I made a mistake last year by underpricing an illustration work. What should I do now that the client is back with new requests?

The client has contacted me to ask for new work, without mentioning a price.

I need a polite way to tell him that I could do the job, but he should expect the price to be at least three times what he paid last time.

(I'm not trying to increase my prices in general. It was just a mistake to agree on such a low budget last time. It was done partly because I support the client's activity, partly because that kind of visibility was quite valuable for me at the time.)

In principle, I could just refuse the job. On the other hand, it makes sense for the client to have the new work done by me in order to keep a consistent style.

How can I convey a concept like this:

I'm afraid I can't take the commission at the same conditions as last year. The price you paid last year doesn't reflect neither the market standards nor my fees. I can reconsider it if you're willing to pay at least three time as much.

with the right balance between dignity and politeness?

  • 2
    Possible duplicate of How do you explain the value of native files to an uneducated client? Similar but not the same. Just remove the three times as much. What you have sounds good already. May 2, 2018 at 14:47
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    Instead of "The price you paid" I may say, "The price I asked" to put the blame on yourself May 2, 2018 at 15:10
  • 5
    @Ovaryraptor I vehemently disagree with that dupe. The only similarity that I see is that both questions are bout getting a customer to pay a higher price than they expect. Sorta.
    – Vincent
    May 3, 2018 at 13:37
  • 1
    It may be relevant and have some very useful information, but it is not a dupe.
    – Vincent
    May 3, 2018 at 14:48
  • 2
    Having been in almost exactly tht situation last week, I used very much your approach with different words. However, the difference in my case was 10%, not 300%. I’d agree with Fattie below, again but the for size of the difference. I think your only real hope is to turn it into a joke, with you as the butt… as in “Did I do that? Really? I have been off with the fairies. No, look; the true price for that kind of thing today should be… … …” May 5, 2018 at 16:56

6 Answers 6


I think your reply is fine. I would perhaps alter it slightly, you don't need to rationalize prices and doing so can often convey a weakness in negotiation:

I would really enjoy completing some additional work for you. Unfortunately, I can't take the commission at the same conditions as last year. My rates have increased. I can consider new work if you're willing to revisit pricing.

This 1) lets the client know you want to do the work, 2) removes the emotion from the statement, and 3) tests the waters to see if they are even willing to renegotiate pricing.

It's a more open, less "defensive" response in my opinion.

  • 9
    Hi @NicolaSap I would not mention pricing in the initial response. You first need to see if they are even willing to discuss pricing, some clients won't be. It alleviates some possible "sticker shock" that way. They are then prepared for an increase before knowing exactly what or how much the increase is.
    – Scott
    May 2, 2018 at 15:18
  • 10
    I would also perhaps give this client a discount if the goal is to have all the illustrative work be of the same style. I personally would want to try and avoid any possible implication that I'm taking advantage of the fact that they need my style and I have them over a barrel, so to speak.
    – Scott
    May 2, 2018 at 15:23
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    .. and it's not their fault I mistakenly underpriced previously.
    – Scott
    May 2, 2018 at 15:31
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    I agree with the discount. Indeed, I'd like to offer them a price they can accept, because I think the work is good and it's worth building a collaboration. As for not mentioning the price straight away, I'm worried that they might try to anticipate me with a 50% increase, to which I'd struggle to reply "actually, I was thinking more of a 150% increase". I'll think of how to do it; thanks anyway
    – Nicola Sap
    May 2, 2018 at 15:31
  • 2
    Unfortunately this is way too complicated. You're opening the door for some sort of confusing discussion about why prices have changed, etc. in every single case, when one states a price, the client will blather rationales about why that price is too high. All you have to say is "FANTASTIC! send over the job and I'll provide a quote!"
    – Fattie
    May 3, 2018 at 17:53

Tell the truth, it does no harm.

Perhaps try:

I'm afraid that for the project we did last year I underestimated the amount of effort, and I ended up out of pocket, so I'm going to have to quote a more realistic price this time round.


I was short of work last year, so I bid a very low price to be sure of getting the contract, partly because I knew that it would increase my visibility and reputation. I'm pleased to say that I've now got a wider range of clients, so I'm going to quote what I think is a fair rate for the job.


I'm pleased to report that you're not the only client who has been appreciative of the work I completed for them, and I'm now unable to take on all the work that people are putting my way. This means that I'm now charging prices which I believe reflect the value of the work that I'm doing.

  • Thanks! These answers don't exactly apply to my case, but I think they will be valuable for other users in similar circumstances.
    – Nicola Sap
    May 2, 2018 at 16:05
  • All three of these are great responses
    – Lil' Bits
    May 6, 2018 at 18:43

Your basic confusion or problem is this:

You are assuming that in some way your new quote has to refer to the old quote in some way.

Here's the entire formula for telling the client what price you want for the new job:

  1. State the price you want

Here's an astounding fact! In 100.0% of cases in this universe when someone has stated the price they want, the other party has said they want to pay less. The other party then almost always proceeds to give rationalizations about why they should pay less. One of these rationalizations may be "oh but last time you charged ..."

If the client says "Last time you charged ..." or any other rationalization, the secret is to not become involved in a discussion. Simply restate the price you want.

If anything, just say "Yes, unfortunately that price was incredibly too low. You have my quote for the new job thanks."

It's that easy! Good luck!

  • It might be better to turn that around. Instead of "Unfortunately, that price was low", say "Yes, you were quite fortunate to have gotten such a low price". May 4, 2018 at 15:07
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    FYI I'd leave it as I have it. It never pays to appear a smarty-pants.
    – Fattie
    May 4, 2018 at 15:16
  • Agree with @Fattie, "You were quite fortunate" could read as snarky.
    – ale10ander
    May 4, 2018 at 18:16
  • While I completely understand this rather blunt and to the point stance, I'm not entirely certain how appropriate it is when dealing with things like illustration. Each artist has a style and style can be very hard to replicate. Therefore the clients are far more of a "captured" audience than they are for other things which are more merely knowledge/experience based. There's OFTEN a connotation of unethically overcharging with such a drastic increase when only you can create your style.
    – Scott
    May 4, 2018 at 22:45
  • I too would not engage in too much discussion. And I wouldn't ever rationalize pricing. But the "here's my quote.. eat it or go away" attitude often doesn't work well when considering creative projects. At least not in my experience. It does how ever work wonderfully when pricing only technical-based projects.
    – Scott
    May 4, 2018 at 22:46

As a customer, I would be gobsmacked if a supplier came at me for similar work with a price quote that multiplies my experience by 3.

I don't care how you explain it. I don't care how you rationalise it. X3 is a big amount that you can't justify with "I underpriced it last year so you are paying for my mistake" It is never good to let a good client walk away.

Here is my take on the subject and how I would resolve.

  1. Last year was my mistake which the client enjoyed. My fault not his/hers. However I need to recover from that mistake.
  2. You will not recover in one fell swoop. It will take maybe two takes or more.
  3. I assume you want to either retain the client or retain the clients good books.
  4. I assume your style can be copied and slowly transformed over a couple of iterations so you are not really a monopolist at all.
  5. Work in your industry is swings and roundabout. Right now x3 maybe good but next year, you may be willing to do it x0.5 - depending on market conditions so retaining a customer/client is important.


Price the work at x 1.5. At a stretch x2 but I as a customer will baulk at x2. You will have to convince me to accept x2. Don't even think of x2.5

I, as a customer, will not give you time of day with x2.5

Explain nicely (you've got lots of nice answers above that works) that you made a spectacular mistake and underpriced last years work. You are trying to recover but you appreciate the clients' business and don't want to lose him/her.

Explain that point with as much force as possible. Let them know that the price was really a deviation from the norm in the marketplace. Hopefully the marketplace will bear you out.

You really can't do it at last years rate and will as a special consideration do it x1.5 or 1.75.
If that is OK with him, you can start as soon as possible. Throw the client a few bones (freebies if possible)

Let that stew for a while and if he decides that even 1.75 is too high, let him/her know that the realistic price is x3 but you will not take on such a job when a supplier x3 his next quote so you are putting yourself in his/hers shoes. But you can't do it at the old rate. You will rather not do it. Let that sink in well.

I do cleaning and I have made mistakes like this. The good thing is customers know when they are getting a good deal and even when they are getting a "too good to be true" deal but I have never succeeded in jacking my prices back to normal levels with the second deal. It usually takes two or more additional deals.

The problem is that the customer is fixated on YOU, your pricing mechanism and will not entertain a x3 price increase. He will be happy to pay that price with a different supplier - just not you.

Why? Humans have all kinds of hangups but the strongest one is "fear of a rip-off"

How do they know you did not get a good deal on your materials, tools anything that can explain their irrational reaction to them and YOU are trying to cheat them?

You see it is all about YOU. Not them.

Good Luck and if you manage to get x3, do please come back and tell. Really. I will like to know. For my own experience and business strategy.

  • 1
    This, a hundred times, this. Because it reflects a reality where your client knows very little about what your job entails and sudden jump in price will not be seen from your perspective. May 6, 2018 at 13:22

You could just say that it was in your interest at the time to accept a lower fee, but at the moment you're busy with work and cannot compromise on budget anymore so the proposed new cost is X. Don't be embarrassed, if your work is good there will presumably be plenty of other opportunities at your current pricing level.

Remove the "i'm afraid" and the "you" to make this less personal.

  • Thanks for your answer. I like the idea of mentioning that I accepted "in my interest" and that the situation has changed, therefore it's not in my interest anymore.
    – Nicola Sap
    May 2, 2018 at 15:14

I like your response. It attempts to level with the customer while still being firm in your decision.

A quick grammatical note: You may want to change

The price you paid last year doesn't reflect neither the market standards nor my fees


The price you paid last year reflects neither the market standards nor my fees

Source: I worked 2 years as a cost-estimator/quote-sender of manufacturing jobs

  • Yes, I was about to leave that as a comment. Using both "doesn't" and "neither" is a double negative. May 4, 2018 at 15:09

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