Cheap Clients..Arrgh.

Is it just me or does every ID freelancer notice that most/majority of clients looking to hire freelance help are cheapskates and individual inventors?

I often get calls for projects where the client has absolutely no realistic budget. I know of no other profession where people expect you to create, innovative, develop great things every time that can make millions yet only expect to pay peanuts. Worse yet, some even ask for free design in exchange for a promise of a pot of gold that may never happen. The ones who pay the peanuts don’t want to share any more with you later too.

I always get the same type of client…some dude that “has some ideas” but is self-funded so don’t have a lot of money yet want to make millions off their invention. They are genreally super paranoid too that you’ll steal the idea yet ask you to give them the NDA. I would think they would do the work and draft their own NDA terms. Stupid and lazy!

The thing is the invention usually isn’t worked out and would need some serious ID and ME intervention to do right. Yet their budgets are rarely over $8K US if that or even less. Sheesh a patent lawyer easily costs twice that or more and isn’t really helping to innovate on the actual item.

It would be nice if there were some general published standards of a ballpark of what something costs so that here’s some sort of reference for say a phone, a computer mouse, a keyboardish item. What’s a server bezel cost up to 3D CAD and renderings? I know it’s general but at least there’s some general range area / standards to go by. Maybe US$9K on the cheap to get to CAD? I can;'t see any real good ID project costing less than $15K and real firms are in the mid to high 5 figures and beyond I imagine.

Ideally they would just let me go hourly rate but people rarely go for that and want a fixed cost that ends up having you eat a ton of unexpected hours. Account for the expected hours in your quote and bam…they think you’re too high…even though it is realistic in terms of real manhours.

How many have heard this one? “Do some sketches for free so we can see if you’re qualified? Or we’ll put your name on it if you do it for free. Or do it for cheap/free, it’ll be a great portfolio piece. If it doesn’t sell well can we get a refund of the ID fee? How much per sketch, how many sketches do we get for $300?”

This is a tough profession to put into dollars. A grocery clerk has a much easier time cause what it is on the label is what it is.

Do you think it is good practice to start charging some money to meet with clients? Most potential clients just come and talk and then want quotes that then lead nowhere so I think I should get some dough for all the time I waste seeing if their project is any good and doing quotes. If I had a few hundred bucks for every pipedreamer I had to talk to and do a proposal for, I’d be somewhat well off or at least have some lunch money.

Thanks for letting me vent a bit. =)

tell the trouble customer … GOOD FAST CHEAP pick two. They usually understand.

Inventors are the worst. They are more like a house wife than any other idea person.

I think we’ve all been there. I get the same “inventors”, and people who have a “brilliant idea” looking for design based on unrealistic budgets or “royalties”… nevermind the top secret NDA worries, bogus patents and such. In fact I find that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of NDA hoops and talk of patents to the viability of the project…

It’s all a part of being a freelancer or consultant. You need to learn how to vet potential clients, and get rid of those who will waste your time.

When I first started freelancing I was pretty naive to this, and wasted lots of time drawing up proposals for things that never went anywhere. Now, I’m more adept at figuring out which clients are worth the trouble of getting involved with. Whereas before I used to do a proposal for everything that came across my desk, I now choose more selectively and instead fire off a quick list of questions/considerations in reply to any initial inquiries and judge accordingly. First/best question I ask is if they have the start up capital to get a project to production, saying that it might be something like $150-200,000… that quickly weeds out a lot of people…

I also find a good way to judge potential clients is by the tone/content of their initial email. If it’s “hey dude, i want to do some designs, can you help, how much?”, chances are they are a waste of time. A good email will give a background on the project, their current status, desired deliverables, etc.

Best of luck,


Amature inventors, pro’s (like myself) know the cost and value …but then again most pro’s can do the ID and the ME work themselves.

I think I am going to start charging a fee for meetings and proposal writing. Do any of you know if other folks or firms do this? It’s a lot of time and some client require me to travel to their location which adds to more travel time and travel expenses, gas, etc. Right now it’s a complete loss of time and money if clients end up not doing the project.

I’ve heard of it, an initial consultation fee which may be a couple of hundred to come out, hear the pitch, and give some potential feedback as to feasibility, what you can do for the project, etc…

Hmmm a fee would be nice. Maybe refunding it and use it towards a winning bid could make it palettable to a prospective client. Hmm what about when driving to the customer’s place? Maybe an hourly for the travel…I might give this a try…but the proposal itself takes the most time. I am not so sure potential clients would pay $500-$1000 for the hours put into a good proposal and process plan.

no profession can charge fee for initial meeting. Exception would be flying you out to remote location for meeting, company would reimburse travel costs, but no way a time fee.

After learning enough about whatever project I turn discussion to potential costs including my own and give a wide ranging fee that I know will be realistic and also I ask outright “is this within your budget?” From that preamble you can determine actual budget, asking for it often gets prevarication, and also agree on realistic work scope that you will include in your time consuming proposal.

When I worked for big consulting company the executroids mandated proposal preparation time costs must be included in the proposal. Sure enough, it pissed off the existing clients and was the first discussion item with potential new clients. So, I and others started burying it in “project management” fees in the work breakdown structure. Clients accepted it, what you don’t know…, company executroids hauled our asses into boardroom to explain such dangerous practices. I could go on and on and on the topic of client money management, but the moral of this story is that money and how its presented is the first and most important element in client relationships.

I have never worked to success with an inventor; they have run the gamut from really nice guys to the opposite to mentally unstable to suspected criminal. Their product ideas were all different, from excellent to stooopid, but the stories all share some commonalities. I’m writing a book about them: seven chapters done, some of the stories are insane, brilliant, poignant.

The fact is product development is not realistic for an individual; it requires the deep pockets of money, skills and time of a company.

I have had all of the exact same problems mentioned in this thread, in fact I’m getting even more enquiries now people have been laid off giving them time to think about their dream.

What do I do? Well…

I try to educate on my website - guess who the new clients section is aimed at? I intend to change some of this following NDA hell. (have posted about NDA issues on here, before).

I don’t bother finding out about the product or idea at first anymore, ( therefore I don’t need to sign an NDA). I’ve come to the conclusion that its not generally the product that is going to determine the success of the idea, as the designer, surely its your job to ensure that anyway? It’s how capeable the client is.

I ask four things - When do you intend to launch? Who will you sell to? Have you written a business plan? Do you have investment?

Most people who contact me can’t answer any of these questions, I just tell them to come back to me when they have the investment and business plan in place. No need to write an estimate, no need to have a meeting, you’ve got your answer.

I look at the skills of the inventor in question. Have they got what it takes to take it to market and make it a sucesss? For instance I worked on for Dan. He’s never developed a shoe in his life, but he had investment, a business plan and a succesful fashion marketing company. So Homeys has worked.

I never work on anything I don’t believe in personally - if you don’t have the passion for it, you won’t give it your best shot and it will show in the product. I don’t have to like it as in I don’t have to be the end consumer, I just have to beleve in it’s ability to sell.

I don’t disclose any fees or make any estimates until I’ve done all of this, I rarely meet ‘inventors’ as a result, but i’ve learnt from experience that it is usually not worth it, for either party. There is no point in getting someones hopes up if they don’t have the funding or skills to make it a success.

Anyway, i reckon we could form a support group for this on core! :laughing:

mpdesigner: Indeed, we have all been there. Thankfully, I’ve only met a couple nut-jobs myself. I have to agree with Richard in that you learn to recognize them. Instead of charging a consultation fee, which might put off legit clients, I would just sense out the losers in emails and phone calls.

What surprised me most with these people is that they go to the big firms too. I know of an “inventor” in Montreal that has hit just about every firm and freelancer. He has no money for design, so he just keeps pitching the royalty angle to everyone and no one is stupid enough to bite. I was surprised that some of the biggest firms in Montreal had actual meetings with this guy.

The other thing that surprises me is how these inventors think they have really made gold from lead. The few ideas that I have bumped into, I immediately told the person, “that exists already”. Then the hand waving starts, “no…I’m doing it this way”. Bah…

mpdesigner: Another thing that should make you feel better, design is not the only victim. These same weirdos try to pull the same thing with their patent attorney, their engineering consultant, the mold maker…basically everyone. Of course, some people, like attorneys, will send you a bill for talking to them on the phone.

Best of luck!

all true, all too true. I bristled at the term inventor, but its true that 99.9% of them are as described. My friends used to use that term to describe me, I tried to nix it because EVERYBODY has some idea that will make them kazillionairs, and 99.9% of them stink. Its the same old story, all they need is your skills, knowledge, and money to make it happen. It’s laughable if it was not so sad, because so many of these folk have sunk their life savings both emotionally and financial into these things. Its going to get tougher out there kids, as the econ soures new product develop (and r and d) is one of the first to get cut so don’t be surprised when clients go a shopping for the lowest price.

Can you tell that to my plumber??

I am also finding it hard as a one man outfit to charge outside of the set base fee. I run into turbulence at anything over $15K US area. I know big firms are 5 and even 6 figures sometimes.

This is ideation up to final 3D Surface CAD. If I were to go straight hourly and count all the communications time and minor changes, then each project would be in the $30K+ range for the ID and up to $80K if hand-holding thru production for most items.

Inventors rarely go over $8K.

I like to tell them to go try the large firms first and see if they even get a meeting and if so, what the quote is. Sometimes they get a dose of reality and will then gladly take my bid.

Wait until you get Dragons Den on Tv in the USA - it has a really backwards way of doing things compared to IRL - the contestants develop a prototype and then go infront of a panel to pitch their idea to investors. I am tired of explaining that :

1/ Shoe factories don’t just make samples on the never never just for you to scratch your chin and ponder if your idea is worth pursuing.

2/Sample rooms are tied to factories and factories need to see evidence of orders.

3/ You should be working in this order : business plan, investment, prototype, not (as it appears to be done on Dragons Den), prototype, investment, business plan.

I might have to c+p this post so I can put it in my email replies! :laughing:

We have dragons den here in Canada, and ya, that show is a laugh. I think the main point of it (at least from what I’ve seen here) is to take companies that are already in business on some small scale and get them to the next level through some capital injection. But there also seems to be some inventors and such with the next greatest widget looking to get off the ground.

I like what’ve done on your site, Shonenista and have been meaning to put together a FAQ/checklist of something similar that I can send out to new potential clients to have them fill out to see where they are at and if there’s any hope for them.

You are spot on in you analysis of what the process should be and how factories operate. Sampling is a means to an end for a fty (to get production orders) and the costs are taken in development as a way of making the money on production.

That being said, a bit OT, I think there is actually also a huge potential market out there for a sample fty that does sample/development only. As I;m sure you get likewise, there are enough people out there with perhaps more money than business acumen who want to somehow proceed with sampling first and business planning/investment later. I’d imagine something akin to a model/RP shop where all they do is crank out first pullovers and colorway samples at a price point that nets profit for the fty and those involved rather than a subsidized business of a production fty.

This is a great thread. It’s funny how across so many different types of consultancies and freelance design businesses, the same thing occurs. Personally, I try to take it lightly knowing that for the most part it’s just a lack of understanding of the process and/or business acumen that these small time inventors and such bring to the table. I rarely get the feeling that anyone is not being genuine and trying to rip someone off, but more that they just don’t know what they are doing…

…To finish up, i’d just like to give what I think I have found is the worst combo of characteristics in a potential client, and something to watch out for.

That is, the client who doesn’t know what they don’t know, or thinks they know everything. Being naive and not knowing what you are doing is one thing. Hopefully that’s the reason they are coming to you, as a professional in the first place. The client however who thinks they know more than you do in your own industry (without any experience to back that up) is the most dangerous of all. They do not respect your profession nor experience. Most often these are people who have more money than sense so young designers can get roped in seeing $$$ signs…

I had one client who came to me with a business plan of sorts for a new footwear brand. I asked about investments, they had it all lined up. I asked about distribution, they said no prob. I asked about estimates for volumes and they gave me a number, somehow calculated top down (based on total industry sales, they were looking for an initial x% market share). I balked.

The number they threw out was crazy and huge compared to even brands I know that have been established for 10+ years. I told them this. I explained how they should work their first year sales from the bottom up, starting with how many doors they expect to hit, multiplied by the number of styles they could expect per shop multiplied by average pairs per style, etc… they wanted nothing of this… told me I was wrong and dammit they would find someone else. They also said they wanted to be on store shelves within 9 months, with nothing to start from more than a napkin sketch. No fty, no distributor, not even a brand/logo. I told them it was impossible and “best of luck”.

2 years later, and they still aren’t anywhere on shelves and for all I know and telling some designers elsewhere how to do their job. Sometimes the most difficult decisions in business are those projects you choose you walk away from…

Bottom line, worst than someone not knowing something, is someone who thinks they know everything. Be very careful of these sorts of clients.


I had a client who said they wanted to develop all the internal guts of a product themselves so that it would all be proprietary. Can’t say what it is here but it’s a typical product you would find in a computer store. A common peripheral.

I said developing it all themselves isn’t the best way to go and suggested they leverage off existing guts and license/buy stuff that is already out there instead of doing it all from scratch which would means years and millions of investment dollars just to reinvent the wheel.

Imagine if someone wanted to do a car all proporetary down to the belts and tires. That’s crazy. Cars and computers use components from other companies. They told me maybe I wasn’t capable enough…I told them it isn’t that. If they had the money it could be done but it would be pointless and futile to spend so much and still run into possible infringement issues.

Some people are totally out there but don’t know it and won’t listen. Maybe if I wan’t so honest I would just say OK and bill and bill until they feel pain. But then again they usually don’t have any clue how much money stuff like this takes. Even the side bar stuff like regulatory agency compliance and patents, etc. are enough to break the bank for these guys and they don’t even know about that until I tell them about it.

That being said, a bit OT, I think there is actually also a huge potential market out there for a sample fty that does sample/development only. As I;m sure you get likewise, there are enough people out there with perhaps more money than business acumen who want to somehow proceed with sampling first and business planning/investment later. I’d imagine something akin to a model/RP shop where all they do is crank out first pullovers and colorway samples at a price point that nets profit for the fty and those involved rather than a subsidized business of a production fty.

Out in Pusan (South Korea) there used to be dozens of independant sample factories, but I’m not sure there are any left now, as the bulk production factories moved offshore, these places closed. I last visited one in around 2000. I do remember them being very expensive.

2 years later, and they still aren’t anywhere on shelves and for all I know and telling some designers elsewhere how to do their job. Sometimes the most difficult decisions in business are those projects you choose you walk away from…

My this sounds so eerily similar to someone that I dealt with - it’s nice to know you’re not the only one!

Isn’t that the truth! :smiley:

I was thinking the same thing… :smiley: