Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Dear Bonnie: Fretting in Fredericksburg

Dear Bonnie,

I just finished a restaurant branding project and the client is really happy with the work but I'm feeling seriously shortchanged. For a variety of reasons, I agreed to a lower fee than I typically charge. Which is fine in and of itself, but the scope of the project ended up being much larger than anticipated and I did way more work than I was paid for.

However, since they're happy and don't know how cheated I feel, I'm pretty sure they're going to want to work with me on their next project. And in theory I would be up for it, but only if they know how much the work I did should have cost, and if I can make sure I get paid appropriately for the next job.

I'm thinking of showing them per-item figures for the final project and explaining what other firms typically charge (including ones outside our town) so they can see what a great deal they got with me. And so that they know what to expect if we work together again.
Do you think that's a good plan? What would you do?

Fretting in Fredericksburg

Dear F.,

You were not shortchanged.

You agreed to a fee, you did the work, and they paid you. 
That is the process.

They, if they are like most clients, tried to get you to do the job for as little as possible. You, if you are like most designers, cared more about doing the job than about the specific dollar amount. Essentially, they wanted to get away with whatever they could. And since you were excited about the work, you were complicit in the arrangement. Accepting that is your first step on the road to recovery.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, but I wish you had agreed to the reduced fee for a set number of items that were clearly spelled out in your contract. (Please tell me you had a contract.) That way, you would at least have had an opportunity to discuss additional pay when new work, outside of your contract's scope, arose.

Unfortunately, it’s just too late now. You don’t really want them to know how cheated you feel if you want to work with them again. Your client is not responsible for your finances or your perception of your finances. If you complain to them now about the money you were paid, after the fact, for a completed job, that you agreed to, I wouldn't be surprised if they never called you again. It’s not their problem.

This is what I would do: keep your seller’s remorse to yourself, and when they do call for their next project, use what you have learned from this experience when making the new deal. Make sure you're covered if the job goes into overages. Even if the client wants to do an unreasonable “all-in” package, insist on a set number of items, the specifics of which can be flexible. You can matter-of-factly explain that they got a very good deal on the first project, and you were thrilled with the outcome. Now they know what you are worth and this new number is what you are going to charge and it will include all the items in the contract, and any additional items will be billed at an agreed-upon hourly rate.

Again, everyone is trying to get away with whatever they can, on both sides of the aisle, so do what you can, let your client do what they can, and don’t look over your shoulder so much.

One final note: what other designers charge has no bearing on what you should charge. If I were your client and you gave me a per-item breakdown of what other firms would have charged for the project, I would probably consider getting more bids myself and reevaluating my choice.

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Posted in: Business, Dear Bonnie

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