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I'm involved with a situation where I am getting close to finishing a project and the client is irate because not everything he wants is in the project. We have a signed proposal listing all the features of the project and how they will work. Now the client is saying that they want things to work differently and they want more features included. Originally we had to create 6 different revisions to the proposal because the client kept adding things.

There is a clause in the proposal that says:

"We know from experience that fixed-price contracts are rarely beneficial to you, as they often limit you to your earliest ideas. We don’t want to limit your ability to change your mind. The price at the beginning of this contract is based on the length of time we estimate we’ll need to accomplish everything you’ve told us you want to achieve, but we’re happy to be flexible. If you want to change your mind or add anything new, that won’t be a problem as we’ll provide a separate estimate for that."

The way I have dealt with my client when he asks for things that he says were included in the proposal but that are not in the text of the proposal is by letting him know that the thing he is requesting is not in the proposal and that we will need to write up a separate quote for more development work.

Is this the best way to deal with this issue? Am I being a bad guy here? I have already provided some extra free features but he wants 50 to 100 hours of more work for free.

I'm trying very hard to remain professional but the client is very upsetting to talk to. I've talked with other vendors and some even refuse to talk to them on the phone and will only deal with them via email. The client is also starting to bad mouth me to other people that we mutually know.

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    Dump him. We call this scope-creep and it's dangerous. Cut the ties with him, wrap it up, and move on – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Nov 11 '15 at 0:39
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    And if he is bad mouthing you in writing (email, web page, etc) you might consider a lawyer's letter. – kdopen Nov 12 '15 at 1:15
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    I always say "No" to anyone who is both irate with me and wants something for free. In life and in business. – Scott Nov 12 '15 at 20:14
  • Don't let yourself be impressed by the guy. This must be his (conscious or unconscious) strategy. Respecting the clauses in your contract and in particular regarding work additions is the way to go. If you have carried out the initial schedule, it might be time to invoice. Unless the other party explicitly disputes the invoice, it is binding. – Harry Cover Nov 15 '15 at 22:06
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It's easy: Stop falling for the guilt trip and simply do as any professional would do in similar case.

That is, say yes and show a price list at the same time. And stick to this.

If the client sill comes back that XYZ should be included, you simply cut that short and say "let me know when you'll have the budget for the extra features and I'll be happy to help you with this!" And if it keeps going, you can use another formula such as "let me know if you have questions about the last proposal/pricelist I sent you about the extra features."

That is way more efficient than arguing about what was included and isn't, and going back and forth about the content of the first proposal. You will force the dialog to be about money and budget. The first proposal is matter of the past, and what the client is asking for is a new proposal, that's simple. You don't have to feel bad for this, it's just business. If that client keeps harassing you, stick to the budget formula, ask for down payment and always redirect the conversation to this. Don't waste your time with excuses and long emails about the "whys".

In any case, you do not owe any explanation and should avoid going into the "I need money to survive" or "I can't afford to work for free because XYZ". That's lowering yourself in giving excuses no entrepreneurs should ever have to give in business and you know your client is aware of this anyway. You're the one wasting your time in the end because you'll either be underpaid or not paid at all. Your client is simply gambling using "emotional talk"; these people do this because it works for them and they get lot of free work this way.

Don't worry about the badmouthing for now. People who know you and the client are probably used to see that person badmouth everybody. On the other hand, if you have proofs about the badmouthing, you can always mention in 1-2 sentences that you will not tolerate any bad words affecting your reputation as a professional and might get your lawyer involved if this doesn't stop. And of course, you should stop negotiating with that client because that's what you seem to be doing.

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    Yup; this is the answer. "Of course I'd be willing to add that feature for you. Here's our estimate of how long it would take. When you've signed off on the budget and terms, we'll jump on the updates." – Michael McPherson Nov 11 '15 at 17:10
  • That's it! Anything else? – Shura16 Nov 17 '15 at 13:49
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    I never say no, I just get more expensive - let the customer decide on proceeding or not. And I also agree about ignoring badmouthing - if this client bad mouths you, no doubt, its not his first time, and no doubt it won't be the first time folk hear him grumble - If anyone decides not to use your services based on his comments, it is probably someone you would not want to work with anyway. Get a purchase order for all your work, a signed contract. If the customer is slow in paying and ignores your requests, talk it over first - if it does not improve, then reconsider the relationship. – fiprojects Feb 27 '16 at 16:12
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Your method is an industry standard method (at least on the corporate level).

  1. He submits a request for changes
  2. You provide a Change Order
  3. Once they approve the change order the work can proceed

    (Depending on the working relationship the work can proceed before approval of the additional fee, but if they are pressuring for more work without adjusting the payment for it then best to ensure they've agreed to the ammended contract)

It's also best to provide the change orders early and often. Don't wait to lump multiple changes into one single order, especially if you do the work before submitting it, with the work in hand there's little incentive to increase payment.

  • The change order idea is really great. I think I probably need to take a project management class somewhere. – David Nov 11 '15 at 22:08
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Dump this client! At this juncture, the client is already using psychological pressure on you to induce you to get work started, by any means. Don't expect that the client is going to be happy or thrilled to get your invoices paid once you've turned over your deliverables -- since there are excuses beforehand, expect that there will be excuses afterward.

I predict that the client will say, "well, I know we agreed on price X, but now that I have the work done, I'm deciding that I'm only willing to pay Y."

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    I don't have a danger of not getting paid because I control all the hosting of the project until they are fully paid. Their whole business runs on this software and I can turn it off and on with the push of 1 button. If it goes offline, their business grinds to a halt during the busiest season of the year. Once a client pays, then I turn over all hosting and source code to them. – David Nov 15 '15 at 20:57
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    That's why getting paid BEFORE delivering the work and with milestones is the way to do online business. Psychological pressure is a normal part of everyday life at different levels, freelancers will meet all different types of "manipulators" (eg. my daughter is sick, I'm in a crunch, I have lot of projects for you after this one, it's for a church project, let see if we're a good fit, you didn't do X...) but they can easily be controlled if you know what they're doing. – go-junta Nov 16 '15 at 1:02
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    Yeah I've met the "daughter is sick" guy before. I set too few milestones in my project, half up front, 25% on completion before fixes, last 25% plus balance of additional approved work after fixes. – David Nov 16 '15 at 1:32
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The client is asking for a Variation To Order, or VTO. VTOs are generally where a supplier makes the highest margins on a fixed price contract.

The key point is being able to point to documentation that defines the original agreed scope. If it's in the original documented scope, it's included in the original price.

If it's outside the original documented scope, then it's an extra to contract. And therefore it will require extra funding by the client.

The woollier the original documentation of the scope is, the more contentious it all gets.

So the key point is: any time the price for the work is fixed, makes sure both parties agree to what is included in the scope of the work covered by the fixed price, and what is excluded from the scope.

But so far, that's a "Oh, well if you're going there, I wouldn't start from here" answer. So. Have a critical look at the specifications for the work that go along with the fixed price. Check for clarity and ambiguity.

Look at any interim deliverables. It's not unusual for the final shape of the completed work to come into sharper detail as the project progresses. Did the client sign the interim documents and deliverables off as correctly reflecting the scope and specification from when the contract was signed?

Are the latest requests of the type "You have not provided feature X that is in the contract. Give me what is specified in the contract" ? Or are they "You gave me something that handles X Y and Z. Just like the contract said to. But it needs to handle A and B, too" ?

  • It's more of the latter. Also, it is "well I thought that's how I needed it to work but our vendor actually says they need it to work differently" – David Nov 24 '15 at 14:53
  • Luckily, you are not liable for your client's mis-interpretion of his own requirements. You are liable for providing the contracted deliverables. No court is going to find that mind-reading is a necessary skill when delivering against a contract. – Euan M Nov 24 '15 at 15:02
  • You only have to provide what the client said he wanted, not what he later decided he actually needed. (Of course, it's a valuable skill to be able to guide the client to what he actually needs, rather than what s/he thinks s/he wants. But that's at either: at the pre-contract stage, when you are both clarifying the clients' requirements; or during the project, when the client still needs to pay for extras-to-contract. – Euan M Nov 24 '15 at 15:02
  • I actually went through 6 revisions of the initial proposal over a period of 1.5 months before the project started. The client kept forgetting things that he needed to add. It was replacing an old system that basically ran their whole business, the entire ordering process, inventory, interfacing with the warehouse, and multiple other vendors. After we signed the deal, they sprung it upon me that they needed it in 2 months because it turned out they didn't own their current system that they used and their provider was pulling the plug. – David Nov 24 '15 at 15:07
  • I wonder why the previous provider decided to stop working with him? ;-) – Euan M Nov 24 '15 at 15:20

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