How some clients rip off designers – and how you can avoid it

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The more I work with designers to help them build their design business, the more I realize there is a common trick that clients use to rip off freelance designers.

Some of them do it on purpose to get more work for less money, but many clients just don’t know that they’re doing it.

And a lot of designers are getting ripped off because of it.

The real culprit behind ripping off designers

So what’s the most common way I see designers get ripped off while they’re working with their clients?

Scope creep.

“I just need one more change.”

Have you ever encountered a design client who calls every day (or multiple times a day) with “just one more change”?

Those daily small changes add up and take time away from other things you could be doing that could be making you more money.

Here’s how to avoid the dreaded scope creep

So here’s how to avoid scope creep and stop getting ripped off by design clients:

  • Enter into contract at a per-project rate (not by the hour) – define the scope of the project in this contract.
  • If your clients goes over the scope and makes other requests, send them another bid and ask them to agree to it as an addendum to the original contract.
  • Before delivering the final product, send an invoice for the original project AND any scope increases along the way. Bill them for 100% of the work you completed (unless you have chosen to ask for a deposit – which you totally deserve by the way).

It’s really that easy?

Yep. It’s really the easy. I do it all the time.

If your client is a decent human being they will understand that more work means you need to get paid more. Stop letting clients rip you off with this subtle and common tactic.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

  • Website Design Singapore – Morgan & Me Creative

    Scope creeps must be dealt with from the beginning. During the initial meeting, professionally let them know their ‘can do and can nots’ then ink it in writing via a contract. State that for every other change outside the contract is considered additional billable work. Usually once they’re aware they have to pay, they’ll stop the phone calls.

  • Samantha

    I think this is an example of a client trying to rip a designer (me) off! I just received an email from a prospective client:
    [quote]I’m wondering if you can assist me, we are looking at redoing our letterheads. I’ve attached our old horrible letter head as well as two examples of our new logo’s that we would like used. Can you perhaps put something together for us to have a look at.


    The way I read and understand this email is they want us to create something for them to look at, then they will decide if they like it enough to pay for it.
    Do you read this the same way?

    I am honestly not sure how to approach this response without chasing the client away.

    Any thoughts on this?

    • Lisa

      @Samantha, I for one see this email the way you do. Most likely, this perspective “client” is expecting you to attach the file to the reply email, and then send it to them! The way I perceive a prospective client to behave, is to ask to see previous work, similar to what they are interested in. Then, if they like it, they hire you to do their design job. Not the other way around, but this is just my opinion.

  • Website Design Singapore – Morgan & Me Creative

    Learn to say ‘No’. It’s our most powerful weapon.

  • dojo

    Yes, I don’t think I had too many clients to understand that my time is money. The good thing is that I was able to weed out the bad ones and stuck with some who really value each of my working seconds. This is how business should be conducted and I am fortunate to be paid for ‘one more change’

  • April

    I very much agree, Preson! It all comes back to a good design brief and contract, and our (as designers) good communication to explain to the client beforehand that they’re going outside the scope of the original project and that the new cost will be $X and will take Y amount of time and would they like to proceed?

    I redesigned a website for an elementary school recently, and I integrated their Google calendar. Modifying the look/fonts/colors of the calendar was going to be a significant amount of work for me, so I immediately talked with them and laid out the price/time for the extra work. They decided not to have the changes made, and we wound up integrating the existing scheme quite seamlessly into the website. A win-win for all!

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  • Vladiimir

    Thanks for the article! Really useful stuff

  • http://[email protected] Rachel Jones

    If we as designers would follow these simple rules; we as community would benefit. Thank you for the post.

  • Kenn

    Great advice.

    The trick is being able to outline everything ahead of time, which takes time.

    Also you don’t want to waste too much time ahead of time with prospects who aren’t likely to become clients.

    How do you not waste time doing this? Thats magic and perhaps content for another article!

    Kenn Schroder

    Blog + free stuff on how to get web design clients.

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