Sorry in advance for the long read.

I'm 22 years old and just finished university for graphic design. I was approached by a small business which wanted me to design them a logo, stationary and a website. I was only charging them $20/h NZD because it was under the table and my first client. Anyway I've finished everything, they're happy with the logo and stationary but not the website. They think the whole website needs re-designing. They only told me this a month after I finished, (once her husband started to get more involved with the deal). So I came up with another concept and sent them the wireframes for it, told them it would take roughly 50-60 hours. He sent a long email filled with analogies about flooring and how he wouldn't want his floor tiled twice, etc (it was an entertaining email). He left me with an ultimatum, do the re-design of the site for free or return the deposit he paid and walk away (after the hours already gone into it). I would LOVE to hear from other freelancers and hear what they would do in this situation as I'm new to this and can't tell if I'm in the wrong or not. An important piece of information to note is that I didn't send them the wireframes of the site in the beginning (which was a mistake I now know) but does this mistake really have this much of a repercussion? And yes from now on I will use a contract.

If you read to here I would love your input, cheers.

  • If you don't have a contract and they cannot sue you, then all you can lose is their recommendation.
    – Peter MV
    Feb 9, 2016 at 11:21
  • I'm closing this question as it was also asked (and has more answers) on another Stack Exchange site, as an exact duplicate
    – Canadian Luke
    Feb 10, 2016 at 0:59

1 Answer 1


First off, if you failed to get approval of the design before building the design, well, the onus falls on you. To keep a happy client always get approval at milestones before moving forward. If you fail to get approval, then you open yourself up to working and working for free if the end result isn't what the client wants.

Without the initial approval of the design, I think I'd be in a position to make the changes being requested and eat all the previous work. If it's my fault no one approved anything, then it's my error not the clients. Chalk it up to a "learning experience" and move on, striving to make the client happy.... with approvals along the way.

In any event, for my business, deposits are non-refundable and would never be returned. But you really should state that before the deposit is ever paid.

In some situations though.... if they did approve things....

There are a few things to ask yourself....

  1. Do you have a contract?
    • If you do, that should detail revisions, changes, and fees. Refer to the contract.
    • If you do not, they things get stickier. Learn to always have a written agreement covering things like approval, revisions, cancellation, etc. Contracts do not have to be long-winded, legalese documents. A simple one page PDF (or even an email) detailing what is to be done, when it's to be done, how revisions are to be handled, what happens when one party wants to cancel, who owns the rights to what, and what compensation is to be provided is often enough.
  2. Do you have documentation with approval of the design? Email is documentation.
    • If the design was approved by the client, even if not by "the husband", were you unfounded in preceding? Probably not. Who exactly has the authority to approve things? If you got approval from one of those individuals, you've done nothing abnormal.
    • Realize it is not your responsibility to ensure the client allows everyone they want to weight in. If they failed to get "the husband's" approval before telling you to "go ahead", that's not your problem. If they wanted "the husband's" approval, they should have waited before telling you the design was approved.
  3. Is the client just being unreasonable and asking more than any business would be willing to accommodate? Be aware, as a student or recent graduate, many business owners may "target" you either consciously or subconsciously, because they know you don't have a lot of experience.
    • There are business owners out there that are fully aware they are using inexperienced workers because they feel they can push them around or take advantage of them. These types of clients often know what they are asking would be immediately unacceptable by larger, more established, firms/studios. (a contract will generally scare off these types of businesses and protect you to some degree)
    • In all fairness however, there are inexperienced business owners that honestly don't understand what they are asking is above and beyond what could be considered normal (again... a contract detailing expectations would eliminate this problem.) Sometimes all it takes is an explanation and things get back on track.
  4. The client is always right... unless they are wrong. Is the client wrong here?
    • Your business is your business. It is always your choice to deal with something or walk away. No other business or client has the right to dictate how you choose to deal with any given situation. In most cases, especially without a contract, you're only risking bad word of mouth.
    • When clients become unreasonable to you, speak up, but do it politely. There are times when a client, especially an inexperienced client, may be asking for way too much and they are just unaware. Politely indicating what you disagree with or what you feel is "too much" may often open a dialog to an easy, pleasant solution. My first reaction to anything is always from a friendly, "oh you just don't understand", perspective. Then, if they make it clear they do understand, I switch to a more stern approach.

In your situation, I'd refer back to emails I have, searching specifically for the email telling me the web design was approved and I should move forward. I would map out, to myself, solutions I'm willing to accommodate. Then I'd then respond with something along the lines of....

Hi [client b],

I'm a bit concerned. On (Month 00), [client a] approved the design of the web site. I was told I should proceed with the design and build it out. Based upon this approval, XX hours of work were completed to get the web site ready. These hours would have never been accumulated were it not for the direct approval to proceed.

I'm sorry to hear [client a] didn't get your input before telling me to move forward. However, I was unaware that [client a] did not have final authority to give me the go ahead. After all [client a] had approved [project a], [project b], and [project c] without issue.

I absolutely want you to be pleased with the web site design. Redesigning the site will require an additional 50-60 hours. That is not something I'm willing to complete without compensation.

(I threw this part in based upon your question))
Referring to your floor tiling analogy, if a contractor is hired to tile your floor and [Client a] picks a tile, approves it and gives the go ahead to install. It gets installed. Then, once it is installed, you state your don't like it and want a different tile. Would you, honestly, expect the contractor to just throw away the tile that was used and complete all that labor again without incurring any additional costs?

I'm sorry but approval was given. I can't rework everything free of charge.

There are two options available:

  • 1.) Accept the site as it has been designed and approved. I'm absolutely willing to make any minor design changes or "tweak" things in the existing design to hopefully accommodate some of your desires.

  • Or 2.) Scrap the existing design and rework everything from scratch, understanding that an additional 50-60 hours of billable labor will be incurred. I will invoice for the labor which was approved thus far. Once that invoice is paid, we can start the new design.

Please let me know how you would like to proceed.

Given the above, I hope you've gotten paid, at least some. Because, from my experience, I can tell you if you've got a client that wants a complete redesign after something has already been approved, and they want it for free, chances are you'll never see any payment from this client. Or if you do, it'll be short.

My best advice at this stage is to be willing to cut your losses and walk away. If you have approval (especially written approval) of the designs, what the client is asking is above and beyond normal business practices. If they are adamant about them, you won't get around it and they'll never be happy. Worse case scenario is this client leaves with an unfavorable opinion of your services. That is something you have to learn to accept. You are going to run into clients you just can not make happy.

It is often better to walk away leaving an unreasonable client unhappy than it is to put in weeks of work you will never be paid for. Remember, you're a business and you should treat interactions like a business. No business I know gives me free services just because I want them to.

Be aware, most of this answer just amounts to my opinion based upon my experience. None of it should be seen as "written in stone" and I'm certain other freelancers may have a different take on things.

  • Thanks for your extremely well thought out reply, I really appreciate it. I feel your point 3 is somewhat coming into play a bit. As far as I remember there were verbal agreements that the site was fine by the wife but nothing in writing which makes things hard. Anyhow Seeing as I have a fair amount paid which will cover the logo and stationary I think I will give him the choice of two options similar to the ones you have provided. Cheers man.
    – ccc
    Feb 9, 2016 at 20:53
  • It's really always best to have something in writing. Even when I get verbal approval from clients, I still ask them to shoot me a quick email saying things are okay before I move forward. If asked why, I explain that having documented, verifiable, dates of the project progression assists in my tracking and record keeping.
    – Scott
    Feb 9, 2016 at 21:48
  • Right I'll make sure to do that from now on thanks :).
    – ccc
    Feb 9, 2016 at 23:57

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