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How to handle clients who are mad at “extra” costs

client upset about extra costs
Table of ContentsUpdated May 12, 2016

To you and me – it’s pretty simple:

If I have to spend extra time on a project — because you want to add something to it that wasn’t quoted for — then obviously you have to pay for it.

Simple… right?

I think most clients get that too, especially being business owners themselves.

A restaurant owner gets that adding an extra side is going to add to the cost of a meal.

A furniture retailer gets that adding extra pillows to a couch adds to cost.

But there’s always that chunk of clients who see the price you quoted them as inclusive of the project at hand…

… as well as anything else they’d like to add on, at any point in time.

These clients get angry when you quote them extra.

“At the rate I’m paying, shouldn’t this be included?” 

Have you ever heard that one?

Why clients get mad:

The thing is, before you write these people off as “jerks” or anything, you have to realize why they feel the way they do.

Imagine this:

You’re at a burger joint (it can be a veggie burger joint if you don’t eat meat!).

You ask for ketchup to go with the burger.

“That’ll be 50 cents extra!” the waiter says.

“Shouldn’t that be included with the cost of the meal?” you ask, a bit peeved.

In that context, that same exact question makes a lot of sense, right?

Here’s why that is:

When an extra charge doesn’t make sense to someone – they get mad about it.

You and I are no different in that regard.

If you feel like someone is just trying to extort more money out of you just because they can… you’re going to get upset. I know I would.

But let’s say the waiter responded with this:

“I know, it sounds crazy at first – but that’s actually a really special ketchup created right here in town with local, organic, sustainable ingredients. To support the local farmers and economy, we have to buy a more premium product, so that’s why we have to charge a bit for it.”

Are you still upset?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not after an explanation like that 😉

And that, my friend, is the key to responding to those situations:

Have a really good, reasonable answer to the question:

“Shouldn’t that be included in the price of the project?”

Because from your client’s point of view – they feel like they’re being taken advantage of. Or maybe they’re not sure if they are.

So educate them.

Here’s an answer we started giving recently at Reliable PSD that might inspire you to come up with your own:

Hey [First Name],

I totally understand why you might say that. With that said, like we mentioned at the start of the project, the price we gave you covered just the exact specs you sent our way.

Our pricing is actually calculated to be the lowest we can possibly charge while still maintaining the level of service and quality that we do. 

Because of that, if new functionality comes in that we didn’t quote for, we do have to charge for it. The only way we could do it for free is if:

  1. We bloated our prices a lot and raised them to leave room for extra stuff
  2. We didn’t put as much time, care, or effort into quality as we do

We’d really rather not do #1 so we can give you our best price. And #2 clearly isn’t an option 🙂

Sorry if you were a bit frustrated from that. I hope this clears it up and you now understand.

If you have any other questions or concerns about that please let me know. 

What’s your answer to that question? Tell me in the comments.

Would love to hear how you’ve combatted this problem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.



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Written by David Tendrich

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David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.

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  1. Margaret Hoffman says:

    Excellent. I wish I knew about this months ago, would have put out a major fire with one of my former clients.

  2. We did previously always prepare for unforeseen problems which invariably occur, as well as extra corrections etc. This was just reasonable professional foresight, which saved time and frustration. This also did a lot to preserve relations by avoiding unpleasant haggling, ultimately promoting client fidelity, as it saved time and kept everybody happy and projects moving forward. Tighter pricing simply prompts disclaimers on the contract which outlines the conditions and limitations of the estimate. Nothing is included, where previously, everything was included, and the price was realistic. Nowadays the client has to budget the extras which are no longer included in the lower price. Same difference to me, just a different billing formula. Some clients will still haggle about the inevitable extras, trying to get more for less, which poisons the relationship and undermines efficiency and fidelity. Clients who have time to argue about such details and are also prepared to waste further time finding new designers for their every project, are just not very efficient, profitable, or worthwhile pursuing as regular clients. Good relations can get projects rolling on a phone call. New or difficult clients need to pay a deposit up front. If problems arise, their project gets suspended, pending resolution, or simply dropped. Most clients have deadlines to meet. It’s the speed, quality, budget equation. Take your pick. Good relations have the benefit of trust and good will which facilitate collaboration and speed results. Attempting to renegotiate a contract, after the fact, is a counter productive red flag. Such clients risk compromising their own deadlines.

  3. Kevin Twitchett says:

    It’s always ben my experience that the more ‘competitive’ the price the more the clinet is a ‘screamer’.

    Walk away from those clients is my advice.

  4. Sharon McElwee says:

    I find expectations to be the number one enemy in dealing with client pricing. I use a variation of your proposal template from another Millo article, and I add in an hourly rate for requests outside the scope of work.

    When a client asks for more, I simply resend a copy of the signed proposal and explain that this will fall into that category. So far I haven’t had to go into deeper discussion like you outline in your email template above.

    Thanks, David 🙂

  5. Felix Alabi says:

    Whao this is genius…. Thanks for hitting the nail on the head. In summary give your customers reasonable reason to accept the extra charge Boom!!

  6. Paul Gourhan says:

    All my projects are outlined in print in the contract. i will allow for minor deviations because projects always evolve. But if something is going to impact the job costs by 10% or more I submit a change order. In the change order I explain why this costs more (number of additional hours to implement etc.) Then get approval for the change before I continue.

    I once had a client who wanted a website with a logo design. The project was moving along slowly because there was a lot of discussion on details. Then he asked me for business card designs for himself and his son. I presented them and they were approved. I then gave him a bill for the design and printing costs. He was highly offended. “You mean you are going to charge me extra for this? But we are doing this website with you and I thought this was included.” So I simply said when you buy a suit do you get a shirt, tie, belt and shoes with it included free? He said no. So I said then why would you assume this was included in the project we are working on? It isn’t mentioned in the proposal. Needless to say this caused the relationship to break down and I lost the client.

    Manage expectations, clear proposals with a defined scope of work, issue change orders in writing with an explanation, and collect in a timely manner.

  7. Mike Butier says:

    David – I’m dealing with this very issue right now. I suppose there were “red flags” at the beginning of the project when the client was “nitpicking” the estimate. Well, it turns out that our initial estimate is proving to be much more accurate now that the client is requesting design changes after the website has been developed. We realize now that we need to be very clear about the “extra” charges in our proposal. Thank you for the article.

  8. Theo Groves says:

    Thanks for the great advice! As you note, the time to point out the extra charge is immediately upon the client’s request, with something like, “Let me put together a quote for that”. Not after the work is in progress or done, at which point the client can rightly complain that the added cost should have been called out BEFORE it was incurred.

  9. Natalie Thomas says:

    This is exactly what I needed to read today–thank-you! I specialize in print and I’ve definitely had clients get upset when I mention that there’s an extra charge associated with me handling the print production for them.

    I learned very quickly to ask upfront if they need help with printing before any numbers enter the equation, but I should definitely have an explanation of why I charge for that.

    1. Masha Winget says:

      Good customer service isn’t about completely eliminating mistakes — a near-impossible task — but about leveraging the opportunity created by a mistake to build a deeper relationship with your customer.

  10. Nate Stitt says:

    Excellent article, David.

    I’ve never thought of your ketchup example. I WOULD be frustrated at first if a restaurant tried to charge me for ketchup. I bet many of my clients think of the extras or things outside of the scope as the “ketchup” on their project or website.

    I need to put myself in my clients’ shoes more and see if I’m guilty of not educating them well enough.

    Thanks for the great example email on how to educate them.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      I agree. Great way to think of it.

  11. Brian Glassman says:

    David—great article.

    In my opinion, this issue stems from mismatched expectations as well as a need for education, which you mentioned.

    It’s also possible the client is working through/projecting some previous pain left by a lackluster creative experience.

    Over time my proposals/agreements have involved to include things that I hadn’t always anticipated, like setting hard limits on project scope, revisions and trying to think through all the possible issues and roadblocks I could potentially face with new clients.

    Of course, it’s hard to anticipate everything ahead of time—we have to work through and learn from the pain as we go!