This question was sent in to us today and I felt that I should go ahead and address it because I know exactly what you’re saying because I have been through it before. This question comes from Jason a freelance web designer:

“What do you do when a customer won’t pay you for work that you did over time on a web site for them? Do I just wash my hands of it and how can I avoid this because I put way too much work and time into these sites to not get paid at all. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.”

Well Jason my friend I feel for you. I use to do web design too and that is something I had to learn the hard way a few times but finally learned that I had to:

  • Pre-qualify the customer before I did the website for them
  • Make sure they knew my price per hour or per project
  • Sign a contract or either paid an upfront cost to get started
  • Only send a proof over to them when it’s finished so that they had to pay for it to get the real file
  • Make sure they know that when you quote them a price that may or may not include website updates for life…

These are things I had to learn the hard way so I can tell others like you what to do and what to avoid. First off make sure the customer is someone you can see yourself working with because if you don’t have a good feeling about it at first then most likely that should be your cue. Listen to your gut. Always let them know upfront what you charge and everything that is included with that charge even if you have to tell them 10 times for it to sink in. And this important: make sure they know that you tell them whether or not that total price includes updating the website down the road or your charge by the hour etc. That’s where I see a lot of designers get frustrated because people expect it but it’s your fault if you didn’t make that clear in the first place, so put it out there from the start. Whether you do a contract, get money up front or both just make sure you do one or the other. Usually the best is at least some money upfront so then you at least know you’re somewhat covered and that person is going to be a good customer.

And of course if the customer still “acts up” taking all of these steps then let me suggest our “beware letter.”

Everybody wants a deal these days and many times freelancers (along with contractors) get taken advantage of as the customers says “well times are tough so cut me a good deal (true story).” The best thing you can do for you is to make sure that customer fits with you like we always say here at BB. And don’t ever underestimate communication either because it’s the root of doing business. Hope that helps and thanks for writing in!

For kicks and giggles check out this post on SpeckyBoy called “A Collection of Web Design Horror Stories  and Quote From Bad Clients.”


Words of Southern Comfort,



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