with cracked software, no training, and too much time on their hands. The worry is work will be harder to come by when i graduate.

    But IMO this should only be a incentive to create superior work to those on Crowdsourcing sites, then the clients you attract will be clients you want. It will also sift out all the phony designers, passing off as real ones.

  14. Andrew Kelsall

    Ryan → Yeah, there lies the real challenge: Don’t be like everyone else. Sure, take influence from designer’s and see what their doing right, but showing your personality in a blog, for example, should earn you respect and show that you’re worth more than “user 54756”.

    My advice to you is to establish an online presence now, so when you graduate, you’ll already have a footing in the industry.

    All the best; thanks for commenting 🙂

  15. Edward Franklin

    Not all prospective clients are the same. It’s usually the less tech savvy ones that make such mistakes. And some are just stingy cheapskates.

  16. Richard Knobbs

    Add me to the list of people who are sick of this and have had a rant about it! I wonder why it’s so predominant in graphic design? I’ve never had it with illustration or writing, as clients have said they chose me because of my style. Why can’t they do the same with design?

  17. Federico Capeci

    sad story… we’re facing the same issues in market research, where everything seems to be already online and a client can find every single info from the web for free, they can also execute surveys, they can ask directly to their consumers… without passing throught us no more. I also believe that this is the new environment where all of mktg consultants have to face with. our competition is also moving in new territories… if I tell you that it’s just more difficult for us to convince about the added value we can deliver to the client? if I tell you that more than sad it’s a challenging story?

  18. David Matos

    I guess this must be the most discussed topic among designers worldwide (worldwide being the keyword) these days. And it’s an interesting discussion indeed! I know it’s an old post but I’ve decided to comment anyway.

    I did some crowdsourcing myself, I even won a couple of ‘competitions’ and took clients with me for further assignments, so things went pretty well! However, I didn’t take long to gain perspective and say “this is not where I want to be”, so I was happily out. Here’s why: when a client hires a designer, he’s hiring expertise, advice, and product —not only the third!, and there’s a good reason for it: without the other 2, results are a matter of luck! I firmly believe that any above the average, slightly more sophisticated/conscious client knows this and will not go for crowdsourcing. As for the rest… like anything else : )

    I keep coming back here because of your brilliant Guide to using Black. Fantastic article, thanks!