I learned a valuable lesson today the hard way. I know what to do in the future, but for right now, I want to know what my options are for collecting payment, and maybe some advice on how not to get suckered by your clients.

IS THIS LEGAL? ~~ Client hired me to build an e-commerce website for her business. she signed proposal, I collected a 50% deposit, but the scope of the project doubled during the build. I went totally out of my way for this client, going above and beyond the scope of my job. She manipulated me, and made the project drag on and on. She caused me so much unnecessary work that all got tossed, and endless hours of my time. I was unhappy, but played nice, because I wanted my payday. She kept me so busy with constant emails and texts, asking me questions on a range of topics from software to hardware, apps, web-browsers, mobile phones and more. I provided her with extensive information I mostly had to research myself to make sure it was accurate, and arrange it in a way you would provide technical instructions to an indigenous tribe in the Amazon Jungle (she was, or pretended to be "tech-illiterate").

THEN, she wouldn't even try following my instructions at all. She wouldn't do any of it! I'm not including all of the options for how the site would work etc, I'm not even talking about the ridiculous number of mockups, designs, color palettes, logo designs and business card designs I made for her. I wanted this client to be happy, that's my job. And IMO, the work I produced was really good! but trying to get her to make a decision was like pulling teeth! She would say, I don't know, this is a lot to think about, I want to be careful... She had made an old Vista Print website some years ago that was absolutely frightening. The home page image was crooked, cut-off, and sat by itself in a random position on the page, the whole site was just brown, but then weird colors would erroneously pop up in areas, she used 6 different fonts, and it had page loading issues. She kept saying, I liked my Vista Print site. (???)

I didn't even know what to say because I didn't want to offend her. I helped her make the best/easiest/cost conscious decisions possible. I created a form for her to input her product information, she never used it. I even went to her home for 3 hours to help her get her content together. But she still would send me a couple photos on my phone, some in an email, some random images of text she wrote on scrap paper on my phone again, then duplicate photos on dropbox. I would edit them all for import, and then find out she sent me 3 pics of the same thing. She sent me about 2 dozen photos of her product, I put them in the website, and then she tells me, "oh no, those were just examples. I haven't sent you any images for the website yet". (why???) she would send me random photos of other peoples jewelry on etsy (why???)... she was a nightmare. Her photos were of horrible quality, crooked, cut-off, 9,000 px wide. I had to edit every single product image. She took up ALL of my time.

I couldn't accept any other work making her my sole client (except for 1 SMM gig). 1 day before delivery, she tells me - she doesn't think it's going to work out, she terminates the project. I thought it was a cruel joke at first. For 2 months she gave me no indication this would happen. It took a month before she gave me any content at all, (I was building the site, and responding to her emails and texts) and she finally chose some stock images (I licensed) for the site just days ago! This was after I sent her, I lost count, 60 to 70 maybe?

She thinks she owes me nothing.

She compared the professional services I provide, to her prior work as a real estate agent. (??? I don't work for commission!) She said sometimes things just don't work out.

I want to get paid. Do I have any legal right to collect money from her? I'm willing to take her to court if I have to. I get the feeling she's done this to other people before. It was so calculated and manipulative.

I'm furious, I'm a wreck, and I'm broke.

  • 2
    What does your contract state?
    – Scott
    Commented Nov 3, 2018 at 7:27
  • 1
    Well, it states a lot of things. But nothing about cancellation or a "kill fee" or anything like that because I never in a million years would have guessed she was going to do this to me. I'm a sucker, I've been duped a lot! I just don't have a radar for this stuff I suppose. I've done tons of research and moving forward I'll be much better prepared, but what's done is done. I'm going to take her to small claims court. Pro se of course. Paying a lawyer wouldn't make sense.
    – Rosemary
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 16:30

1 Answer 1


First off, I'm sorry to hear of your endeavor and that you had to deal with a nightmare client like that. I think we've all been there at least twice. Now then, hindsight is 20/20, so let's be proactive.

The Worst Customers

The worst client a freelancer can encounter is hard to shove into one box as they come in all kinds. To name a few, there is the waffler, the procrastinator, the bargain shopper, the know-it-all, and a dozen or so others. However, the end result is typically the same. The project goes over budget and over deadline due to the dreaded "Scope-Creep".

No matter how you might try to keep these wishy-washy, impossible-to-please project killers in-line and on-task the decisions get delayed and you end up either waiting for them to deliver their content, or to even answer an email, yet one thing never fails to hit on time...The deadline and their criticism of your missing it (even though they were the reason why the project is stalled).

But, here are the facts:

  1. It has happened and you're probably correct in assuming she's done this to others. If you've got the time and feel the need for vindication you might ask around about her in the local design communities and see if there's precedent.


  1. You can use your time wisely, provided you have documentation you have the right to take her to court and attempt to collect. Depending on the cost of your contract and the percentage of work you've actually completed* along with your local laws will determine whether you're heading to small claims court or a civil trial court.

    • Provided you've got a signed contract that breaks down the percentages of payment owed for the scope of work done and what happens if either end does not meet their respective responsibilities.

However, the simple fact you're asking us here would lead me to believe that you have a somewhat more vague contract. So, in my experience your only recourse in this situation is to:

Issue a Final Demand for Payment-in-Full:

There are a number of sites out there with templates for writing a letter to demand payment in full for services rendered.

  1. Be sure to choose a template that is valid in your state.
  2. Be certain you have included all the pertinent details and specifics: including the total amount of contract, total remainder due, the scope of work promised, the scope of work delivered, and any reasoning/causes why the remainder of the work was not able to be completed.
  3. In closing: After you've laid out your case, you can offer a payment arrangement or, you can imply legal recourse if payment in full is not delivered forthwith. (It would be advisable to consult a lawyer/legal counsel unless you are familiar with the legal ramifications and responsibilities involved.)
  4. Have the letter notarized by a legal notary and have the final request of payment delivered in a way that requires their signature acknowledging receipt of the documents. In other words, if you can afford it it would behoove you to hire a process server. But, at the very bare-minimum send the letter 1st Class registered & certified mail requiring a signature for delivery. This eliminates them using the excuse they never received it.
  5. And lastly, stick to your guns. You are a business just the same as any major corporation and deserve to be paid for your services. Get help if you need it, but be assertive and do NOT back down.

Moving forward, it would be best for you to use a stronger proposal & separate contract that states detailed provisions determining what is expected of you and in what timeframe, what is expected of the client in what timeframe, penalties for being over deadline, Provisions that address change of scope/scope creep, how they are handled, and the penalties/additional fees to cover last-minute add-ons & requests. Detail every possible scenario you can think of as being reasonably possible to cover your bases.

It's also good to include an escape clause with a percentage of compensation depending on the stage of the project for yourself along with detailed legal ramifications as a result.

Essentially, you want to have your clients sign an iron-clad contract that documents any possible scenario and recourse for you to recoup your fees. There are a few really solid proposal/contract platforms out there that allow cash-strapped freelancers to draft their own comprehensive documents.

Personally, I find Proposify to be absolutely indispensable. I use them religiously! Though there are others like Bidsketch and PandaDoc

Just remember moving forward, that the more you define in plain English and have your clients sign on in agreement, the less this will not occur again. And in my experience, if a client is hesitant to sign fair & equal conditions on your service provisions-You probably do NOT want them for a client anyways.

Best of luck to you! Let us know how it turns out.

  • Thank you so much for your detailed response! I really appreciate your support, it's reassuring to know you're not alone. I will surely not make this mistake again. I've been doing a lot of research on my own, but thank you for the additional resources! I'm basically reading everything I can find. I've been planning out my steps, and would like to get a demand letter out today - thank you for the suggestion of a notary! I know that I deserve to get paid. I've got tons of documentation to back up my claim. The contract we signed did not plan for this, but in the future.. I'll be bulletproof :-)
    – Rosemary
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 16:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.