I’m a freelance designer just getting to where I’ve got a solid reputation and steady work. One of my earliest clients came to me recently looking for a new design. I was somewhat hesitant, as I’ve had some… issues with this client’s idea of “revisions” before, but they purchased a sample graphic I had listed on my site, so I figured it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
They paid for the basic edits that would make it unique to their brand, asked for one extra thing that I was happy to throw in as a “ah, this is an established working relationship” thing, and I sent off the proof.
Then they wanted more. Another round of revisions turned into two, turned into three, turned into twelve — all with instructions like “Can we turn this element another 45°, take out these two elements, change the font, change the font color, change the background color, move this element sixteen pixels to the side…” and so forth. This is pretty much the standard playbook for this client, but for a pre-crafted design that they got at a steep discount… I’d had enough.
Me: Hey, I can’t do any more edits to this project. The idea of buying one of my sample designs is that you get it as-is; at this rate, we’re looking at basically a custom design here, and you’re only paying a fraction of my normal rates. I’m going to be charging you for all of these extra changes, per the contract that you signed.
Client: That’s really unrealistically expensive, but okay. Go ahead and charge me for the edits. Also I want to use this as the basis for an entire series of 7-10 products, just changing the color, and text, and all the elements each time. So I’ll just pay for the edits for each product, not for a new design.
Me: I am actually already invoicing you for the changes. I’m saying that I am not doing any more edits. And I’m sorry, but if you want to do a collection those will each be individually-contracted custom designs. You can’t buy a pre-made design for a fraction of the usual price and expect to get multiple projects out of it.
Client: (after several days of radio silence) Your last email hurt me dreadfully. I’m sorry if I’ve misunderstood, but I thought that our friendship meant enough to you that you’d be willing to do these things for me. After all, we’ve worked together for a long time, and I really like your work. I’m very hurt and upset that you are just suddenly telling me all these things instead of letting me know a long time ago.
I was absolutely sideswiped by the weirdly emotional email because we WEREN’T friends. Still, the 700+ word message had all sorts of manipulative, guilt-tripping language in it about our deep friendship, how hurt the client was, how I really should make it clear that a sample design can’t be drastically altered or used in multiple projects without extra costs… I finally got a colleague to help me compose a reply that was basically:
Me: I’m sorry you were hurt, but this is a business relationship. You’re right: clearly my contract needs to spell things out in even more painful detail, even for things that are considered industry standard. Here’s your invoice.
And then I fired them. They paid, and I sent off the files that they’ll never use and I can also never use. All’s well that ends well, but my contract is now a million times more overly specific than it needs to be. Ironically, the same client is the reason I have a contract to begin with, since when I was first starting I didn’t know any better and had a similar situation with the very first project I did for this client. Someday I’ll learn, I swear.
I doubt the client will though. They’re a pretty well-known small business, but the lack of professionalism is slowly driving them out of business as fewer and fewer folks will work with them.