What do I do when I quote a price for a design but the client keeps asking for revisions and redesigns?


I'm a freelance graphic designer, so mostly, my pricing and what not is pretty casual and I don't work 24/7 as I have other things to take care of, so when I quote someone, I figure out how long it will take me roughly and also take into account how difficult it might be. I give them the price, get a deposit and start work. I usually tell them that the odd revision or two is included.


In the situation that I'm asking about, I always seem to get people who are really specific on what they want, which is brilliant; it seems nice and simple and I know exactly what I'm doing. But then as the job progresses and I send them samples, they begin to change their mind, they request way more revisions/redesigns that I ever expected etc. Now, I'm fine with this, as obviously I'm happy to work with them until they are happy with their product but when I mention that it's been more work than they initially stated they almost always get angry and lash out (via email) at how I'm not holding up my end of the bargain.

I always feel awful asking for more money and I almost never get more/they cancel altogether and I'm left with nothing, usually not even the (tiny) deposit that I stated was non refundable (to protect myself from exactly this...)

What is the best way of wording something (anything) initially, whereby this might not happen as much. Or am I just being too polite?

3/18/2016 2:26:00 PM

Accepted Answer

Stefan has several excellent points, which I'll echo and expand upon:

  • Write up a contract. You don't start anything without a contract. It took me over a week to write my first contract, but that baby is as detailed and iron-clad as I could make it, and now I can slice-and-dice and adapt it to future jobs. The AIGA has a ridiculously detailed sample contract you can use to start with: http://www.aiga.org/standard-agreement/
  • In that contract you spell out precisely what you are doing for the client. Be repetitive to the point where you feel silly, because it will save your butt later.
  • As part of that contract, you specify what amount of money is due when: deposit of $X or Y%, $X or Y% upon Milepost 1, $X or Y% upon Milepost 2, remaining $X or last 10% when client signs off on final product. You want to leave a little at the end so that the client feels like they can still command your attention, but not so much that if you had to walk away it would ruin your bank account. I like 10% as my wiggle room.
  • You include N rounds of revisions. (I usually have three.) You specify "after N rounds of revisions, any additional revisions will be billed at $X per hour." That gives them warning right up front that if they want to go 'round the mulberry bush, you'll be happy to accommodate them, but they'll be paying for it.
  • As part of this process, when they send you the first revision, you IMMEDIATELY respond with, "Thank you, I am in receipt of your email with blah blah revision. Per our contract, this is the first round of revisions to this project." Now, it's up to you what constitutes "a round of revisions." It can be "one large design change," it can be "one hour of little revisions over and over," whatever. But have an idea in mind BEFORE you open the file.
  • You do the same with the second round. At the third round, you respond, "I just want to remind you before I start that this is your last round of revisions allotted in our contract. After this, subsequent changes will be billed on a per-hour basis and invoiced [weekly]."
  • Include a Kill Fee or a cancellation fee. The idea is that you always get paid for your time and effort, no matter where they stop in the process. You can pro-rate it to an hourly cost from the last pay milestone to the cancellation point. That will also give them pause.
  • Don't be shy about asking for money. If you're a professional, act like one. Would your plumber be shy about sending you a bill? You are a professional providing a service. It's not your fault if they don't like the service; you still had to do the work. Of course you want them to be happy, but you also need to pay your grocery bill.

Basically, don't do more work than you agreed to before they agree to pay you for it. When you're reaching your estimate, STOP and tell them so.

2/3/2012 4:47:00 PM

"F*ck you, pay me."

Maybe not quite in those words in all possible situations, but you need to always make sure you are in a position where if you had to, you could say exactly that, and back it up.

The quote comes from the title line of a presentation given by Mike Monteiro, which EVERY independent contractor should see: http://dvafoto.mscottbrauer.com/2011/04/fuck-you-pay-me-a-discussion-of-adventures-in-contracts-negotiation-and-payment/

Basically, it's exactly like Lauren Ipsum says:

  • NEVER begin work without a contract.
  • ALWAYS stipulate payment in installments, however you actually structure payments (T&M, fixed price, T&M with not-to-exceed, etc).
  • ALWAYS describe in the contract exactly what is to be done by you. That way, you can point to the contract if they start becoming unreasonable about the number of revisions/iterations they're asking you to do.
  • ALWAYS stipulate that "intellectual property transfers on satisfaction of contract". When you have completed the work, they accept it, AND have paid you in full, THEN they own what you've done for them. Until that time, YOU own it, and if they use it, they owe you royalties.
  • NEVER continue work for a client who is delinquent. You can choose how long to let them slide before you call them delinquent, but basically if you have to call and ask for your money, work on that project stops until you get it.
  • ALWAYS stipulate that non-performance due to delinquency by the client, in either requirements, approvals or payments, is the fault and responsibility of the client, NOT you. They cannot claim penalties for missed deadlines if they have not held up their end.
  • ALWAYS stipulate a "kill fee". This fee can be a fixed price, a percentage of the remaining contract, or unpaid T&M (billed at T&M rates, NOT any discounted rate figured into a fixed-price contract). If they want out, they can't hang you out.
  • ALWAYS include legal fees in stipulated damages. If you require a lawyer's assistance in securing payment, they must pay your lawyer as well. You should never lose money attempting to collect (though in many cases you still will).

These should be agreed to in writing by both you and the client. They are non-negotiable; if they want you to bend on any of this they are looking to shaft you.

In addition, ALWAYS have a lawyer go over any communication you receive from your client requiring a signature, or that you are about to send to your client for signature. Including but not limited to the initial contract, notices, and any re-negs.