A previous client has the source files, and wants some "small changes" made for free. These changes would probably take me 15 min. max, but the entire reason they wanted the source files was so they could update them as needed without paying me. I had a lot of misgivings about giving them the source files in the first place, but they pressed for them and to keep the relationship going smoothly, I gave them up.

What's a tactful way to handle this? Charge $x per change? Tell them to do it themselves per their own directives? It's possible that more of these changes would be coming through in the future, because the client has no idea how to use ID. I've even told them they can make these types of changes in Acrobat, which would be way easier than using ID for them - but they seem to ignore that bit every time.

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    Similar question, but GoofyMonkey's answer really helped here as it had some nuanced specifics to this situation, whereas the other thread was more general (just charge them). – TCDesigner Feb 9 '17 at 23:16
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  • If you got hit by a bus or something else ended your ongoing relationship, they would use the source files and maybe find someone else who knows what to do with them. – WBT Feb 11 '17 at 21:15
  • I find it hard to imagine any change so small that it will only take 15 minutes. Any change has a minimal overhead for change control administration and for re-testing, and for a project that takes quality seriously that overhead is usually much more than 15 minutes. – Michael Kay Feb 12 '17 at 11:12

Bill them by the hour, half hour, quarter hour.

If you have an ongoing relationship with them and want to "give" them this one, keep track of the time, and tack it onto another job. If this is the only thing you are ever going to do for them, bill them.

I have numerous clients that I do many small changes on things throughout the month. I usually just keep track of the small things and bill them all at once.

If I have a client that I only do big jobs for, and they ask for something small, I usually just eat it. If they start coming back at me for more and more small things I bunch it together and bill them.

  • I had been doing this before our work came to a close, and didn't think to do it again this time. Thanks! It's just odd that they wanted to cut me out by having these source files and now they don't want to mess with them. Oh well... – TCDesigner Feb 9 '17 at 23:18
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    ... and include the time spent on reading their emails, accepting the files, making the changes, documenting any changes, sending the files back, writing the email, and raising the invoice. – David Aldridge Feb 10 '17 at 0:05
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    Round to the half hour with 1 hour minimum per group of requests. You deserve to be paid for the time it takes you to respond to their massesages as well. – Matthew Whited Feb 10 '17 at 23:01
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    "they wanted to cut me out by having these source files and now they don't want to mess with them.": probably they didn't want to get rid of you but they wanted to keep that power in their hands in case something went wrong. – Pere Feb 11 '17 at 10:08

I have a block of 10 changes they can buy. Emphasise what a good deal it is. Otherwise point out that it's great they have the source files as now they can change them themselves free of charge! NOTE: it took you years of studying, working and practicing to change something in "15 mins". It will take them hours. Charge for the time you save them not how long it took you to do something once you spent years studying it.

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    Excellent point about how it only takes me so long, but that's because I spent years learning and doing it. – TCDesigner Feb 10 '17 at 3:31

The fact that they have the source files is a bit of a red herring. They well may have wanted those to guard against needing changes in the future, and finding you were busy, working somewhere else, or refused to do them for some reason. Then they could engage someone else (possibly at great expense) to work out what you did.

However for a small change, you are the obvious person to make it, as you understand your own work. Whether or not you charge for it is up to you, possibly you may find they keep coming back for other free "small" changes. That might be the time to state that it is only reasonable to charge for your time.

On the other hand, being nice and doing a few minutes work for free may give you a good reputation with them. They might, for example, recommend you to other people looking for someone like you to work for them. Or you might get another big job from them later on.


While there is the immediate impulse to charge as recommended by others here, if you know this only takes 15 minutes, be polite. More so if your previous experience with the client was good and have no reason to avoid them. Keeping this relationship floating could bring in more consistent work in the future. I see you mention the possibility of more such requests, which could lead to further payments beyond these 15 minutes.

Tell them you can do this free of charge if its only this they need at the moment. But don't mention how long it takes you to resolve this.

Politely remind them they had the intention of using the files you supplied in the past. If they expect anything else besides this, they will be charged per hour. You know you are covered the next time they need something, and this should be the only free 15 minutes. Make them understand and accept this in writing before you do the actual work.

The next time they need an update, you could make it so that it also easily covers these 15 minutes.


If your original contract with the client clearly outlines the conditions of future edits on the original source files, bring those details to their attention. If you are indeed exempt from future revisions (per the language of the contract) and they still want the revisions, let them know it will be billed as a new job and write up a new contract that clearly states stipulations for future revisions (number of revisions included, cost per, etc.) to settle any disagreements further down the road. Setting expectations early and often is a basic building block of a healthy relationship with any client. Doing so will not only ensure that both parties will ultimately get what they want, it also serves as a benchmark for any future work with this and other clients. On a larger scale, fair and consistent (i.e; ethical) business practices serve to set a precedent with said clients that (a) graphic design is a profession and should be treated as such and (b) there is an integrity standard to be upheld in the graphic design industry as a whole.

Try to avoid situations where you do it for free (even if it's a quick job or for a friend). This is a surefire way to cause disagreements down the road where the client will inevitably dictate to you how long the revision will take you to complete in an effort to justify not paying you (and yes, this happens with seemingly good clients too). Also, if you do work for other clients in the same industry, word might get around that you did some free work for "Client A", resulting in "Client B" wanting the same service pro bono as well. Just keep in mind, if you do professional quality work, you should be getting paid for it.

All things considered, only you know the true relationship with your client so it's your call. These are just some things I've run into in the past.

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    It can definitely turn into a slippery slope if you work for free. – TCDesigner Feb 10 '17 at 3:33
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    Not only for your own business, but in many cases for the next designer down the road. I've had clients try to use the free work from a previous designer as a bargaining chip on jobs I was working on. Needless to say, it puts you in a tight spot. There's enough people out there who feel like they don't have to pay for design work without us perpetuating the practice. – zeethreepio Feb 10 '17 at 12:57

Your client has come to the realisation that doing changes even inhouse has a cost associated with it. Perhaps even that your cost is not high after all. Thing is you need to deliver to bring in money. Somebody with this as a side job may take very long to do the same. This is a good example as to why not burn bridges, even if it seems like the other party is terminating the business relationship.

Just bill them for the change. You should strive clarify the terms of future conditions, since client clearly was unhappy with previous arangement.

This is a good place for you to review what your contract looks like in relation to releasing sources. For example is it really your job to archive files for them? If not do you bill them a archivial fee, or ask them to supply source files? So look at this a way to improve the way you handle this kind of thing next time even if this one is less than perfect.


If you have an existing agreement which does not cover subsequent changes and this is clearly additional work rather than rectifying a fault then you don't really want to set a precedent that you will do indefinite additional work for free.

On the other hand you also don't want to alienate a client for the sake of 15 minutes work.

As a good compromise I would suggest doing the work but being very clear that it is chargeable but in this case you will waive the fee as a goodwill gesture and make this clear in writing.

What you shouldn't do it just do it without saying anything.

If you really want to ram the point home invoice them for the work but discount it 100% or send a credit note, depending on what your accounting system requires.

Often this sort of decision comes down to your intuition as to how good a client they are, sometimes you can 'smell' clients which are going to be nothing but trouble and it is better to tactfully bid them goodbye before you get into a serious dispute which could harm your reputation.

The other extreme is if they are a good client it is often worth helping out the person you are dealing directly with, especially if they have made a mistake and sweeping a little bit of extra work under the carpet will help them save face within their own organisation.


While working on a larger project for an important client, I was assigned some additional work, that was “thrown in for free” to make the sale. When the client later decided to not use my work, I learned that it was easy for them to throw away a month of my time, since it cost them nothing. (I was salaried, but I could have spent time on another project a client actually wanted.) The lesson for me was don’t expect customers to value your time more than you do. Later in the relationship, I learned that clients respect you more for saying, “No.”, than agreeing to unreasonable requests.

What would you think of a medical practitioner that didn’t bill you for a 10 minute appointment? (I would think I had stepped through a rip in the time-space continuum and that my doctor was Marcus Welby. MD.) Nowadays I would prefer to pay for the valuable services rendered by a professional with years of education and experience.

  • I generally agree that every service has its price, but don't take this personal please as i consider the employed vs freelancer perspective different. A freelancer does his own client servicing and is directly responsible for a client leaving or staying. You decide when to work and when to send flowers. When employed, you are not making these calls, just execute what's on the table, as somebody else is taking the client to dinner so salaries can get paid. Your work is paid for by the employer, not the client directly, and then a client is free to not use the work they paid for. – Lucian Feb 12 '17 at 7:52
  • And the OP here talks about 15 minutes which could possibly bring back a former paying client. That is nothing basicly. Nobody throws in one month for free, unless the important client pays so many salaries that one free month becomes a necessary gift. – Lucian Feb 12 '17 at 8:01

How many times have you had to call a utility or credit card company for adjustments to bills, and they say they will do a "one-time courtesy" adjustment? Indicate this is a one-time courtesy, perhaps keeping track of the time spent. Then if they come back for more work give them a choice of paying for the prior work, or pay an advance deposit on the next change request.

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