Is crowdSpring a good thing for rural designers

crowdSPRING is a marketplace for creative services. A customer puts out a project and sets the job price. Designers can choose to create a proposed solution, and the customer picks the winner.

Tunnel of treesIt has attracted controversy, with professional designers saying that spec work hurts their industry. That is, a designer has to create a fully finished design, and may or may not be selected and paid. Andrew Hyde, one of my long-time Twitter friends and fellow test driver of the 2010 Mustang at BlogWorld this year, explained in 2008 why he thinks Spec Work Is Evil. And early in Small Biz Survival history, one of my good friends chided me in the comments for linking to a spec work company.

So I was wary when Ross Kimbarovsky of crowdSPRING approached me at SXSW. He and I talked a bit. Ross told me that over 36,000 designers work on cS, including quite a few based in rural areas. Of course, I’m always interested in rural small business, so I asked for the story of one of their rural designers. 

crowdSPRING put me in contact with Rachel Stene, from Sparta, Wisconsin. Rachel is a freelance graphic artist by trade, specifically motion graphics. When her husband lost his job, she had to add something to her animation work to make up for the lost income. She started looking into crowdSPRING.

I discovered cS 4 or 5 months ago, and trepidly entered my first contest. I was totally ignored by the buyer. Then I entered another one, and got a 2 star rating. I gave up. For a week. I totally suck at couple more contests, and decide spec work IS evil. I’m out for good. For another week. I’m back. What is it with this place? I decide to just have fun with this. I’m experimenting, I tell myself. Relax. One morning while eating a donut, browsing the job list, I find a project to enter. I kick out a logo in 10 minutes between breaking up fights between my kids, and I win a $200 contest! I start to talk about cS to everyone I know, and even those I don’t know. I can’t stop talking about it. My husband threatens an intervention. I’m hooked. Never mind that I had higher paying animation work awaiting my attention. I was trying to remember how to use Illustrator. Word is I’m CRAZY for wasting my time on “evil” spec work, but I can’t shake the feeling that something HUGE is going on here. This community of creatives and buyers which has no boundaries. I love that I can decide when to work, how much to work. I don’t have to call my clients and apologize for my kids puking last night and promise I’ll have something done after nap time. Plus, I find I really like designing logos. And print. And illustration. I still love animation too, but now I get to have other experiences and it’s all working together to make me a better all around designer. I’m not burned out now. I can’t wait to start my day and jump into a project. I’m learning so much! It’s making me a better animator too.

Rachel told me she feels working with cS makes up for her remote location.

Pairing up with websites like crowdSpring make it possible for me to do business with people from all over the world, from next door Minnesota to Ireland to Tanzania without spending a dime. I don’t have to spend money or time promoting myself or finding clients, or invoicing them. For me this is the best way to work. I can focus just on my design, and I’m not held back by being in a rural area with no local clients or connections. I can also afford to work on lower paying jobs because money goes farther in my town than in a large city. I can get a lot of groceries at the local farmers market for $200.

I’m expecting a robust discussion on this topic. I’d love to hear your feelings on this subject.

Photo by Becky McCray

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    Interesting how for all that addiction she can claim only $200 income so far.

    Sounds like gambling to me.

    Does anyone earn a real living wage from cS or any other spec work forum?

  2. says

    Bobbie, Rachel did say in her emails that she had made enough income to supplement her family’s income and to pay for a family trip. She did not name other specific figures.

  3. says

    Hi Becky,

    Interesting post, and I’ll have to check back in as the discussion evolves. My initial thought based on the person that cS itself proposed as a reference: So cS is great for people who are unmotivated to do business development and don’t mind essentially working for free?

    As long as people are willing to devalue their profession (and their own work), there will be buyers and sellers for this type of arrangement. There will always be someone “cheaper” out there and that’s okay. I’m not competing on cheap; I’m competing on value.

  4. says

    Spec work is certainly not evil and yes plenty of people make a living off sites like crowdSPRING. Just check out this post from @imjustcreative –

    I also think people are wrong to think of CS as cheapening the industry. The same amount of money exists in the system it is just shifting economics.

    “Devalue their profession” I only think you can really de-value your profession if you work for less than you feel you are worth. In which case don’t

    I am all for CS and other simlar sites such as (interest declared), etc. YEs they invovle some spec work but Designers and creative industries are not the only industries where this occurs. How many industries are there where you don’t have to speculate work to close a sale… no garuntees

    Sorry I am ranting now …

  5. says

    Hi Becky,

    Much thanks for writing about crowdSPRING and sharing Rachel Stene’s story. We’re very fortunate to have met many rural designers who’ve previously had a very difficult time finding clients. We’re very pleased to provide a level playing field to Rachel and others – where designers can compete against anyone in the world.

    Your article doesn’t cover this issue – so perhaps you’ll write about this in a future post. But we think that the opportunities provided by crowdSPRING are also positive for rural clients.

    In my travels, I’ve met plenty of accomplished business people running great small (and large) businesses in rural America. Sometimes, their businesses are focused on their communities. Other times – they’re competing in major markets and as a result, must compete in all things, including marketing, advertising, design, etc.

    crowdSPRING has allowed such businesses to leverage a global pool of talented designers (half of our winning designers are based in the U.S.) without breaking their bank accounts.

    Keep up the great work with the blog – I read it regularly after we met at SXSW earlier this year.


    Ross Kimbarovsky

  6. Anonymous says

    Bobbie, I have averaged about $600 a month, doing this very part-time, on crowdSpring, since I started in April. I am going to start aiming for full-time participation after Christmas, and will find out how much one can really make, with a consistent effort. I have found that working at it sporadically produces sporadic results, and I’m encouraged by my sporadic results.

    Rachel Stene

  7. Anonymous says


    I am not unmotivated to do business development. However, I am not willing to go about it with outdated methods. Like many people, I am busy with a family (three kids) and have to choose how to spend my time wisely. I have found, through freelancing for 10 years, and working professionally in my field for 5 years prior, that the old ways of sending out contact info, portfolio’s and making calls to potential clients, are not as effective as simply signing on for an account at a place like crowdSpring, and jumping in to do what I do best right away.

    I’m not working for free. I am promoting myself for free. There are no promises I’ll win every project I enter, but there are also no promises I’ll get a job after I prepare a custom demo reel for a potential client, go to a meeting, and make a pitch for their job.

    Because of the nature of contest sites like crowdSpring, I find I make better connections with people because I can pick a project based on the buyers brief, and on my interest level and experience. I tend to choose wisely, often winning or placing highly in the projects I pick. I am happier working this way, than waiting for the phone to ring with a freelance job in which I have no control over.

    And finally, I moved away from my long time clients recently, to a rural area that does not need my level experience, nor is willing to pay for it, even if I wanted to try to use old fashioned methods for finding work.I’m sure my neighboring farmer could use a great logo to brand is cow with, but unless he’s willing to exchange it for a 150 gallons of milk, I’m out of luck.

    Rachel Stene

  8. says

    Becky, thank you for taking the time to get a perspective that is different than current mainstream thinking. I appreciate the opportunity to share!