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An employee from a very old employer contacted me to design a dashboard for them as a freelance when asked for payment he said: "If I can send them the design then we can talk about price". This is something new to me.

I am not confident if I should send them the designs, they might not hire me and can make real web app off my designs. What should I do? How can I ask them for payment upfront? It is a confusing situation for me due to no work. I want to find work but not work for free as well.

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    You can design a dashboard and send a screen shot to show them the design. A screen shot does not give them what they need to run without paying you. If they can build a web site off of a screen shot, they are not the type of client you want.
    – David R
    Sep 8 at 22:48
  • It's nice to add that the screenshot should be low resolution, if you're going to send one
    – Magus
    Nov 14 at 19:09
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No money, no final design. Full stop.

You can meet with them to discuss what they're looking for, or refer them to your portfolio. You NEVER release a final product until you get paid or money is in escrow.

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    This 100 times over! :)
    – Scott
    Sep 11 at 22:03
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Me personally, I don't pick up a pencil, mouse, turn on a computer, put on my glasses, etc..... nothing unless a fee has been determined for the work I'll be doing.

In some cases, a deposit may be required before I start work.

Imagine... you put in 10+ hours of work and then the client says something like, "Well, we thought $15/hr was a good price." Or even less. That's minimum wage in most areas of the US now. So they want to use you for your technical expertise, but pay you as if you were any random person off the street??

Overcoming such lowballing is very difficult after you've done the work. I mean, if they simply won't pay more, you can refuse to provide anything and you've done all that work for nothing. Or, you succumb to their lowballing and the client has (happily) conned you into working for mush less than your regular rates. In many cases, the client is fully aware that after you've done the work you are more likely to accept lower-than-normal payment just to get any return on your efforts. It's a "con" a "scam". Discuss pricing before starting work.

A new client, even someone I've known but have never worked for as a freelancer, asking me to work before discussing price would honestly make me chuckle, not to their face, but that's how ludicrous the proposition is to me. In fact, it's so ludicrous that I'd demand a non-refundable deposit before any work began. Primarily because such a proposition, to me, is seen as a "red flag". Meaning, clients proposing such a thing will typically be slow to pay, and will do their level best to lowball any pricing or get discounts, etc after negotiations. The deposit generally ensures I at least make enough to cover the initial stages of my work - clients sending up this flag for me will generally become less interested or involved after initial stages. Or they go the other way and start becoming overly demanding, try to balloon the initial scope, etc.

Essentially, they've sent me a warning that they may be a "difficult" client in some way. A deposit merely means if they do become difficult, at least I'll get some return before the wheels possibly fall off.

If the red flag was a legitimate warning, they'll argue about the deposit - if they argue adamantly about it, I generally turn down the work. If they won't pay the deposit, I'll have trouble getting paid after completion of the work.

On the other hand, if they are legitimate in their intention to pay or simply have enough money that price is really no object (which can happen), they won't have an issue paying a deposit. They may need some reassurance that I'm not going to merely take their money and disappear, but it's not the actual financial hit which concerns them.
(Experience and longevity in the profession tends to dissuade the notion that I'll disappear.
That was more an issue when I started than it is now.)

So.. to this employer, I'd reply:

"Sorry. That's not how it works. I'm very eager to create a dashboard for you. However, we need to determine the project fees before I start work. In addition, there will be a non-refundable deposit required before work begins. I won't simply start work with some unknown return looming at the end of all my efforts. I need to know if the return on the project is worth my time."


Just a personal note: Working for past employers can be tricky. I've done it. The initial relationship was established under specific circumstances. One where they had domain over you and what you did and to that end, felt in control of everything, as they should have at that time.

Once the relationship changes to more level ground, as in Freelancer <> Client, they may not move on from that established mindset. It can often take quite a while and some direct effort on your part (as in pushing back when they are overstepping) to move past their notion of control. Remember this is your business and you control it. You are not obligated to put your own needs and desires aside merely because they want you to.

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  • Good point regarding "Working for past employers can be tricky". The previous relationship must indeed evolve
    – morsor
    Oct 14 at 7:40
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You can send screenshots/images/mockup of the design instead of sharing design files and code.

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Here's a thought experiment:

1 - go to a restaurant, order, eat and drink and then try to negotiate prices.

2 - go to the movies and tell them you will talk about money once you've watched it.

Some clients are trying to get free work and some are just uneducated on how freelancing works, so it could just be insecurity about the quality of your work.

If you feel that the client is trying to get you to do free work, just walk away, it's not worth the effort to even argue.

Layout all the rules:

  • about the payment, as Dave Chappelle very eloquently says, "I'm like Evel Knevel, I get paid for the attempt"
  • prices have to be discussed before, payment can be done later
  • all electronic communications are binding, but a formal contract is always better, easier to be enforced and makes the client think twice before trying non standard moves. get a template online, stamp your logo on and send it
  • payment can be due once: you start working, your work is accepted, your work is delivered
  • payment on start, has to be on the contract, can be in full or a percentage
  • payment on acceptance, acceptance criteria has to be agreed by both parties and it can be an email saying anything like "designs are good, thanks"
  • payment on delivery, you delivered the designs but the client asked for changes, you get to receive money for delivering the project and charge extra for the changes
  • if the changes that the client is asking are small adjustments to your work, it's fair to consider this as paid for, but you are the deciding part
  • cancelling, sometimes you can't deliver the project or the relationship is just not working, the client doesn't respond to emails, conditions not accepted, etc etc etc. write down a few criteria for cancelling the project like: "the worker can cancel the project at any time and received the worked hours if: A - client is rude, B - client fails to x,y,z; the client can cancel the project at any time if: A - freelancer is rude, B - freelancer fails to respond in x business days, etc" You are selling a service, not a product.
  • define the value of your hour
  • estimate how long it's going to take to make the designs
  • write a small contract with: full price, payment conditions, price for modifications, deadlines, acceptance criteria and, cancelling criteria
  • ask for a formal digital acceptance

All of this might seem like 'too much' for you, because you are probably very early in your freelancing career and you might feel intimidated by clients or asking for stuff in fear of losing the opportunity to work. This is all very fair and if anyone doesn't accept those terms, they might have ill intent, so losing the work might actually be better.

So, put in all in writing and ask, and don't start working until you know how everything is going to pan out.

You are not an employee that has to show up and just work until the work is done.

Freelancing is about clear communication.

This will require a lot of discipline and organization, but that also means you don't get cheated out of your money or get stuck in a bad contract.

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