A Tale of Two Clients. And Money.

budget (Photo credit: 401Kcalculator.org)

The worst kind of client is the one who sees the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The second worst is a client who treats you like a vendor instead of a partner. Combine those two and you’ve truly got the client from hell.

Consider these two experiences. Totally hypothetical.

Client A: The Client From Hell

Client A, a brand new client, is in a pinch and has what sounds like a simple project — some minor editing and coordination — and you agree to help out with it and you set a budget.

Then it completely blows up. Feedback and approvals come slowly, deadlines are pushed back, and suddenly you’re looking at weekend work. Drafts are revised, trashed and revised again.¬†You work on it Friday night, a good bit of Saturday and well into Sunday evening.

You end up spending four times the original estimate of hours, but you don’t argue about it at the time because the project has to get done. Understanding that there were communication issues on both sides you seek to recoup a little something extra for the long (and premium) hours. You don’t expect all of your time to be reimbursed, but a portion of it certainly.

The client refuses. They’ll pay nothing extra. (Even though the project helped them win a piece of business easily worth several thousand times the money you’re asking for.)

There Goes the Relationship

The groundrules of the relationship are now established. You’ve been treated like a vendor so you now act like a vendor. The next project comes up from this client and this is the language you put into your upfront estimate:

1) I adapt existing copy … “Adapt” means less than 15% changes to existing copy. I then perform two (2) rounds of revisions. Revisions ordered by the client should not set a new direction. New direction means revisions depart from the last draft by more than 15%.

Cost: $x

Any revisions beyond the two agreed-upon rounds will be billed at $x/hour with $x minimum (on top of the $x base)

Any revisions constituting a new direction will be billed on an hourly basis at $x/hour with $x minimum (on top of the $x base)

Also, factoring in the client’s work patterns from the first project, the estimate builds in a healthy cost cushion for anticipated chaos. In the end, you don’t get the work, which is fine because you did not want it. And the estimate was, in part, a signal of that.

Client B: A True Partner

Client B needs some speech work done. You agree on a price. Midway through the project an emergency comes up. Somebody else needs help with their speech and you agree to do that one as well.

As you’re working on the second project, you mention to the client that there hasn’t been a discussion about a budget for the extra work. He says, “We’re both reasonable people, I’m sure we can work that out when the time comes.”

In the end you submit a proposed invoice (even knocking a few dollars off the total for goodwill) and ask if it sounds fair. Client agrees, no questions asked.

And that’s the kind of client you want. Yes, you should always submit written estimates that spell out the conditions and account for variables. And you should notify the client when things go off track.

But sometimes in the chaos of the real world, that doesn’t always happen so cleanly. So what fills the gap is two humans, dealing with each other in a forthright and respectful way, with a clear eye on the big picture and seeking to come to an agreement where both sides are treated fairly.

In other words, a relationship. As opposed to a transaction.