I have a longstanding relationship with a client and do the majority of their design work. About 2 years ago I was told their "new budget" for one series of booklets was $1,000 each. These booklets are scholarly monographs, mostly type, 60-80 pp but with all kinds of headings, subheadings, indents and tables (oh the tables!) that are quite time-consuming.

I had been doing these booklets for much more, but I agreed to automate production as much as possible and to eliminate certain tweaks to reduce price on two "test" booklets. I completed the 2 booklets, billed $1,000 each, and lost substantially on each one. I explained to client that I would be unable to do this booklet series in the future as I was unable to do so profitably. Client reluctantly agreed. For about a year, someone else did the booklets, presumably at the $1,000 price point. I continued to do other work for this client on agreeable terms. Then suddenly, the job returned to me without explanation. It was agreed that I would charge my usual fee, which is based on time incurred. I completed several booklets and charged on this basis. Everyone was happy.

Then they sent me two new booklets, written by a new person in their department. THESE booklets went through about 10 revisions, as they were passed serially through different reviewers who changed and then re-changed each others' work. I alerted them to the fact that this methodology would substantially increase their production costs, and that they would save money by having all parties review a single proof before returning same to me for edits. I was ignored.

Now the projects are completed, and it is time to bill. If I bill based on hours incurred, charges will be huge. First booklet printed this week, and I learned that blueline changes by printer totaled over $1,000 due entirely to comma editing in the text.

Any suggestions on how best to handle my billing?

  • 2
    I think you know what the decision you have to make is. We can't make it for you - either you take the loss yourself or put it on the client as it sounds like their fault and possibly lose them as a client Feb 28, 2015 at 5:02
  • 1
    Sorry, what's the question?? -- "Is it okay to invoice for the time I worked?" or "Should I just work for free, or reduced rates, since they are paying some unrelated third party $1,000 for blue lines?" Best suggestion would be to invoice for the time you worked, otherwise you'll go out of business.
    – Scott
    Feb 28, 2015 at 7:36

1 Answer 1


You did what you could. You repeatedly pointed out that more work = more money. They were okay with that. So do not feel guilty for charging for your work. Plumbers and electricians do not agonize over charging you for new pipes and outlets.

Write up your bill. If you can nip and tuck a few discounts here and there, do it, but don't do the booklet for $1,000. Bill printer's costs exactly as they are; those are not your problem.

Call your contact before you send the bill and explain, in a slightly apologetic tone, that this is the invoice which you're going to be sending in a minute. Say something like "The total for this project is $X. I know this is more than $1,000, and I wanted to explain why."

Then, in a non-judgmental fashion, briefly summarize the changes: "We had N rounds of changes, which I did explain to Person would cost more. The printer's costs were Z, and part of that was the round of changing commas."

You can finish up by saying "I realize this is a big hit, so I discounted A and B on my bill to help you out a little."

If your contact loses his or her mind, make sympathetic noises and use that as the opening to say "I know, I feel bad, and this is a lot of money. How can we change the process for next time so it's more streamlined?" Make it about solving the process problem.

If you lose the client, it's unfortunate, but personally I'd rather be out $2,000 but have the time to work on other projects than to do $10,000 of work for only $2,000 of pay. Then I'm out $8,000.

  • "Bill printer's costs exactly as they are" = if you are managing the printing, you should also charge a fee on top of the printer's fee for your time/oversight. This is typically a % markup.
    – DA01
    Mar 2, 2015 at 4:09
  • @DA01 Yes, in a standard situation, one does that. I didn't add that comment here because the OP is aware and concerned that the client is being charged a huge amount over the expectation, so billing at cost is a simple way to show a "discount" on the bill without the OP actually eating any of those increased costs. Mar 2, 2015 at 12:10

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