When Clients Talk You Down

Advice Needed:

A new brand manager from an long-running client recently requested a small type update for an ad insertion – about 1 hour’s worth of time to revise a layout. We normally charge by the hour, but the client claims “This will take no more than 15 minutes to complete, so we don’t expect any layout charges.”

We’re not on retainer, and though we’re a boutique agency, we’re not a solo freelancer without any overhead.

Thing is, I’ve never been dealt with so brashly – this is the kind of resizing we used to charge $750 for, got talked down to $250 for, and now I’m hearing “no charges.”

Frankly, even if it took 15 minutes, I’d still charge something. My time is my business. Since he’s a new brand manager I’d be inclined to let it slide, but it sets a bad precedent. This client has a lot of future potential, but doing any work for free seems like a slippery slope.


Key word: Precedent.

Don’t do it. Ask the guy how much work THEY do for free…

No pay no play.

Ask him if he can tell the bus driver, no coins.

Agreed, I’d say something like “I understand you think it is simple. If that is the case maybe you can handle it yourself… oh you don’t know the software and need a professional? No problem, $750”

I’m a big believer in precedent as well.

If you clog up your sink and call a plumber, and it turns out the garbage disposal just needed to be emptied, which any joe blow can do, he is still going to charge you for an hour.

AIGA publishes a code of ethics for design clients.

A professional designer does not undertake speculative work or proposals (spec work) in which a client requests work without providing compensation.

You could simply say “it’s against our associations professional code of ethics to provide work without compensation.”

Do NOT cut him slack because he’s a new. Quite the contrary, only give favors to those whom you’ve formed a good lasting relationship with, and who recognizes a favor when they see one.

The only person to blame in this situation is you. You let them talk you down. You owned their problem.

Next time, you won’t do that, now will you? :wink:

You’re talking about a long-running client. If the client brings you a great deal of turnover, then such little work should not be a problem to do for them, but then tell them that you do this for no charge because of the good relationship.

If they do not bring you a nice amount of yearly revenue, then with such a new brand manager you should be stricter or indeed maybe not accept the order at all.

THEM: “This will take no more than 15 minutes to complete, so we don’t expect any layout charges.”

YOU (if you where me): “Oh fine then, I didn’t know you did this also? Funny you called a professional to talk about something that you already do with ease. Why am I even here?” <make it sound fun an like a joke, and not all a-hole ish>

^This may be difficult to say and make a joke I wouldn’t risk it coming off as unprofessional in your relationship, especially since he is new and I’m guessing, somewhat unfamiliar with you.

If this is a client who has given you a considerable amount of work, and become a major client for you, I personally would be inclined to let it slide, BUT stress to him that this “favor” your doing for him is a big deal. It’s not a quick change, its something that costs your business money, and you are chosing to do it for him out of good faith and because you appreciate the business they bring you. NOT because it is a “15 minute” change!

You are the only one who can set the value of the work you do, and distinguish the difficulty of the requested work. Don’t let them continue to dictate that to you. They don’t know your business, only you do!

Good Luck!

simon, not sure how you could reply that way, even if it was abundantly clear you were joking, and still not come across as a smart-ass.

Asilver, that is the way to handle it. I’ve had established clients ask for feedback/tweaks that are outside of a full project. I’ll usually gauge how much work it will take for me to do it, and I may turn it around for free if it’s a once in a great while thing. I will be sure to inform them that because of our business relationship, I feel comfortable doing them a favor. If they come back again for more, I will reiterate that I did them a favor last time, but I will need to invoice for any more work. If they have an issue with that, point them to craiglist, I’m sure they could find someone to help them out. :laughing:

You might have to blow this one off–if your agreement allows for small changes at no cost. Pad the next bill by 15 minutes. But now…make some policy revisions and inform your clients. Have a stated hourly fee and a minimum charge even if you charge on a per project basis. When you take on a client have them sign an agreement that clearly states that there is a fee and that there is a minimum charge. You can choose to tell them in this document (with the proviso that it might change, with written notice) or you can state that all fees will be outlined in a separate letter of agreement on a per project basis. If your current clients won’t sign, fire them.

Even if the job only takes 15 minutes, that represents a significant fraction of the work day…and you still have to pay the person for doing the work. That’s a hard cost that you’re absorbing. Four of those equal one eighth of a person’s day given away…one eighth of their wage, the rent you pay for their desk, the power they use etc.

The downside is that you’ll likely lose the client but they might not be worth keeping.


Sometimes the relationship with the client is important so it’s a judgement call based on the future of your work with the client. The key is that you make a rational decision each time rather than being pushed into something you don’t feel good about.

Trust your instinct on whether the client is asking for a legitimate favor or just disrespecting your work.

Ok,this is business, but this is life.

we can say no pay,no play,but we have to conside long-term cooperation, if it takes you only 15 minutes,why don’t you do it immediately, satified your customer and let him know you are perfect partner,respond quickly.I think this will lost nothing.

Agree with CG and Yo, precedence is important. Even if you do the work for free (which I would not), I would use the opportunity to try and educate the Brand Manager on the process. Break it down for them (at a high level) and tell them this will take more than fifteen minutes. If this becomes a repeating pattern - and you are getting more frustrated, call your most trusted contact at the company and try to get a retainer in place that will eliminate the need for this situation.

As a reference point, I am a designer by trade, and now in a corporate design management position. Even if I thought I know how much time something will take, I would always have the courtesy to ask the people that I am working with how much time they need. Only if I felt something was way off would I try and understand why the expectation was not aligning to the quote. At the end of the day, it is a partnership and I want to ensure that my external designers stay motivated to deliver their best everytime we engage in something new. Hopefully your client will learn. Cheers.