Non-Disclosure Agreements: The Assassins of Portfolios

NDAs suck! There I said it.

Don’t get me wrong, non-disclosure agreements are very useful “should” you have a need to keep under wraps a real trade secret or “secret sauce.” Examples of this would be Google’s ranking algorithm or the recipe to Bush’s Baked Beans. But do you think either of those companies would hire a consultant or freelancer, especially for a short term project, where they would have to reveal such sensitive information? I would think not.

If you have been a consultant or freelancer long enough you have submitted your fair share of proposals. You’re confident in your knowledge and skills and are excited to get to work with a new client on what could be a really cool project. You and the prospective client set up a Skype session to talk. You think everything is going great until they ask “Can you show me your portfolio?” It is in this moment that you realize that, yes you’ve completed many related projects, but many (or all) of those projects have been protected by non-disclosure agreements which prohibit you from saying anything.

You tell the client that you can’t provide a related portfolio sample due to NDA restrictions. This stresses both you and the client. You’ve done the work and know what to do but the client wants to make sure they hire the right person for the job. Better yet, the client is going to require you to sign a non-disclosure agreement with them before providing you any more details. Now the situation exists where you can’t talk about work you’ve done or the work you’ll do. This continues to feed what I call the “NDA machine.”

What is the NDA machine?

The NDA machine, in my opinion, is an illusion of security that a client or entrepreneur feels when they have someone under an executed non-disclosure agreement. What really matters in an NDA is what content can be disclosed.

Good Bad
“I built [company]’s SMS notification system.” “The password to [company]’s database is [discloses credentials].”

So the million dollar questions is “Why do most-companies want an all-or-nothing NDA?” I know I take great strides to modify NDAs so that I can at least claim the work in my portfolio. In most scenarios the client’s NDA version (allows no disclosure) is what’s eventually agreed upon

I think the the average consultant or freelancer has no interest in stealing ideas. They’re looking to make money for performing a task. If they were in the business of ideas they would not be looking for work. I say this because not everybody is an entrepreneur who’s willing to take the risk of starting their own business. Overall I would fear Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank stealing my idea long before I would ever fear a consultant or freelancer doing so.

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