For those that freelance, and bill on estimate...

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by c3str, Jul 2, 2008.

  1. c3str macrumors member

    Jun 27, 2007
    So, looking to get opinions and discussion from those who freelance, and bill projects or projects of a certain kind based on estimate.

    Say a small business client is looking for a set of two 6x9 postcards (essentially the same postcard, with a minor variation on the second). The client has a certain budget, and next comes the question...what will they cost?

    I already know the specs for the job, I am not securing printing, we have discussed what the design will need to include, etc. and so forth. The client then sends a "mockup" that they created in MSWord and this is the first sniff of something being off/trouble, but back to that later. I make up a project estimate of $x00, the client approves this and off to the races.

    I design the postcard. It is a trade show postcard, and rather busy based on both a) the client's requirements b) the number of sponsor logos that need to appear c) the industry/target market (young male car tuners) ...but it is successful and reasonably well balanced and I'm pleased to send it off to the client.

    This is where all goes awry. "Oh, it looks AWESOME, but it's not what I pictured in my head. It doesn't look at all like my Word file. I don't know how to describe it, but can you make it look like the word file?" [revisions ensue] Well, it's getting there, but I guess I want everything in a block. Like things are in word. And I want all the fonts changed from the fonts I emailed you to MSOfficeblahblahfugly. [revisions] I guess. I mean it's closer. It still doesn't look like what I had in my head...."

    Add several more revisions, but with a lot more rudeness and insistence on looking like "THE WORD FILE". The job has by now gotten into the hole, billing wise, I'm officially losing money. I should explain that I've done everything I can to walk the client through the initial design...why things are NOT all in boxes, the balance of things, why fonts are not all exactly the same size/weight/paragraphs center aligned etc. etc.

    Now is where the question comes in. When client becomes "*that*" client, and there is no room for a "client firing", and you've done the job based on an estimate...what do you do to avoid losing your shirt and spending the better part of a week on the thing? What about when the response is akin to "well, you're designing it for me/my company and that *was* your should include all revisions until we get what's needed..."

    thoughts? discussions? parables? funny stories?
  2. decksnap macrumors 68040


    Apr 11, 2003
    Number of revisions and such should be agreed upon when signing the estimate. After that, it becomes a change order. It can be sticky but if it's all in writing it should be fine.
  3. MandolinChick macrumors newbie

    Jul 1, 2008
    Well, at this point, I would tell the client how much time you've put into it and how much time you ESTIMATED in the beginning. Once it's gone 3 or more hours over that, the ESTIMATED cost goes up (that's my rule, but you'll have to decide where you draw the line). It was just an estimate, not a solid price, correct?

    By the way, that's totally annoying that the client would hire a graphic designer to design something that she's already designed (in WORD, nonetheless...UGH!). I've worked for someone like that, but I have to keep in mind that the client's happiness trumps my creativeness. So if it looks like crap but the client is happy, that's what matters. It's not fun. It's not a portfolio piece. But it's money. And if they are happy, they'll come back to you.

    Of course, if you don't need the money, your creativeness might trump the client's happiness. Your name is stamped on those postcards (not literally, but in a sense), so if you don't need the money, I would finish this project and then not do anymore work for her. Just my thoughts. :)
  4. TimTheEnchanter macrumors 6502a


    Oct 24, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    I wouldn't hesitate telling them the budget status. Any client worth having should be understanding and willing to pay for work beyond the reasonable expectations of the original estimate, especially if they are the cause. If you "bit off more than you can chew" and are having your own issues with completing the project, then you could ask them but you'll have to bite the bullet, eat the extra time and learn from it.

    ..."chew", "bite", "eat".... must be lunchtime for me!
  5. wordmunger macrumors 603


    Sep 3, 2003
    North Carolina
    As you approached the value of your estimate, you should have alerted the customer that due to the number of revisions, the cost looks to be rising above the level of the original estimate. Make it clear that additional revisions will cost a minimum of X dollars per revision. You're happy to continue making revisions until the customer is satisfied, but that they should be aware that the final cost will be higher than estimated.

    At this point, you might have to suck up some of your losses and pretend that you're currently at that point.

    So if your estimate was $800, then say current charges are $700 (even if they're really $1000) and each additional revision costs a minimum of $50.

    It's unprofessional to surprise a client with a bill higher than your estimate. You're the one who screwed up, not your client.
  6. c3str thread starter macrumors member

    Jun 27, 2007
    The client will not be surprised by anything. I agree: that is unprofessional behavior and is not even an option.

    Decksnap is 100% right and that's the way I handle it too. This has just been such an odd job not because of the complications, which we all know go hand in hand with any job, but because of the variety of complications. The odd "recreating" of a Word-created template, denial of things that were previously explicitly discussed, and then the client wanting to argue about how much a version would have to change in his/her eye for it to "count" as a revision.

    There's been a lot of communication but it's been a tooth and nail struggle. I knew this might get interesting when, soon after the estimate, the client began bad-mouthing former in-house designers (not by name) he/she had used in her previous employment.

    I've finished this up and won't work for this particular client again. In the end, even with a contract, a perfectly appropriate estimate and so forth, this is a time suck.
  7. shecky Guest


    May 24, 2003
    Obviously you're not a golfer.
    hindsight is always 20/20, but allow me to say:

    you (and everyone reading this) should have a very clear, very detailed, very reasonable Letter of Agreement that every (EVERY!!) client signs before you do work. The way you should make this LOA is by going to the following link:

    and downloading the AIGA Standard Form of Agreement. You should then read it. You should then take their suggestion and copy the appropriate parts of the PDF into your LOA. While it includes a lot of legalese that nobody will ever read it covers you against getting screwed by a client so long as you also include the following:

    -deliverables. exactly what you are responsible for creating and delivering to the client. this defines the ENTIRE scope of work. work beyond the deliverables is billed at $xx/hour.

    - options and revisions. agreement with client at outset to a set number of options (usually 3) and revisions upon choosing an option (usually 3). work beyond 3 revisions is billed at $xx/hour.

    -reimbursable expenses. printing, fedex, fonts, stock photos, etc.. are billed at $x per item and invoiced monthly.

    - kill fee. if either side is unhappy or is in breach of contract the project can be terminated with what is owed paid up to date.

    - up front payment. we usually do 30%/30%/40% or 40%/60% for smaller projects. the first payment is due upon agreement to the LOA. we do have a few clients we bill on a long-term hourly basis so we just invoice them every 2 weeks for what is due. Our estimates include all the stuff about options, deliverables, revisions, terms, reimbursements.

    we do this FOR EVERY CLIENT PERIOD. we make them sign and snail mail us a copy with a written email agreement so we can commence work ASAP. our LOA is about 12 pages long. it has never been a problem with a client signing off on it.

    what is most important is communication with the client. understand what they want, what they need and what they expect. tell them what their options are. tell them what can be done and what you think should be done. understand what you can give them. let them tell you what problem they are trying to solve. if you have good communication with the client then issues of "it does not look like my word file" will be moot since you will have covered that during the discovery phase of the project.

    having said all of that, sometimes you will just get screwed. your relationship with a client will become toxic and you will just need to walk away. even if you loose what it owed, you will not spend more time putting in.
  8. c3str thread starter macrumors member

    Jun 27, 2007
    many thanks

    Thank you. I appreciate all of the info. and I realize now that my contract agreement needs updating and needs a great deal more detail.

    This job has been an anomaly, communication wise, so I am trying to look at the bigger picture and be a lot less stressed. The client just sent an email saying how she was really losing focus but is really happy with the proofs.

    Again, thanks. The information is really helpful, as is just the discussion. Like the famous song says: It's not easy being green...

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