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I've been approached to do web development work in exchange for ad space: All revenue from a yet-to-be-agreed-upon number of pages would go straight to me. To keep things simple, we have agreed on Google AdSense.

Obviously everyone thinks their new site will be the new cat's meow. So this would be up to me to determine cost/benefit of my time.

Assuming you would do it.....

...tell me your "BIG IF".

Here are some things I've considered:

  1. I must be awarded X amount of pixels in the top Y pixels of web page.
  2. I must be awarded X number of pages.
  3. I must be awarded X number of page views...
  4. Work performed will be limited to craft (no data entry, writing content, etc. purely web related work).
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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Unless you need it for a portfolio item or this website has a clear business plan in a market where you are guaranteed a lot of traffic, don't work for ad space. Unless the other person has a proven track record of revenue producing sites, you're essentially working for free. It's spec work. Some things you need to ask yourself:

  • What is my hourly wage?
  • How many hours will I work?
  • Is the site likely to receive my hourly wage x hours worked in ad revenue?
  • What is the marketing plan for the website?
  • Is the sole purpose of the website to get revenue from Google AdSense? (It will fail, if it is.)
  • Is the target market of the website likely to click on ads?

I'm sorry to word this so strongly, but I see far too many developers falling for this type of "business deal". If they don't think enough of their idea to pay you, you will never see any revenue from the ads, at least not enough to cover your expenses. What is the risk of the other party? You're putting in your time, what are they doing? And if it fails, who bears the brunt of the cost?

Some people genuinely don't have the money to pay for something, but if they can't manage their personal finances, it leaves me with little faith they will be able to run a business well.

If I were you, I would either:

A) Ask for money up front and don't budge from that position. Don't take potential ad revenue from something unproven.

B) You have the skills to create a website. Why not create one for yourself and earn all the ad revenue from that website rather than relying on a piece of someone else's pie that has yet to be baked?

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Our company fell into this trap a long time ago. We were in a lull for work so just took anything that came our way. We spent about 300 billable hours for a grand total of $1,000 in revenue over 12 months. That's about an 98% discount on our normal rates. Never, ever again. –  Mark Henderson Sep 6 '10 at 0:13
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I would not consider doing this under any circumstances unless they guarantee a minimum return from the ads and if it isn't met they will make up the difference.

Such an arrangement provides them with the incentive to run the ads prominently.

The minimum will likely be less then you would normally charge for such a site, since you have chance of making much more. It may even be prudent to specify a point at which you start to share the ad proceeds and another point at which you would be considered fully compensated.

If the buyer is not amicable to this kind of arrangement, then that does not speak very highly of their confidence in the proposed site.

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I have to admit that I nearly fell for this type of spec work myself. I think it's petty to get up in arms about other developers underbidding you or working for free (hey, it's their time), but I agree with Virtuosi Media; it's definitely not a smart thing to do. There are plenty of serious clients out there willing to pay serious money for a qualified designer/developer. The time you spend working on a project for free could be better spent looking for a client that will net you hundreds or thousands of times the return (or infinite times the return if the spec work doesn't net you a single penny).

Here's my suggestion: speculate on yourself—that is, speculate on your talent, your creativity, and your ability. If you're going to be working for free on vague promises of reward, then either launch your own website/app/community, or spend some of your time/resources on advertising your web design business. Come up with a creative marketing scheme and get your name out there. You'll still be working for free in the short-run, but you're working for free for yourself.

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There are lots of very big ifs here:

  1. How will they be marketing the site once completed? How much traffic will it receive?
  2. Will Google show ads that actually convert to clicks?
  3. Will 'your design' be blamed if the site fails to convert at all? Are the responsibilities of others clearly defined?

In my experience, these types of arrangements never work and often end in quite a bit of animosity. I would not do it.

An idea, unless implemented is worth nothing whatsoever. If this site will really be the 'cat's meow', coming up with a couple of thousand bucks to have it done correctly should not be an obstacle at all.

It sounds to me like other people lack cash and want to capitalize an idea with your time. You're a web developer, not a bank :)

I'd walk away from it with a polite 'no thanks' and provide them a quote to do the work on contract in case their circumstances change.

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