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I recently had an experience with a client that was a bit messy, and now they don't want to pay for the work I did.

They needed some presentation decks, one of which needed to be editable (text to go on top of graphics) in PowerPoint. I told them that I do not work in PowerPoint as a graphic designer, what I can do is create images that can serve as a background template onto which text boxes on PowerPoint can be created.

From there, my time was highly mismanaged. The person kept directing me to figure out different ways of working around what I proposed and seemed resistant to it. All the research I did, and later confirmed with graphic designers- told me that this was the way to go from Adobe to PowerPoint. I initially did not want to invoice for this time, but they directed me to look into things after I told them I didn't work in PowerPoint.

They fired after I spent days on end working and researching to appease the woman and see if I could find other ways around around her reticence about working with the approach I outlined about.

They then sent me an email that my work was incomplete and unusable and would not pay me (p.s. they fired me before they even reviewed all of it, and what was reviewed was never stated to be incomplete or un-useable). I explained to them that my time was 1) mismanaged and redirected to research and this delayed design time and 2) that I did everything I was directed to and they fired me before any revisions or edits could be made. If they needed something to be created in PowerPoint from the start, they should have told me.

So I was hoping to get advice- it is my understanding that designers don't work in PowerPoint and that I worked around this in the way that it seems everyone I talked to would. Can they do this? We agreed to freelancing per hour, not per project, I did not have a contract unfortunately.

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I've created PowerPoint templates for clients... design is design. Without a contract you've basically put yourself in a position where you just have to walk away and learn from it. –  Scott Jul 1 at 23:31
    
Did they warn and give you time to remedy the situation? If you go legal route this becomes a central issue. As both parties must show they acted in good faith. –  joojaa Jul 2 at 14:10
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That's not entirely correct.. It depends on area, and what was agreed. Either way it will be lengthy but if everything was verbal and not in email form it will be a he said she said battle and you would likely lose.. As Scott said.. its a learning battle but if you want to spend 20 hours fighting for a few hours of work than you may not get far as a designer.. Just add it to the lessons of life and next have a contract. –  Matt Jul 2 at 14:34
    
Was there a contract? If so, take them to small claims court. It's fairly easy to do. –  DA01 Jul 10 at 16:09
    
Oh, missed that last line. You can still fight it sans contract, but as others have stated, its more work. Life lesson. –  DA01 Jul 10 at 16:10

4 Answers 4

I have worked with PowerPoint files as well, but I have also prepared just backgrounds when requested, so it really depends on what they asked and what you agreed on. Perhaps something in between would be ideal, YOU create the backgrounds, but YOU also add them to a PP file along the styles for titles, lists and so on.

Regarding the contract, a question first: Did you exchange emails? If you have proof, verbal contracts can be as valid as written ones.

I'm not a lawyer, you should consult one to be sure, but if you can demonstrate you delivered what they asked, you could at least let them know you are willing to take measures.

Here are a couple of articles on verbal contracts that might be of help:

Legally, verbal contracts are normally just as valid as written ones. As with any contract, three things are required to create a contract, verbal or otherwise:

  • An offer
  • An acceptance of that offer
  • Consideration (Consideration is a bargained-for exchange –”I’ll do this if you pay me that.”)

If you have secondary documents such as emails and text messages or quotes, these documents could help you overcome the burden of proof.

Since you already did the backgrounds, I suggest you tell them you can add them to a PP file and send it to them. I'm sure they don't want to start from scratch, perhaps you can get to an agreement.

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I'm very sympathetic to your situation, but I think you're pretty much stuck on this one. After you told them "I don't work in PowerPoint" but then continued to work for them, you put yourself in this position.

Corporate types who are accustomed to working with MS Office sometimes can't grasp what the Adobe suite does or how it's different. They want what they want and they want you to do it without telling them it can't be done. I used to get that a lot going between InDesign and Word. "Well, you created this beautiful letterhead/flyer/brochure/tradeshow booth, and thanks, but now I need to bring it in-house so I can made changes myself and not pay you for updates. I need you to redo it in Word and it has to look exactly the same." At which point my department would first have a hearty laugh, and then spend time weeping, and then some poor account rep had to go back to the client and manage expectations.

So yeah, you kind of put yourself over the barrel here. If you didn't clarify up front what the end product was going to be and what programs you do and don't work in, you didn't manage the client's expectation of what you could (or were willing to) deliver. The time to nip this in the bud was when the client said she wanted the final product as a styled, designed PowerPoint deck. If you aren't willing or able to produce that, you should have said so right there and not spent the hours in research. (You might have been able to salvage the relationship by suggesting someone who could work in PPT if you know someone.)

Yisela has some good suggestions about trying to come to a compromise if you want to pursue that, but for me, unless this was a steady client whose work I needed, I'd let them walk. They insisted that you do something out of your skill set, they were willing to work without a contract (which isn't professional), and then they took advantage of not having a contract. This is not a partner.

This kind of thing happens from time to time. It's part of learning the business. Chalk it up to growing pains and move on, as Scott notes above.

ETA the obvious for next time... have a contract.

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As someone who is an amateur designer but frequent purchaser of professional work I would like to offer an answer from the buyer's perspective. I say this with the utmost respect for the design profession and with sympathy to your present situation as I know it's painful to work without being paid.

I know I am putting my reputation points at risk with this answer. I am not trying to make people mad. I just want to offer a different perspective. I respect that many (most) of the people on this site will disagree. I hope your respect my right to disagree as well.


Analysis of the Situation

it is my understanding that designers don't work in PowerPoint

Graphic designers do work in Powerpoint and anywhere else good graphic design is needed (which is honestly everywhere). You seem to be under the impression that if a designer does not fit Adobe's narrow image of what tools and substrates should be used, that person is not a "graphic designer." That idea is simply wrong.

They needed some presentation decks, one of which needed to be editable (text to go on top of graphics) in PowerPoint. I told them that I do not work in PowerPoint as a graphic designer, what I can do is create images that can serve as a background template onto which text boxes on PowerPoint can be created.

The biggest problem I have with this is you're accepting work using a tool with which you have inadequate experience to fulfill the client’s needs. By doing so, you not only set yourself AND YOUR CLIENT up for failure (or an insane learning curve), but also prevent other designers who are better experienced and capable of fulfilling the client's needs from doing the work. (See Liability below.)

The buyer here seems to have clearly described their basic needs. You were not capable of meeting those needs due to your lack of experience in the work desired but offered an alternative. By offering this alternative after having heard the needs of your client, the client should feel safe assuming that as an expert you are offering them a true alternative, not a lesser or incomplete product. (Graphics that could eventually be used in Powerpoint slides is incomplete work based on the client’s needs.) They may have expected you to take an alternate route but for the end result to fit their required needs.

Think of what would happen if you went to a car dealer to buy a new car and they told you they have something just as good — all the parts unassembled. They promise you it’s essentially the same thing. Well, unless you know how to put cars together (I certainly don’t), it’s not worth anything to you as you needed a car. They give you the impression that it’s essentially the same thing but it’s not.

You should have declined the work at this point.

I initially did not want to invoice for this time, but they directed me to look into things after I told them I didn't work in PowerPoint.

If someone billed me for research that is obviously a prerequisite for the required task, I would have done the same. It's okay for a graphic designer to bill for research outside the basic task (like research on the automotive industry before doing an automotive design), but here it seems like something you must know before offering your services. Frankly, I would feel that the designer owed me for giving them the ability to learn basics on the job. They did not come to you saying "we need someone to research how to create designs for Powerpoint slides." They needed someone who knows how to do it. Whether you are paid hourly is irrelevant because your billable time is for design work, not basic research.

Perhaps a written contract that specifically states research outside the scope of Adobe tools is part of the work could have solved this but I don’t think it’s fair to assume they have to pay you to learn the basics of how to do what they want you to do.

They then sent me an email that my work was incomplete and unusable and would not pay me (p.s. they fired me before they even reviewed all of it, and what was reviewed was never stated to be incomplete or un-useable).

Unless your delivery included usable Powerpoint template slides (just like the ones that come with Powerpoint), then your work is incomplete. Whether or not they reviewed incomplete work is irrelevant (though it may have been rude that they didn't). What is relevant is whether the work is complete.

If they needed something to be created in PowerPoint from the start, they should have told me.

They did.


Liability

Other answers have a great discussion on contract law. These are great discussions and I don't want to take anything away from them, but unless you've got lots of money or a dusty law degree and plenty of time, you're better off just moving on. As is the client.

However (and I say this tongue-in-cheek), there are two sides to this situation and I'm not sure if you're entirely in the clear. If you wasted the buyer's time and gave the impression that you could meet their needs without being able to deliver you could be liable for the time and resources spent dealing with you. In some places, you could also be held responsible for paying the designer who does the work after you didn't deliver. If you were dealing with a very time-sensitive project worth millions of dollars, those lost millions could be your responsibility if you gave the impression they could count on you to do what they needed in the time it needed to be done.

Of course your description does not fit such an extreme example. I just wanted to make the point that contracts have two sides and liability can go both ways.


Bottom Line

You put yourself in a bad situation. You should consider yourself fortunate that they cut you off before you sunk more resources into this. Don’t do work for which you are not prepared and do not expect the client to be satisfied with anything less than their desired work.

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A well-reasoned and excellent answer that takes a different path to the same conclusion: walk away and learn from the experience. –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 10 at 20:42
    
To be honest, it's quite surprising to me that a designer doesn't know how to use PowerPoint. It's as straight forward as getting the measurements and the slideshow aspect ratio right. I'm also pretty sure a bit of Google-fu would make it possible for most designers to get this done. In essence, I don't think it's very much a prerequisite skill, and can easily be learnt on the job as it appears the OP was trying to do. –  user Jul 11 at 1:13
    
Im okay with this reasoning if OP had not mentioned he does not work in powerpoint, at this point its a cookup by both parties so both pay up. C –  joojaa Jul 11 at 6:04

It is a tough situation, and I have had similar situations. I cover this by a cancellation fee in a contract. If they are not satisfied, then they must pay the cancellation fee (15% of the total estimated cost)

I can't offer much suggestions for your current situation, but I would adopt this practice in the future.

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so wait... You offer a cancellation fee but no where in your answer do you mention what you do if you've spent four hours researching, as the the OP mentioned.. So by your answer I am assuming you only charge 15% for several hours worth of work?? If thats the case sign me up!! I'll sub out all my work to you, wait till you complete it then cancel the contract so all I will have to pay is 15% of what the contract states... –  Matt Jul 2 at 13:45
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You've got a valid point @Gramps but to be fair... the cancellation clause could stipulate that the content's ownership goes back to the designer and cannot be used in any way by the client. Not sure if that's what Jacob does or not though –  Ryan Jul 2 at 13:51
    
agreed.. my point is that it should be clarified in the answer.. –  Matt Jul 2 at 13:52
    
@Ryan at what point did it leave the designer? Its the designers until its released, inst that kind of the point of copyright. Tough its good to spell it out aloud so the customer understands this. –  joojaa Jul 2 at 14:07
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Just because you have a kill fee or a cancellation fee doesn't mean you don't stipulate that you also have to be paid for hours worked. The point of the kill fee is to discourage the client from cancelling, but you should be paid for the work you did regardless. Work four hours at the client's direction, get paid for four hours. The kill fee is on top of that (or should be). –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 2 at 18:17

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