I'm fairly new to freelancing and have an issue that I'm not sure how to tackle.

I'm still struggling to get paid work so every potential job is very important, however I've had so many time wasters. One of whom has got in touch with me several times over the past few months, always asking for a quotation on a different project. She will only speak to me face-to-face and talks for ages, but never actually follows through and commissions me for any work.

She's got in touch yet again saying she wants to discuss an upcoming project with me. I'm starting to get fed up with wasting my time for no financial payoff but not sure what to say to her as I don't want to be rude/ruin my reputation, and part of me keeps thinking maybe she is serious this time.

Any advice much appreciated!

Thank you


6 Answers 6


Something to consider: Charging a consultation fee then offering half or all of the fee as a credit when the contract is signed.

  • 1
    1000x this. This is the only truly correct answer to this problem. Lawyers do this without a refund or deduction on further works. So do Doctors and anyone else serious about their time and presumptive of business. Getting to the point of being presumptive about business is the mental jump for a designer.
    – Confused
    Jul 7, 2016 at 7:45

This is something some people do. I don't know you, the client or anything about the situation so it's hard to tell but it is likely one of two scenarios.

  1. Your client is indecisive and not very serious about her ideas. An idea pops in to her head and the first thing she does is arrange a meeting with you to run through the the project, get advice and gauge how viable the project is taking in to account costs and timescales etc.


  2. Your client has no intention of using you at all. I know people who will get quotes and ideas from cheaper and less experienced designers just so they can go to someone more experienced and say "hey, this person quoted me X amount" as a bargaining tool *.

In either case, it is not doing you any good.

Obviously there is no obligation to follow through with a quote and go ahead with the project but if someone is consistently asking for quotes, taking up face-to-face time and never following through with the project, that is wasting your time. Time is money, and you could spend that time better by looking for other work.

Be direct and explain the situation to this person. There's no need to be rude or too blunt about it but they may not realise they are doing anything wrong. If this person is a decent and reasonable person they will understand. Explain that you are not going to have face-to-face meetings unless they are serious about the project. If they want a meeting just to run through ideas and get your advice—charge for your time. That will end any time wasting (or you'll get paid for the time, so you win either way). If the client isn't understanding, they aren't worth having as a client.

* If you are on the other end of this, pay no attention. What you charge is what you charge. Some room for negotiation on price is fine, but not as a response to "this person does it cheaper".

  • Great idea, I'm thinking now I will say to all potential clients I am charging for consultations, otherwise everything else goes in email and I get back if and when I can. I have a suspicion that in this case, number 2 scenario is happening as she has mentioned she's been in touch with other designers about the same job. Jul 1, 2016 at 11:16
  • If it's taking up your time and it's happening consistently then definitely charge for your time! Either way, have a frank conversation about it, she may not realise she's doing anything wrong and may just be "shopping around". Although there are people who will do this knowing fully well that they are wasting your time.
    – Cai
    Jul 1, 2016 at 11:34
  • Yep I need to start feeling more comfortable with frank conversations and being more assertive - I think this is probably hard for a lot of people starting out! This particular client has made a couple of "off" comments to me that have made me feel a bit uncomfortable in the past so it's probably time I toughened up... Jul 1, 2016 at 18:56
  • Of course. It's hard for everyone starting out, just don't let anyone take advantage of that. Worst case scenario is you lose a customer, and in that case it's most likely not worth having that customer. Whatever happens you take it as a lesson and benefit from the experience, even if it is a bad one.
    – Cai
    Jul 1, 2016 at 20:08

If I were you, I would deffinetely tell her that I'm working on another project and if she wants to discuss anything she'd have to first gather any materials relating to it and then in one single E-MAIL describe what she wants and send you those materials. That will show that she is serious enough. Describe you EMAIL request with certain changes you've made to your work process and that now you gather all projects through e-mail so no details get lost in translation. (sorry for the long sentence)

  • Thanks for the suggestion Tanya - that would be ideal. I will try to do this although I suspect she will still push for a face-to-face meeting in which case I'll just have to forget her as a potential client and say no. Jul 1, 2016 at 11:13
  • I did this in a similar situation. Asking the client to actually do some work themselves usually meant I did not have to actually do anything, since I was just waiting for their input.
    – spiral
    Sep 21, 2018 at 9:10

Being afraid of ruining reputation and wanting to earn money is natural for freelancer.

First, there is no reputation to ruin. From my experience clients like her use people as a free idea well, brainstormers etc. What she can do to ruin your reputation? Say that you are hard to work with when there is no money involved? I've seen more freelancers ruining their relationships with customers by taking more than they could chew and loosing customers in the process than people who had bad rep based on how willingly they are to work for free (actually there is zero people I know or heard about that have such rep).

Second, and most difficult, is to let loose a "possibly income". If you have been "working" with her just bill the hours you wasted and see how much you didn't earned and calculate how much you would need to bill her now to compensate your previous loss. It will help you visualise what kind of money YOU didn't get.

Because, from a freelancer point of view, in such cases you loose two things. First is the money you didn't get for the work you've done. (yes, consultations is also work we do and should get paid for) And second, you wasted your time. Time you could spend on self improving, doing personal works, honing skills and, most important, looking for paying customers.

  • Thank you, this is good to hear and I should stop worrying about my rep so much, at least from this point of view. I bet if I said I was charging for consultations now the tune will change... Jul 1, 2016 at 11:14

I had such a person waste my time regularly. I knew that he would not follow up on the quotation but I still did it for some reason.

I don't do this anymore.

My current opinion is that you could charge for estimates. And not make quotations at all, make it clear they're estimates, not quotations.

Personally I don't want to do estimates anymore, even if I'm payed for them, because sometimes it just feels like I'm being paid for shooting myself in the foot, at worse, and for doing something that is useless, at best.

If the client trusts me then they can ask me to work on a particular problem. I try to work in constant communication with the client so that budgets are kept in control, the client remains satisfied and I'm not wasting my time.

I think it's best people hire me for a defined number of hours and pay in advance, at least partly.


There's a lot of different solutions and it's mostly going to depend on your personality, your work style and what solution works best for you.

Like others have suggested, charging a consultation fee can be a good solution... the problem with that though is you might wind up turning away potential clients who don't want to pay your consultation fee to get a quote. I freelance at the moment and most of the time my clients are comparing me with one or two other freelancers... if I started charging a consultation fee just to talk to people about a job, I doubt a lot of those companies would have me in the mix in the first place.

I've managed to mostly eliminate this problem from my own work, here's what I found worked for me.

1. Have a fixed hourly rate. Saves a lot of quoting. I charge my time out at $85 an hour, most clients have an idea of how much time they want me to spend on something so they know straight away what I'm going to charge them and they build in a bit of wiggle room in case a job takes longer than expected. Generally, they'll ask me at the start of a job how long I need or they'll say "We've budgeted for 12 hours, is that enough time?"

2. Let your client set the budget. If someone is coming to me and two other people to price a job, I want my cost to be whatever they had in mind in the first place (provided there's enough time to reasonably complete the job of course.) If they aren't just booking me for a set number of hours, then I'll ask "What's your budget". I have a standard quote request form I send people and it's one of the first questions on that form. If their budget is unreasonable, then I can politely decline the work without wasting any more time. If the budget is reasonable then I can cost in some time, allowing for initial work and revisions, that comes in roughly around what they had budgeted. Oftentimes I actually beat out competitors who cost a job for less than me because my cost is roughly what they budgeted for, not way under or way over. They know they can't afford the guy who is way over, they assume the guy who's way under isn't going to do very good work, and they go with me.

I know these ideas seem (extremely) simple... but surprising how many freelancers aren't pricing jobs this way.

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