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?

  • 2
    I'm curious as to how you end up not getting your "non refundable" deposit? If you already collected a deposit, and the customer walks, are they doing a credit card chargeback or something? Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:34
  • One guy kept complaining that he shouldn't pay if he isn't happy (I'm in the UK, he in the USA and he complained I was taking too long), and it wasn't necessarily that I didn't get to keep the deposit per say, but I had another job he owed me for and he didn't pay enough, sort of still leaving me short of what I quoted. I had to refund someone as well for a similar situation, ie, not happy with the work (or more accurately, not happy that I wouldn't do more than I said I would for the price) but, it was through Paypal and they'd have been able to get it back via a dispute anyway.
    – Willow
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 22:11

6 Answers 6


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.

  • 3
    Write up your contract, then find a friend who's really good at logic and finding exceptions and sophistry and get him or her to try to weasel out of the contract. That should expose any holes. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 17:11
  • @LaurenIpsum, I just wanted to ask if there was ever a situation that your client didn't pay and you sued them using your contract and got your money?
    – hattenn
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 17:20
  • 1
    @LaurenIpsum, that's what I suspected. I believe writing a long and detailed contract is not useful, especially if you are just starting. First, you don't have the money, power, or the knowledge to fight against big companies in court. Second, they do whatever they want to do even if there's a contract, so in my opinion the best way is to make the project objectives clear during the talks with the client, orally agree on everything, and use an informal and simple contract. I did spend a lot of time preparing a contract when I started my company, and it was completely useless.
    – hattenn
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 20:33
  • 1
    I wish I had read this 2 weeks ago, before I started down this road of endless revisions with one of my current clients.
    – Voxwoman
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 12:53
  • 1
    Yes, you have to specify that each round of revisions costs $X or some clients will do endless revisions because it makes them feel creative. You don’t need a long contract, you just have to write down what has been agreed upon verbally, and then get the client to sign it to show that they agree that it represents what has been agreed upon verbally. The best way I have found for this is to just take notes while meeting with the client and then at the end of the meeting, give them the notes to sign. You are not looking to establish a corporation — you just want a list of things you agree on. Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 8:53

"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.

  • A very succinct statement from a ~5k user on "English Language", eh? Just teasing. Welcome to GD...
    – Farray
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 22:11
  • 1
    ... and a ~17k user on Stack Overflow, and a ~4k user on Programmers. I spread the verbose love around.
    – KeithS
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 22:16
  • "The quote comes from the title line of a presentation given by Mike Monteiro" -- but originally from Goodfellas, where it described the Joe Pesci character's payment policy...
    – e100
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 11:22

Welcome to the World of Graphic Design... lol.. you see their mind is growing with ideas because now it's trial and error to them. You give them a time limit. You know the job takes you 10 hours to do. You tell them how long it takes without revisions, offer 2 revisions then tell them to pay per revision there after. You shouldn't have to explain why, just like their time is valuable so is yours.

You'll hear them say they can get a logo for $10. Good, they will hate it, will be paying extra for revisions and will wish they went with you. They want to pay s**t, they will get just that.

Always get half up front. People pay for products and services upfront all the time and you have no reason to explain yourself. Once they pay some, there is an obligation to stay with your service. They obviously seen your work and they need to work with you, you don't work for them.

Another good thing is having them sign a small contract of exactly what you are doing, in an email or in person, and that's what you do for them. 10 hours 9 of which is you designing, the other hour is broken up into revisions not new layouts.

It's a tough business and you will constantly get a**holes but don't fret there are people that value a good graphic designer. If they want to hire you on a day rate then you get paid, as well.

It's all in the questions and letting them know you are as busy and important as they are. You'll probably get tons of answers here and I vote we all pitch in and make a mighty post on handling clients before they have a chance to take advantage of kindness.

  • It's your lively hood. There are a lot of sharks out there. You just need to go through a few good deals and experience will take over. Good Luck. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 17:05

I think all of us who have done the small free-lance thing have had to deal with this. Most of what I was going to write has already been covered in Stefan's answer, but I have a few more thoughts...

Never ever feel awful about asking for money up front. They are going to have to pay for your service, whether up front or after the fact - so why feel bad about the timing? In general, people pay up-front for everything (or sign a contract to pay later). Your services are not any less valuable than those of other vendors.

The key to this is having a clear definition and agreement. If you have a written agreement, and get part of the money up-front or in stages, it empowers you to dig in your heels and say "this is what you agreed to, and this is what you have paid for". If a client starts to make too many requests, you will have to draw the line.

For what it's worth, below is the workflow guideline that I adhere to. I do most of my work in a small 2-man team and this has worked well for us. Everything is broken down by stage, with requirements to be fulfilled before progressing to the next stage.

  1. Definition

    We collaborate with the client to define an detailed spec of the project requirements before we do any work. This involves all of their requirements (layout, colors, branding, time, etc.) all of our requirements (time, money, etc.)

    We don't proceed out of this stage until we understand the client, and the client understands us. We typically require a non-refundable payment (generally not 100%, but a significant portion of the project quote) at this point.

  2. Design

    Wireframes & sketches are used to knock down a basic layout. Some rough styling will be done, but none of the time-consuming minor tweaks that really polish a design. We don't continue to the next stage until the client agrees that they are happy with the overall design.

    If the client wants something that is not part of the agreed project definition, we stop everything and revise the definition & price accordingly.

  3. Refinement

    For logos & simple print designs, this is the last phase and just involves polishing the design.

    At this point, if the client says "I want to change X about the layout" and it's a nontrivial change, we simple say "sorry, that needed to be done during the Design phase". If they are adamant that they need to make the change, we quote them a price to alter the agreement.

  4. Delivery

    The client gets their product. We get any remaining payment. The books are closed and we are done. After this point, any change is treated as a new job and is quoted accordingly.

(If we're doing a website or app, there is also an Assembly and Debugging stage before Delivery.)

Generally we require payment at each major stage. Ie., before Design, before Assembly, before Delivery. This keeps us on equal footing with our clients -- at any point of the game, we have provided part of a product and received part of a payment. If they fire us, we walk away with a clean soul and without having done work for free. This hasn't happened yet, but I don't doubt that it will someday. People are fickle.

I think this equal footing is extremely important. We don't ask too much of them without providing anything in return, and do not give them too much without requiring something in return.

If you devalue your work, a client will not hesitate to increase requirements (by way of revisions, changes, suggestions, etc.) - and if you do not have an agreement in place (and some money in your pocket), you may feel beholden to their requests.

  • This is a good structure, and very similar to what I do. Wireframing in particular is a great middle step. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:06

One way is to estimate in hours, not dollar amounts and make it clear that you are billing hourly.


Most freelancers hate the business side of the graphic design industry, but we all have to deal with it at some point. Yes, write up a contract. If you're just starting and want to keep things simple so not to scare off clients, here are a few points

  • make a simple contract outlining the most important elements: how many revisions, project/per hour costs, what is expected from each party.

  • when quoting for a project bullet point where your time will be spent. Include research, communication (emails, phone calls), mock-ups, designing, revisions, uploading, set-up, etc.

  • over estimate delivery time but give them a realistic timeline. Some clients think a website can be done in two days, and you're going to write all the copy.

  • If a client seems shady, do yourself a favor and let them go.


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