What's the best way to deal with difficult clients?
July 18, 2005 12:59 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to deal with difficult freelance clients? I recently designed a logo for a small business and they are arguing about paying me.

I came up with about 12 initial logo designs which I presented to the owner of the business. After discussing where he wanted to go with the project, I quoted him a flat rate of $235. I thought that this was very reasonable - our local Kinkos charges $90/hr for graphic design, and the final logo represented about 9-10 hours of work on my part.

Now, he is coming back to me saying that he's not going to pay the invoice that I have sent him. He is citing web sites that offer "professional logos - only $29.99!" (I'm sure that in these cases they're basically dropping the company name into a template, and not actually designing, hence the low price.) He is also saying that I didn't tell him the price beforehand. Although I didn't give him a quote before I did the initial work - I told him what it would be as soon as he saw it. Yet he waited until after he'd put the logo to use before disputing it.

At this point, I really don't want to work with this particular client any more. However, they are already using my logo on their letterhead, price lists, promotional materials, etc. and I feel that they should pay me for this project. He's so difficult to deal with and I find myself getting defensive ... any tips?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ugh, i hate this part of the job, i do web and graphic design and have run into this problem before.

I would write a letter/email stating that your quote constituted a binding verbal contract and if he refuses to pay that he remove your creation immediately. If you have a lawyer friend or law student have them cite some references or write a letter for you.

Then never work for them again.
posted by freudianslipper at 1:19 PM on July 18, 2005

Dunn and Bradstreet offer collection services for some very nominal up-front fee, $20 or so plus a percentage. If they fail to pay you after doing that, it'll at least show up as a black mark on their D&B file.

If they continue to use it without paying, document it and find a lawyer.

Don't do any more work for them. Bad clients waste valuable time, energy and happiness. They're not good for your business and they're not good for you personally.
posted by mosch at 1:44 PM on July 18, 2005

The bad news is that, since you presumably don't have a contract, you couldn't force him to pay. The good news is that, without a contract, you own those images, since the copyright was never transferred. His use of them is a violation of your copyright.

Y'all can work out a trade. You won't seek legal relief for his copyright violation if he'll pay you the $235.
posted by waldo at 1:48 PM on July 18, 2005

Not a lawyer, but couldn't it be argued that his use of your design signifies an acceptance of the terms of the "verbal contract" mentioned by freudianslipper? That might be a good point to bring up with this guy.

on preview- excellent point by waldo.

I totally understand how defensive you must feel, but keep your calm. You're in the right here and this guy's trying to steal from you. It'd be one thing if he decided not to go with your logo- then I'd question his obligation to pay- but he's using your work without compensating you.

Good luck in resolving this situation.
posted by elisabeth r at 1:50 PM on July 18, 2005

Well, at this point he's just pirating your work, as far as i can tell. What an asshole. The fact that he found someone else who could do it cheaper dosn't negate the fact that he already agreed to the price.

If I were you, I'd just tell him simply that if he dosn't want to pay you, he can't use the logo. If he keeps using the logo, you'll sue him for a lot more then $235.

Also, file your work with the Library of Congress as copyrighted material. From what I understand you're only legaly entitled to get back damages if you're copyright is on file. Otherwise all you can get them to do is stop using it.

I'd say don't worry too much about the money, just get him to stop using the graphic without payment. Maybe he'll get one of those $29.99 deals or something.

But he sounds like a grade-A asshole. I mean, why is he quoting this $29.99 deal now? Why not do the research upfront. It seems like he had this planned from the get-go.

And nex time get a deposite or something.
posted by delmoi at 2:24 PM on July 18, 2005

I absolutely hate stuff like that. Spare yourself any added time or aggravation and never do any work for him again.

This guy is cheap, and is merely saying things like "You never told me" in order to pay next to nothing or nothing for design work. Ask him if he works for 9-10 hours on something for free?

In the future, place extra emphasis on your rates, and repeat them endlessly to avoid any confusion on the issue. Also, always get a deposit from new clients. Your rate is below reasonable, and you might want to actually charge more in the future to avoid people who don't want to pay for design work.

If he doesn't pay up, he simply cannot use anything you have created for him. Therefore, he shouldn't be using it on anything. Ask him to stop using it or pay. Good luck.
posted by helvetica at 2:32 PM on July 18, 2005

Waldo's got the ticket.
posted by lorrer at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2005

Next time, I'd suggest providing the client with the logo on paper or as a lowish res jpg. That way he can't use it on his letterhead without it looking like crap.

As for this time, you might try to point out that your work is professional and as such comes for a professional (and previously agreed upon? It wasn't clear from your question, but I assume he agreed to it) rate. It sounds like you've probably been through this already though. The next step, as suggested above would be to advise him of the shakey ground he'd be on, legally, if he were to continue using the logo.

Though, it does sound like he owes you the money even if he stops using the logo if agreed to the price ahead of time and then accepted the logo.

Chances are, it's not worth your time beyond a formal letter suggesting waldo's money for copyright deal.
posted by ODiV at 2:41 PM on July 18, 2005

Fortunately, the copyright cartels are looking out for you.

Send a DMCA complaints to your client's ISP regarding the copyright violation.

Then send DMCA notices to Google, Yahoo, etc, and get the client's site delisted.
posted by rajbot at 2:44 PM on July 18, 2005

How committed to the logo is he? Has he ordered hundreds of dollars of letterhead and signage? If so, the nuclear options mentioned above are fine because you've got him by the balls.
If he's in a position where he could easily ditch the logo without much fuss, then going nuclear with the copyright would probably prompt him to abandon it rather than pay for it, meaning you won't get your money.

Also go online and look into your local small claims court - they're designed to work for exactly these situations - your cost is something like under $30, and if he goes through with it, there is a good chance that you get that back on top of the money he owes you.
But there is a higher chance that he'll figure court proceedings are way more hassle than a lousy $300, and just pay the bill.

Note also that many places charge thousands for 9-10 hours of a designers time. Don't compare youself to kinkos that sorta-kinda does design-like stuff on-the-side, compare yourself to an actual designer or design company.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:35 PM on July 18, 2005

If you really want to escalate this, decide that your logo policy is the $300 to buy the logo, or in absence of purchase, $20 per leased use of it, warn him of this, and if he doesn't pay, then tally up his uses on ads and stationary, etc, and bill him $2000 :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:40 PM on July 18, 2005

Also - a lot of companies and people deliberately operate this way because a lot of the time, the person will just drop it, thus they constantly save huge amounts of money by being assholes. It would be a good deed on your part for the rest of us who will deal with these guys sooner or later to break the lucrative finances of being an asshole, so whatever you do, (since you have incredibly powerful tools at your disposal if he's financially committed to the logo via letterheads etc), PLEASE bill him extra for your time that he's wasted. Not only does this help the rest of us, but it makes it worth your time to go after him.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:46 PM on July 18, 2005

waldo: The bad news is that, since you presumably don't have a contract, you couldn't force him to pay.

This is at least the second time I have read something like this on AskMe... Where do you get this from?

A good faith verbal agreement is a binding contract. Worst case - if you have absolutely no paperwork at all - it is your word against his and all else being equal you have a 50-50 chance in small claims court. You probably have some kind of documentation that supports your claim and would improve your chances of a favorable judgement. preliminary design documents, printed emails, this post, all count for something.

Anyway, in my opinion the correct course of action would begin with a carefully worded letter explaining how your service differs from the cheapo crap, then explaining the copyright issue, and then requesting payment by a certain date. Follow this with daily phone calls. If, after the letter, he still refuses, you might write another letter indicating your intention to start legal action - followed by daily phone calls again. Then, if he still refuses, you are on your way to small claims court.
posted by Chuckles at 3:47 PM on July 18, 2005

MeFi's own Hands of Manos has a 'top ten ways to deal with bad clients' on his blog.

Chuckles nails it. Just be happy that you only put 10 hours of work into the project and take a valuable lesson from it.
posted by Arch Stanton at 4:03 PM on July 18, 2005

The services that offer logos for $30 also come with a few catches. 1) As you've guessed, the company names is dropped in a template, more or less (can you say 'swoosh'?). 2) You have to accept the first and only logo they give you. Some pretty important differences to bring up to this guy.
posted by Slothrop at 7:05 PM on July 18, 2005

Some pretty important differences to bring up to this guy.

I disagree. What other designers provide, and what rates they charge, are irrelevant at this point. The client contracted (verbally, which is still a contract) for services at a certain price. Period. Don't play into his diversionary tactics by accepting the premise that the burden is on you to now defend the relative merits of your prices or quality of service. All of that stuff would have been a valid discussion to have before contracting, but too late now for him to regret that he didn't negotiate harder.

Whatever argument he makes, stay focused on the only relevant fact: a contract was entered into, you met your obligations under the contact, he has not met his. He can pay the $235 immediately, or pay $235 PLUS small claims court costs later. Everything else he tries to bring up is just a diversion. Ignore it.

Of course, next time you'll know to put it in writing and include a hefty kill fee aimed at others who would otherwise be tempted to violate their contract at the 11th hour. It's a good way to weed out dirtbags early.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:56 PM on July 18, 2005

Hang the bitch. $235 was low to begin with. Admittedly, it's a small business. But fight him however you can (Chuckles seems to have good advice here; but also read harlequin about how assholes operate) and tell everyone you know about him. If he thinks your work is worth $30 he is not worth keeping as a client or in any other capacity.

People do get ganked for a lot more than that, though - it could be worse.
posted by furiousthought at 10:16 PM on July 18, 2005

Send some scary friends by to discuss the bill. The sort of people that look like someone he doesn't want coming by. Nothing overt, of course, nor even implied. Let the asshole supply his own implications.

Find embarrassing places in which to get loud with the jerk about the money he owes you.

Of course, pursue all other angles too, but these are just some options that may supply amusement for your troubles :-)
posted by Goofyy at 11:14 PM on July 18, 2005

Obviously, don't do any more work for this guy.

Don't lose track of the lesson about getting written aggreements, and even partial payment, up front.

I second harlequin's advice concerning small claims court. Even if things don't turn out 100% your way, taking this bastard to court will be very good experience to have under your belt as your business grows. Consider it practice for the deadbeat who owes you $2300 in a few years.
posted by deanj at 11:18 AM on July 19, 2005

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