Situation: a long time client (at this point I've done consistent work for them for about two years) just messaged me saying they do not want me to bill them for the last design I did because it was not what they wanted. However when explaining the project they said I could have creative freedom.

Is this a normal thing for clients to not pay for a project and then expect you to do it over? I get edits and things like that but expecting you to not bill them for what you already did and just starting over? Do you expect a client to not pay for a design they don't like?

  • 4
    No, its not ok to decide after the fact that you dont want to pay. If you klike you can do the do over for free... but dont back up on a deal.
    – joojaa
    Jun 8, 2017 at 20:09
  • 8
    Bill them according to the terms of your written and signed contract. You do have a contract, don't you? Also see the excellent videoed talk: F--- you, pay me.
    – Wildcard
    Jun 9, 2017 at 0:57
  • Get everything in writing before doing any work. Show the results to the client every 10% or milestone so you are redoing a lot of work. Get them to sign off on it every 10%.
    – cybernard
    Jun 9, 2017 at 3:41
  • 1
    It's common for vendors to not want to pay contractors (example: Trump) but it's still wrong. You did work. They need to pay you for the work you did.
    – DA01
    Jun 17, 2017 at 0:32

3 Answers 3


This sounds like an uncommon relationship.. or at least workflow.

In most situations, you'd present a design, if the client doesn't like the design, you rework it. Striving to make the client happy. But it's all billable. A contract should state as much.

Just because a client tells you not to bill them for something... that does not mean you don't bill them. It's not their choice what you charge for. However, a request like that would lead me to a discussion....

  • The project was assigned. I spent X hours creating the project you requested. That time could have been spent on other clients and other projects. Instead it was reserved to complete the project which you requested. If I work on a project I expect payment.
  • What don't you like?
  • How can I edit this to better suit your needs?
  • I will strive to create something you can use, but this is a billable project.

All that being posted.. if it's a long standing, great client and the project was minimal, only taking a couple hours or less... I may offer a considerable discount if they are unhappy. And in some instanced not invoice. However, I've never not invoiced because a client told me not to.

  • 1
    It's really your call @Paula I give great clients a bit of leeway. That way they stay great clients. I may let it slip this one time.. And be prepared for when they do it again later, because they probably will if you let it go once. I evaluate things.. if I've made several thousands of dollars from the client... not billing for a couple hundred every now and then, isn't that big of a deal in my mind. It's more a loss-leader to keep the client. The "don't bill us" statement would bother me a great deal... but I'd just swallow it for the time being. But again, that's me with my best clients.
    – Scott
    Jun 9, 2017 at 15:38
  • 2
    Truth is, I don't think I've ever had a good client say anything even remotely like that to me. The good clients pretty much expect to pay for everything. In fact, they will often be surprised when i give them anything gratis.
    – Scott
    Jun 9, 2017 at 15:40
  • 1
    Yea that's the thing I have literally done thousands of dollars of work for them and this is the first time anything like that has ever happened. It bothered me a great deal because I know it's not right but on the other hand they do provide me with steady work and always pay on time. I think I'm going to let it go this time and if it happens again I will cut ties with them completely.
    – Paula
    Jun 9, 2017 at 15:45
  • 5
    Well generally you don't need to "cut ties" :) You just need to explain that when they ask for something, you are giving them your time rather than giving it to another client. And that time is billable whether they ultimately choose to use the resulting design or not. If you ask me to bake a cake... I bake the cake,.. and THEN you decide you don't want the cake... You still have to pay for the cake. The cake is yours even if you throw it down the disposal.
    – Scott
    Jun 9, 2017 at 15:47
  • 1
    I just copy and pasted your above comment into a doc to save it so I can use it later. That's a great way to explain it and I never thought of it like that, thanks for your advice!
    – Paula
    Jun 9, 2017 at 15:51

It's not OK. The next question is, how to deal with that.

I'd say something like:

Dear Mike, we both want to make our design up to your expectations. However, we disagree on the payment terms for the work done.

As far as I understand you, you don't want to pay for the work that I've done for you. Could you talk more about why my job is so horrible this time?

What you just did?

  1. By using extreme language, you've made the client defend your job: "It's not actually horrible, it's rather good..."

  2. Made you speak about the design, not money.

After you know what exactly is bad, you may tell your points:

  • it's not a spec work, therefore it should be paid an agreed amount
  • show him this thread
  • basically show him support and act like a parent, explaining the rules and supporting his fears.

I ran our agency, VisualPharm, since 2002 till 2012 and we've got three cases like that (out of 200+ clients). They are extremely hard to handle via email. Skype, phone or a lunch work much better.

In all three cases the clients paid.

  • In two cases out of three, we didn't keep the client
  • In one case he has come back after a while. He said it was his fault. He made his team manage our design project and didn't involve personally.
  • 3
    "Could you talk more about why my job is so horrible this time?" - this way of phrasing the question is likely to put the client on the defensive. Consider "Can you help me better understand your concerns?"
    – user32930
    Jun 9, 2017 at 19:06
  • 2
    Defense, but in defense of your work. "Can you help me better understand your concerns?" — this is another great way to ask a question, I love it!
    – Ivan Braun
    Jun 11, 2017 at 0:43
  • And that's exactly the right way to take constructive feedback too. In this small exchange I think there are some nice tools for the OP to employ. Thanks Ivan.
    – user32930
    Jun 12, 2017 at 16:51

Its always better to consult with the client about what they want and make sure you both are on the same page before you start designing.

You need find out what the client wants and what they need. If you believe your ideas are best for their business you need to help them understand why. Once you are both in agreement on what designs need to be done then you should never have this problem.

You need to back up your design. You need to tell them why your design is best for them. Give them your reasoning why you did what you did and how it will help them. Convince them why you are right, you are the expert, you went to school for this. then you wont have to change anything and they will be happy to pay.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.