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

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?

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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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  1. Hi Preston
    Thanks for your comment.
    I have just left a client who is a major Sydney developer and also has his own legal practice.
    House was totally redone. Initially purchased for 8 million. Client spent over 3 million on it. Now worth over 30 million. I worked on it for 18 months. The project should have taken less then 12 months.
    He isn’t paying his bills including mine of $47,000. Total bills he owes exceeds $400,000. Turns out he’s been doing it for years.
    Refuses to pay. Reminds you he’s a solicitor. Says take him to court and he’ll make sure it costs you more then your bill.
    The creep has the money, builds 10s of thousands of units, drives the Bentley, has a McClaren and 6 other cars. Owns an island and other real estate in Sydney.
    What do you suggest ? Plasters his wife in Diamonds and his 4 kids with everything they want. What do you suggest ?
    The court system in Sydney Australia seems to favor the side with the most money especially if you’re a solicitor.

    Am looking at ways alternate to the court system.
    My company Sharp Design Solutions is also on Houzz and HiPages.
    The guy Milad Raad has been getting away with it for the last 20 years. Has even stolen $50,000 from an 87 year old pensioner.
    I look forward to hearing from you.

  2. I dread jobs when they start or end with: “it is only a small/quick job”

    If it’s that small and quick, I am sure you can do it yourself! 🙂

  3. I have a client who is a master of scope creep … not deliberately, but because that’s how they operate in regular life.

    In addition to scope creep, they are guilty of multiple revisions, debating design theory, taking coding advice from (non-coder) friends, asking for side projects … fortunately they don’t worry about deadlines.

    My solution is to switch away from charging per project and going to a straight hourly rate. Now, if they want to debate the necessity of adding 300 word overlays to a map, I’m happy to do so, create the mockups at several scales, and then do it my way … because I’m getting paid for the 3 weeks of “wasted” work.

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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’

  8. 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?

    1. @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.

  9. 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.

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