Let's make websites.
10 "Nos" for Freelancers
By Samuel Ryan     Freelance Lessons     Comments

When I first started freelancing as a university student, I was eager to do any website and would say "Yes" to anything, regardless of my skill set or the time involved. It was just nice to know that someone needed me for a skilled task. Unfortunately, I quickly found myself working all the time, eating Ramen, and not getting anywhere in terms of paying off my college debt. Making things worse, word was getting out that I did free or cheap work. It was simply a bad way to do business.



Anyways, now ten years later, my world (and financial stability) requires the use of the answer "No." And here are ten questions I almost always answer "No" to:

1) Can you show me a mock-up to help us choose a designer/developer?

I fell for this a couple times as a young and naive developer. I made no money and spent lots of time on the work. Don't do unpaid work for the chance to be paid -- this wouldn't fly in any other industry, so why web design? The best case scenario (though rare) is that you get a job with a client who knows that you'll work for free when necessary. The more likely scenario is that they don't pay you and still use part of your stuff--and you waste your time.


2) Can you give us a discount rate or match this much cheaper freelancer?

 There are a lot of companies out there that do not see web design as a service worth paying much for. These should not be your clients. In my early university years, I used to value "getting the job" so highly, I would take on an inordinate amount of work for the pay. You may be doing this company a favor, but on the flip side, you're hurting your own future. Nowadays, I give my hourly rate immediately, and it weeds out many potential clients. It's simple math really -- if doubling your rate loses half your client work, then you're still making as much in half the time. If you do excellent work, get paid for it – there will still be comparable firms charging double what you are.


3) Will you host my site?

 Sure it seems like a good idea -- free recurring revenue right? Well, maybe... if you can first get them to pay, and then if you can justify making $10 a month for the endless phone support you'll have to give at all hours. Once the client thinks that you are responsible for their email and website functionality, you will get called all the time when their email shows the slightest wavering or their website 404s for any reason on their home computer. Don't do it...it's not worth it. Give them your recommended hosting company and let them sign up.


4) Can you copy this site?

 This is an easy "No" from a moral standpoint, but there are other equally important reasons. First, if they're copying a site, they have shady ethics themselves and the chances of you getting paid on time and in the full amount are questionable. Second, doing this type of work reduces you to a simple execution machine, and although some of this work may pay the bills, why purposely pursue it? Third, if it's a true copy, the only benefit you may receive is payment - you really won't want to use it for a portfolio or example work, and furthermore, this type of client is one you do not want work from in the future.


5) Can I pay for my e-commerce site from my website sales?

 I hate to be the pessimist, but when asked this, I want to tell them that they most likely won't be making the money they think they will--so they might as well ask me to do it for free. Yes, I know there are exceptions, so you should inquire further before judgement. But in the end, if they have a leigtimate plan in place, their plan should include the ability to pay you up front.


6) I have a great idea. Do you want to partner up and...?

 Partnerships work when both parties can bring eqaul amounts to the enterprise. If the person adds little to the potential business outside of speaking an "idea," it's not really a partnership. Ideas are good, but there are a million of them out there, and it's the execution of a good idea that makes the money. In some cases, people believe that their idea is worth the same as you spending hundreds of hours to develop it -- such inequity does not end well.


7) Do you have an IM account I can contact you with?

 I might give it out if it's to a person trust during an intensive project, but as a general policy, I tell clients that it's my general policy not to. This is my personal decision -- but I am far more effective for the client if I can focus large chunks of time to get them the best product possible. I still answer my emails very quickly, but on-the-spot messaging is not the best idea for a developer (unless you turn it off often). You just have to be careful not to become an on-call employee (unless your work agreement specifies). 


8) Can I just pay the whole amount when it's done?

 I typically require 50% up front (unless it's a huge job -- then 25-33%). I need that assurance that they have "bought in" on this project and on myself. Furthermore, I need to plan on the income to pay bills and eat. People who want to pay at the end are much more likely to back out after you've done lots of work.


9) Is there any way you could get this done on the weekend?

 This is a general "No" but not all-inclusive. Because once they know that you helped them out one time, they may expect it in the future. Now you may choose to get extra done at night or on the weekends (I do all the time), but it's a slippery slope to start making promises about getting things done at night or on the weekends/vacation. Many freelancers charge night/weekend hours as well, so that might be a possible route to take. 


10) Can I be sure you won't use this work in anything else?

 This is a very sensitive subject because most clients misunderstand it (intellectual property is a tricky subject anyways). In my Terms and Conditions that I require all new clients to sign, I make sure they know that (1) their code has utilized code from other projects which I haven't charged them for, and (2) I will probably use code from their project on other projects, and (3) they own the code implementation of the project (finished website), but not the actual code pieces (login system, image uploader, etc.). They're not paying you to create code that they in turn have the rights to sell. (Now there may be exceptions where they want to resell the code or are willing to pay for exclusive rights--at which point you would develop from scratch and charge them accordingly.)


There are others I'm sure. Feel free to add your own and remember, it's the opportunities you avoid that will define your success just as much as the opportunities you take...


Note: I've gotten a good deal of traffic and comments on this post. Now that you've finished, keep this in mind: this post is by no means a systematic, all-inclusive look at the relationship of freelancers and clients. I often temper several of these depending on the situation because flexibility is necessary to success. Furthermore, I am also likely to break some of these for a client just because I love the client and/or project. However, such observations are moot in a post that is defining the general "No's" of freelancing. So don't think that this list is a holistic philosophy, but merely a guide that has helped me avoid some pitfalls I myself have fallen into. Best of luck!

Community Comments
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I never really thought about #3 I just thought freelancers offered it automatically to clients, but I can see the potential headaches. Especially since you could be stuck for with them for years and years ... good call :-)

Good points, all true, wondering have you ever taken a project on where the client continues to alter the project scope... but you screwed up in the first place by accepting a project scope that is vague... I just spent about 50 hours on a project and refunded the customer about 75% of that time spent... absolute nightmare, but I figured instead of wasting any more time with a customer that can't make their mind up and continues to alter scope just refund the money and move on... I hate losing money in business, stocks or anything else...just venting...good blog...by the way with Fool Caps do you have a player ID? MesaWeb ...got here from FlashDen

Hey Casey,

You'll never believe this, but I was just on Fool Caps looking at my profile and in "My Buzzbox" was MesaWeb's Bear Pitch for AMZN. That's a one in a million chance that I should check my blog next and see your name here (I'm bearish on AMZN too).

Anyways, my profile is solitaryway -- I had a great score two weeks ago (98+), but wanting to make a run for the top, I upped my picks from a measly 10 to 15, and dropped to the mid-80's since four are losing to the market (I only like a few stocks at a time anyways).

As for misquoting a project, I've had that happen before, and now I just get paid hourly and count the admin/email hours in there as well. Or if it's large, I might do a project cost with a maximum of hours promised, telling them it'll cost more if I go over x hours. This method may lose a couple clients, but usually just the ones that were looking to get more than they pay for anyways (the good ones will trust you to charge beyond the project fairly.)

Thanks for reading and good to see you bullish on FMD and MIDD (2 of my 4 long positions :-)

Self Improvement Blog
These are all great points. I have had more than one person offer me 'part ownership' of some project, only for the whole thing to fall apart or make zero money. Wish I knew that one ahead of time.


Ara Abcarians
wow, so true! hahaha I have literally heard every single question lol

Harry Roberts
I'm just starting out so that's a pretty damn useful article. Thanks!

Katie Lee
Awesome article... definitely true and I've made quite a few of these mistakes myself. Live and learn!

Great article! Could you post a copy of your terms and conditions? I think we could all learn from that as well.

Very good article.. I think I found myself reliving a couple of those situations.

From my recent experience I would also take extra precautions when dealing with people on Craig's List or other classified jobs. Definitely have a contract in place before any work is started and make sure you make it clear that additional mock-ups or ideas will be billed in addition to the agreed quote.

A lot of people seem to think Web work is like using a glorified Word document but we all need to take more pride in our work and stand firm on our price points.

flippant, somewhat bitter and unreasonable.

while much of the author's somewhat sad and embittered comments have a grain of truth and strike a responsive chord in all of us whom have 'been there', the fact of the matter is, most of the problems he cites are of his own doing, and the 'recommended responses' he offers now, are similarly ill advised and to be avoided or modified also.

you cannot win back the time you lost, or the 'I've been had' feeling when you have designed an extensive mock-up based on an email conversation, (after a hefty all-nighter) only to see the client go elsewhere with an inferior design, or worse, something cheaper that seems to incorporate some of your inspirational gems or proprietary knowledge.

Addressing some of your more egregious observations in turn:

#1. "1) Can you show me a mock-up to help us choose a designer/developer? No.

A knee-Jerk NO! while satisfying, is petulant and inappropriate.
The name of the game is engagement and diplomacy.

Try instead,
"Please take a look at my body of past work "Portfolio" and my references to get an example of my skills and what I am capable of.

If you like, you can contract me to construct a site prototype for you !(maybe)

See, you dont spit on a potential customer, nor disregard the interaction just because they do not come at you with the instant blow job you so obviously seek.
Engage them, let them know your expectations: How else will they ever learn? :)

2) Can you give us a discount rate? No.

Proper answer: SURE! (after I internally mark it up 100% :) )

It is always a negotiation: if you have not posted a rate schedule, then the 'rate' and the 'reduced rate' can be anything you want!

You also, if you are working for a tax-exempt non-profit, bill at $100/hr, collect $50/hr and claim $50/hr as a donation to the organization on your taxes! (your mileage may vary, it worked for me!)

3) Will you register and host my site? No.

Why not? with the right SIGNED AGREEMENT

At the very least, the domain and site become collateral for unrequited payments, if your SEO is any good, you could even resell the domain name to recoup some costs ( see the SERVICE AGREEMENT FOR 1and1 and GoDaddy..they say EXACTLY THE SAME THING!!)

Also, YOU HOSTING THEIR SITE (and restricting access accordingly) means that THEY DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO YOUR CUSTOM PHP/ASP CODE!

Software as a SERVICE BABY!

"7) Do you have an IM account? No."

Right answer: YES

Access to me via IM is part of my TIER II SUPPORT PACKAGE CUSTOMERS ONLY $50/month, all other access is via BACKPACK with 24hr response time SLA (Service Level Agreement)

You create a dummy IM account which you discard after a month.
Current customers get forwarded to the new one, others, well, they do not!

.... I could go on all day and pick this apart but I wont! :)

Keep your head up, and dont be a whiny little byatch!

Heh...how ironic that the last person should be talking about "bitter" when he's the one that seems to can't stand the fact that alot of freelancers agree (and judging from his site, he knows little about design OR freelancing :-).

Anyways, I enjoyed your list, and I don't think at all you were trying to whine -- only letting others know exactly what your general response is to certain questions (as I'm sure you don't shout "No!" to clients like the idiot commenter implied).

Keep up the good work and I plan to keep reading here!

Hey all,

Thanks for adding to the dialogue. The number of agreements help validate my own experience :-). I know that everyone might not agree, but everyone is entitled to do what works for them. I actually violate a lot of these (especially doing stuff pro bono or discounted as most freelancers out there can understand).

At the same time, it's not hard to fill my 40+ hours a week, so I use this list as a general filter because it's easy to get sucked into a lot of these and forget that your primary purpose of work is to support your family and future and many potential clients out there are not concerned about that (though not intentionally -- they just forget about the true cost of time and design). I find when I try to cater to everyone and every "need", I always end up losing...

Still, maybe I should add a #11 that says "Always be open to saying yes at your own discretion because everything is negotiable and you ARE in the business of serving people :)"

enjoyable list and good filters for any freelancer. i agree that sometimes you might have to say 'yes' but i've learned over many years that what you say here is almost all true.

(and as for the irate guy who feels the need to be a total a-hole instead of politely disagreeing, i would doubt he has actually freelanced or that he has any clients with that mean-spirited and uncompromising know-it-all temper of his...)

I think the most important thing is to check what kind of person your client is.
If he's a moron (60% of cases) - you should say "no" to all those questions. But if you see the client seems to be a "good guy" - saying "yes" could bring you a lot of revenue. (well - actually #4 should be always "no").
So - if the client looks like person you can trust - you can consider saying "yes". If the client don't look that type - you should consider if you want to do business with him.

@Robert -

You're correct and I should have noted that in my post. I guess using the phrase "Absolute No's" in my title was a bit aggressive, and in my next life, I will entitle this post "10 Questions You Should Probably Answer No To" :-)


c'mon ladies, chill!

The purpose of the article is to provoke discussion, not necessarily be an all in all "jump in and hug in tha hot tub :)"

I must confess to being deliberately provocative and what of it?

The purpose of my inflammatory remarks is simply to provide a counterbalance to the obsequious me-too-isms :)

as the author so eloquently provides:

"Still, maybe I should add a #11 that says "Always be open to saying yes at your own discretion because everything is negotiable and you ARE in the business of serving people :)"

That is really, the thrust of the article. The danger in posts like these, is that newbies and the freshly burnt take them the wrong way and over react by resorting to absolutes instead of commonsense!

@elias; no, I wasnt "irate" but I couldnt find the "tounge in cheek icon!

@Candace; Why in heavens name would I care that people "agree" or not? :)

@Samuel "in my next life, I will entitle this post "10 Questions You Should Probably Answer No To" :-)"

Naah, I think the 1st title is waaay better. If you have a blog with comments, you dont want to be milktoast about it, you will have defiant, strongly worded tag lines for people to have a reaction ( pro or con) to!
A bland 50/50 heading will get 10 readers saying uh huh~tacitly agreeing, and not being motivated either way to respond. Be a little polarizing, and they come out of the woodwork! :) ( your mileage may vary), and no, I didnt really feel you where being whiny, just perhaps in a small way pandering to the whiners :)

I see personally too much of it in the field, salespeople upset at their customer base (instead of trying to understand and control the interaction. Sure, you have the ahole customer who has know understanding of what you do -or worse- has a little smidgen of knowledge and maybe 1/2 hour at w3schools.com under his belt, just enough to be a total pain in the ass during the whole development cycle, chewing up your most precious resource, TIME.

For those clients, I give them busy work to do and keep them occupied!

(I have a little css Effects page where they can dynamically modify just about every CSS attribute of every element of the page complete with a color picker and slider. its like giving a cat a ball of yarn!)

as for my own site...sigh..when it starts paying me $120/hr to redesign it in CakePHP like it deserves instead of this piss-ass CMS then maybe I'll spend more than 20 minutes a day on the backend, but there are only so many hrs in a day, and when one hobby pays so much more than the other...Samuel probably knows EXACTLY what I'm talking about!

cre8ive pixel
good read from both ends...

::pulls up a chair and popcorn::

@steve -

Thanks for the counterbalance of opinion. I don't mind at all that you disagree or that that you strongly disagree. I only have issues when the debate steers away from the topic at hand and includes implications that I am embittered, unreasonable, and a "byatch."

I believe you have a right to your opinion, but so do those who agree with the list. And just by perusing the websites of the folks who do agree, I can see that many have found professional success with the same sort of rules I posted on.

I've tried to counterbalance this post with a new one, 5 Absolute "Yes's!" for Freelancers.

1) Working spec. Yeah, it's one I also advise to avoid.


2) Discount rates ... hmmm ... I do give discounts, but only to a degree because when we are at the bargaining table everything is up for discussion while we are hammering out the contract and project agreement.

But, it depends on what their request is. Perhaps we can barter, or if I'm bringing in someone from the outside I get a cheaper vendor or service.

In some cases, I ask what they'd like to do without.

6) I have too many great ideas of my own, and not enough time.

7) Ditto on not using IM with clients as a norm. I email, skype and sometimes meet in person.

8) Depending on the job, it's in thirds (payment before the project begins) or 50 / 50.

9) Rush jobs. I was great at rush jobs in the past. But in the past, I didn't have a life. I did have more money ... but money is not everything.

10) Will you work with Pita clients? No.

But on the off chance I find myself in a pita situation (it happens), I tack on a healthy PITA charge.

Hey Samuel,

I like your way of thinking. Sometimes I'm harshly critisized for my ways but in the end it's just to make things better for us all. I couldn'tr agree with you more on your policy about handling clients. If you can not get the money up front people there is a 9 in 10 chance you will bear all the weight of failure. I like Samuel learned the hrad way. Anyone who is serious and truley has a great business plan/idea will have no trouble putting forth or even aquiring to capitol to make it happen. Be very weary of people offering profit shares, pay laters or long term rewards on a project that needs to put food on your table today. If we all stick together with a similar code of ethics then hopefully it will be easier for us all to make a decent living in the future as no one will be able to abuse our efforts and leave us holding the bag for their stupidity.

Hello !

I translate and adapt your post in french on my blog: http://www.mariejulien.com/?post/2007/10/15/Les-10-NON-absolus-pour-les-freelances

it is not an exact traduction but an adaptation (or derivative work)

Really great tips!

Ravi Vora
This post would go well paired with this one: How to disarm 10 difficult client observations/requests (http://www.ideasonideas.com/2007/10/disarm-10-difficult-requests/)

I've also found that working with smaller client you run into these problems a lot more ( http://ravivora.com/blog/warning-you-may-never-want-to-work-with-a-big-client-ever-again ).

How did you come up with your contract/terms of service? Do you have an example you could post?

@Brian -

Take a look at the Free Stuff page. I posted the test of my contract there :)

Although I really hate N# lists that get dug and bookmarked, these ones really deserve all the attention! Thank you!

One problem that many people have with web developers is that a time estimate is given (for example 3 months or 6 months) and when that time comes round, not only has nothing been done, but the developer is very difficult to contact. We have two sets of friends who run a pair of coffee shops who hired web development firms to make sites for them. Each set paid half upfront and was making regular payments on the rest. When any threat of holding back payment was made, "some" work would be done on the site. (One site was finished over a year after the original estimate) The same thing has happened to other people I know who own their own business. This type of behavior gives all web developers a bad reputation.

I would recommend
1) Keep your timetables realistic and stick to them. People don't mind if work takes a bit longer, but they do mind if nothing has been done by the finishing date.
2) Don't be tempted to take on too many contracts at once. If there are people who want you to do work for them, let them know when you are currently booked that you will be happy to do their project when your schedule opens up. As an added point, tell them that you will be as conscientious when working on their project.
3) Answer emails. If you don't have time to write a lengthy response, simply say that you are working on the project and will contact them as soon as time allows. Clients get extremely frustrated when their emails don't get a response. Most of the time, clients are just happy to know that you got/read their email.

These small things will help you build a favorable long-term relationship with your clients.

Silveira Neto
Oh boy, I should have read that a couple weeks ago.

Rule Number 1 is a far-off, distant Shangri_La dreamland in my industry. Usually you'll come up with an idea, you pitch it to a production company, they say nice but change x and y then we'll look at it again. Then if they accept it they'll pay you a one-of option fee (low) for the privilege of pitching it. Before it gets pitched you usually have to produce a Bible (a document outlining the rules and make-up of the show which you haven't made or even written yet), at least one script, plus several outlines for future episodes. So you've virtually written the show already by the time it gets pitched, whereupon the broadcaster says nice but change x and y and you spend the next year or so reversing the changes you already made. And all this for the one-off fee. And people wonder why children's animation is crappy!
Do I sound bitter...?

Hi, I'm fairly new to freelancing (only about 2 years experience with a small client base).
Already I laughed when I read #3, this is massively true!

Lady Esmerelda
Here's another tip:

Don't have your website designed by somebody whose own website's menu navigation doesn't work in Safari.

I disagree about hosting - I make a significant amount from this, and it allows me more control over the design & coding, as well as encouraging the client to come back to me for revisions & additions to the site.

I would also recommend "Do not do work for friends or family". My wife owns a photography business and we get asked by family to shoot weddings, family, etc. If you blow expectations with a client, there are legal and business remedies. If you screw up with a family member, well let's just say that Thanksgiving dinner will be a littler uncomfortable.

Somethings just don't go well together. Money and family is one of them.

philipe cantu
Safari lol!

Seriously, good list. I learned it the hard way.

A Lot is two words.
#11 - Don't look like an idiot by writing "alot" as one word.

ALOT is not a word
#12 be an even bigger idiot by writing the mispeeled word in all caps.

"You also, if you are working for a tax-exempt non-profit, bill at $100/hr, collect $50/hr and claim $50/hr as a donation to the organization on your taxes! (your mileage may vary, it worked for me!"

This is almost always illegal.

What I do with hosting (#3) is I charge a flat rate per year for the hosting itself, but then I charge my normal hourly rate for any of their communications that I have to handle. My client likes receiving the personalized service so I make sure that he doesn't get it for free.

Papa Mike
Amen and amen!!!

Everyone of those examples and some I've come across in my 30+ years of this business.

The one I like is the: "We'll provide you with stock options in lieu of pay!" First the options are only worth the amount of money it took to print them which is next to nothing! And second, they the client haven't IPO'd yet nor do they have the authority to issue OCX stock of any form.

What normally happens is as soon as you deliver the production level they suddenly need to "down size" your department. And since you're the only one in that "department."

Al Bacmen - The founder and owner of Johnny-Be-Quick plumbing stated it precisely: "The customer is a whore! If you give them $10.00 worth of work, they'll want $1000!"


Papa Mike

GREAT TIPS !!! ... wow ...

heheeee, your so right, but thats just some of them !

You forgot deadlines, project scope, fucking traduction, ...

But it's also bullshit to think that freelancers are more free. They don't, yeah, yeah, we can go to restaurant, take 3 hours break... But we have to deliver and this mean sometimes passing the weekend working.

Aren't you more free with a 70k job where you make your 40 hours a week and then just don't think about the job ?!

Good advice. I run a hosting company. I out-source design to independent agents. People that do both hosting + design are in a bad spot for several reasons. First off, designers should be designers and not hosting companies - that's a completely different field. If you want to cleanly get paid for your work, do the design and out-source hosting to a company you know will cover your ass (like my company icorp.net). If you find the right hosting company they will also alert you to issues where the client may be unhappy with your work and keep you from losing future business. Plus, designers need people to consult with for more advanced CGI/database issues and if you have more than one point of contact, it makes taking care of the client a lot easier.

The Non-Spelling Nazi
I always love the folks who feel the need to overlook several paragraphs of well-written content just to toot their horn about finding a typo.

Yay for you!

@Lady Esmeralda

I tested this in IE 5.5+/Firefox 2.0+/Opera/Safari 3.0 and the menu works well. I will try to find an older version of Safari to test it out on though. Thanks for pointing this out...

And yeah, I use alot a lot :(

No number 11: Don't use apostrophes to make words plural.

Nos not No's.


The Punctuation Nazi

Lukas L.
1) Can you show me a mock-up to help us choose a designer/developer? No.

I've had this request many times, and usually say no.

This one time, a woman from Florida wanted to develop a complex job listings / employers / employees site with permissions etc etc etc and before she commits she wants me to architect the entire thing on paper - without her even having a very good idea of what she wants. argh. No documentation on her part. I asked for a payment before I do the analysis - she said that she will not be paying for an estimate. How am I supposed to provide an estimate without a clear idea of the system?

Then I found out about her total budget for the site which was very unrealistic.

I'm glad of my decision... their current site still looks like cr_p over a year later.

Look at my portfolio, see what I can do - then let's sign and get the deposit first.

btw, great article. :)

#3 screwed me over so badly.. oh so badly.

If you're a skilled website designer, why do you have so many typos in your article (e.g. "selling T-Shirts would a novel idea for he internet"). Don't you proofread your own work?

Shanti Braford
Great list!

@steve - you sound pretty savvy but your ethics are questionable. =) I've known similar freelancers who engage in shady practices; let me tell you 9 times out of 10 your reputation will get around if you're not careful.

I've done little freelancing; repeat business is always easy to come by as a ruby on rails developer who actually delivers results.

Clients of mine have almost always been burned by 2-3 other parties or firms before coming to me. Within hours I have bugs fixed & new features checked in. Also, I've never actively sought out clients, they find me on LinkedIn.

#1 most important rule on your list? The 30%+ payment up front thing. This cuts across many of the other ones, too. (i.e. don't even help out a friend unless he offers 30%+ payment up front, or, assume the friendship has just become a business relationship that you're willing to risk over monetary disputes)

Also never do too much work (go too long) without payment. If your budget can't stomach losing $2k of unpaid work, stop work until you receive a payment of $2k! (pretty simple, really)

We actually build the solution for 3 & 5 and its at www.shopify.info :)

Setup a e-commerce site for next to no money, have fun designing it with xhtml, css and all that and than let us worry about hosting and all that.

Some examples of recent work on the platform can be seen here:


topher - "If you're a skilled website designer, why do you have so many typos in your article"

Uh...hate to say this, but skilled web designer does not equal copy editor. Maybe you should apply ;)

matt z
I'm finishing up my bachelors in may '08 and have been doing freelance video production for about a year. I have run in to some of these problems already and it is very frustrating. These tips are great!

Whoa...I did miss a few typos in the post. I'll have to put a better proofing process in place (aka not me :-)

http://goodbarry.com is better than Shopify IMO.


French situation is not very different. Said yes everytime is not a good way.

Maturity and experience help us to said No.

Could i translate your point of view on my blog (in french) (http://www.quatuorprod.com/blog/) ? with a link from source of course

Best regard -FRED

Kevin Holler
Excellent blog post. Very valuable information i have to say.


I would like to see a copy of your Terms and Agreements... I don't have anything like that, and think it would really help...

Of course - I'm not going to steal yours, but having some ideas on what to place into a T&A form would be very beneficial.

I'll second what AP said.

10/15/2007 1:07:42 PM
You also, if you are working for a tax-exempt non-profit, bill at $100/hr, collect $50/hr and claim $50/hr as a donation to the organization on your taxes! (your mileage may vary, it worked for me!)"

That is what's known in the tax-fraud circles as "double-dipping". You cannot make a deduction for donated labor, only donated goods or cash. Donating money to charity and taking a deduction makes it as if you had never earned that money. In your case, you never DID earn that money, so you can't deduct it. Think of it this way: If they had paid $100 and hour and you donated half of it back to them, your net taxable income would be $50. On the other hand, if you charge them $50 an hour and deduct $50 for the other half, your net taxable income is $0.

To Steve:

You said "You also, if you are working for a tax-exempt non-profit, bill at $100/hr, collect $50/hr and claim $50/hr as a donation to the organization on your taxes! (your mileage may vary, it worked for me!)"

The problem with that is that you still have to claim the full $100/hr as income before you can write off the $50/hr that you did not collect. After all, if it was never income to you then you could not have donated it back. You made $100 and donated back $50 - you did not make $50 and donate back $50.

Also, since all charitable donations are not 100% tax deductible, you may end up losing a lot more than you thought on this one.

So while it "worked" for you, if you get audited, expect to have to pay tax on the $50 per hour income that you never claimed, plus interest and penalties... and penalties for not reporting income are really high!

YMMV - consult an accountant, don't just listen to commentators on blogs.

11. I will not be an assclown and post pointless blog shiet on digg to try and drum up sales.

I disagree with you on #3 only because it's a great source for revenue. Not from the $5 - 10 / month, but simply from the support angle. If you set up your hosting as a "no-support" plan, then you get the residual. And charge your standard rate when they call you for help.

If you provide full-support hosting for $10 / month, you'd better be a dedicated hosting company.

I've found that this solves the problem often associated with hosting. Just say "If you call me, its $x per hour, if its after 6:00pm and before 6:00am, it's twice $2x per hour and no guaranteed response time in the night time."

The only down side IMO to offering hosting is it ties you down on vacations. You may need someone to cover you while you're out. But if you can figure that out, hosting can be a great "backdoor maintenance" contract.

I completely agree to everything you wrote and I learned it the hard way too =)

Great tips. I've been on my own for a few years now and agree with most of you points. Regarding the discounted rates, I have my own approach.

I have two types of clients. The majority are either non-profits, community organizations, or startups. The others are more traditional for-profit and/or corporate types. I always offer a sliding discounted rate to the former, and try to make up for it with the latter. The first group of clients are the reason I'm in business in the first place, and I'm happy to make a little less overall for the pleasure of working with these clients.

Joshua Drake
Hear , Hear!

Everything you just described is why we (command prompt) left the "web design" business years ago. Now if you want us to do "design" we charge our standard rate of 175.00/hr. Otherwise we will work with your designer while we build your database infrastructure.

Listen to this guy, he is right on.

I have a couple of additions to add to his post:


To any new clients my first question is. "Do you currently buy advertising?" If no then I know that they most likely don't understand that any thing they ask me to do costs them money. I no longer educate clients on this aspect.

Dude, ditch the windows "programming" world all together. Move to some serious web development instead (and try to write css code that validates while you're at it).
Aiming for publicity through digg with such a 'tarded title is just as pathetic as spamming. FYI.

#10 is why no one will hire you.

javier isassi
5 Absolute "yes" for freelancers in Mexico.
1. Can you give me a discount?
"Yes". You were charging them twice to begin with.
2. Can you have it ready in a week?
"Yes". It really means a month and incomplete. But always return their calls, that's what counts.
3. Can you do my site?
"Yes". Now you don't have to return their calls and charge whatever you want.
4. Can you copy this site?
"Yes". Where the hell they thing we come up with our ideas anyway? Duh!
5. Can we pay you after the job is finished.
"Yes". Get your backdoor ready to disable the whole darn thing 5 minutes after the check bounces.

Ken Cox
Client: "I already designed the site in PowerPoint, and just need you to make it 'work'."


mark rushworth
i agree with everything here... you also need a contract, an agreed and unwaivering specification, and dont forget to say no before everything then talk your self around instead of being too hungry for the work. also dont be afraid to charge for what you do. as the CD in a small studio we doubled our turnover by doubling our rates without any client batting an eyelid.

Devon Shaw
Jeffrey Zeldman did an article a few months ago brilliantly discussing your point #1:


I've made that mistake before, and it's a really bad idea. Bad enough to be ranked #1 out of all of these. You end up giving people free work and ideas, and 9 times out of 10 they find some hack to do a shit job for half the price.

The only point on this list I'd slightly disagree with is hosting, which we offer to our clients as complimentary for 1-2 years depending on the case. It solves a lot of hassles, and make people a lot more open to giving us the job in the first place -- even if we charge slightly more for the actual work.

Rob Morton
Remind me to never hire you... if I pay you money then you should do as I ask. Now that may mean paying you more money and that amout will be negotiated up front, but this is site is bullshit. Especially number 6 and the fact that I can't IM you???? If I hired you and you said you didn't have an IM I would fire you on the spot. What web designer worth their weight in anything much less salt doesn't let someone contact them via IM? You just sound like a bitter ass that hates the life they have made for themselves.

YES is almost always better than NO. Any time you think NO, you should be thinking, what would it take for me to say YES ... if someone offered you 50,000 dollars to do a poster job same day would you really turn it down? Alright then, your answer for Same Day is YES, for a fee of 50,000 dollars :-)

1) Can you show me a mock-up to help us choose a designer/developer?
Yes, for a small fee.

2) Can you give us a discount rate?
Yes, you can get a discount rate, but not here. XYZ Designs (whom we secretly get commissions from, and vice versa) does very economical work, and I have a coupon here, which will discount the price even further.

3) Will you register and host my site?
Yes, for 5000 dollars
... or
(see 2 above)

4) Can you copy this site?
Yes, within reason. We can even use the same images, CSS files, providing you contact the copyright holder and get his/her permission.

5) Can I pay for my e-commerce site from my website sales?
Yes, providing we receive a deposit and providing you are aware that we charge higher rates for this payment method because of the risk.

6) I have a great idea. Do you want to...?
No, a younger firm would probably be more interested in this type of thing. Let me give you a few names for the newer designers in town. Tell them I referred you (warm fuzzy, maybe the new firm will send some folks your way to)

7) Do you have an IM account?
Yes, we have a special company IM but please be aware that we are unable to check it with all the work we are doing. Make sure you get our main number, which you can reach us more easily with.

8) Can I just pay the whole amount when it's done?
Yes, but not until you have done business with us for five years (or something equally limiting).

9) Is there any way you could get this done tonight or this weekend?
Yes, for a additional fee

10) Can I be sure you won't use this work in anything else?
Yes, for a additional fee

Rob Morton
Haha, look at me not proofreading my own crap.... that was supposed to read "but this site is bullshit"...

Jenn Nickerson
Thank you Samuel!

I will save this and read it again before every potential client meeting. Unfortunately, I've been guilty of a few transgressions (#1 mostly), but quoting my rate up front is surprisingly beneficial. Every one seems to have a story about their "last web designer" who charged 5 thousand and then never returned their calls after the site was finished. I try to be very up front about the money versus time equation and it's been a big help in feeling out the potential (and much dreaded) Crazy Client. (see Craig's List for examples!)

I agree with all of these except for the one about host and domain issues. Yes it can be a pain but our service is more than just web design. We resell hosting via virtual private server packages and we stipulate in our contract that if the client doesn't pay we will turn their site off after a specified time (60 days) of they are late after 30 days we charge a late fee.

Regarding the domain issue. We have had customers in the past who let their domain go down because they were controlling it or they got their domain hijacked by one of those cheesy letters from another registrar that says they need to renew their domain but neglect the fine print. Of course the domain is in their name but we get the notifications and handle it as part of our workflow and process.

I'd also suggest not letting the customer hijack the process and take advantage of the "satisfaction loophole." You will have customer delaying paying because they keep changing their mind about one minor thing after the other like bold text or not, drop shadows in graphics, etc. after they have agreed to a design. Stand firm when the client has agreed to a design and charge extra of design changes and stipulate it in the contract.

Denver Web Design
Great advice. It's easy to get caught in the 'i'll do anything for any gig' mentality. That's not how a business (even if you're working by yourself it's still a business) should be run. When you're done working for pennies and have too many clients, just keep raising prices until some begin to drop out. You'll get more value out of your work, and more free time because you're not dealing with those trouble makers.

No serious corporate client will hire you if you stick by #10.

If they are going to be paying you serious money, the client expects that the work they pay you for is owned by them. Most companies would expect that a non-exclusive license of all library (generic) code would be factored into the price of the contract and that any works created specifically for their project be that graphics, code or content would not be used within any other project without express permission of the client.

Any generic features that you would reuse must be created on your own time and not billed to the client.

Great list and advice. But I don't think the same attitude (not necessarily a bad one) will work for you when you just started.
The positive side of working hard for changes is that you always learn something new, quickly. It could be technology or simple how to deal with clients. With enough knowledge you will be able to adjust and become a seasoned freelancer.
Personally I think this is a process everyone has to go through.

@Steve -- Love people like you, who rip into the original post when your own site is less than ...

BTW, it's "milquetoast" not milktoast -- learn before you reply.

Right, follow this guy's suggestions. If you do it in his tone, there are a million good freelancers are lined up who offer great customer service. You can be a jerk with a few customers who will eventually desert you, or you can be friendly and hardworking and have more customers than you know what to do with. Offering a few extras that are forbidden here never hurt anyone.

I agree with the nos!!

In the last couple of years as an owner of a small webdesign agency, I've encountered many situations which you describe. I've learned over time that when you set your own demands, people/clients tend to respect you more than when you always say 'Yes' .

Concerning the discount rate, I would ask the client what their intended budget is, and how we could meet this budget by shortening the list of demands or functionality on the website.

Another thing to look out for is if you are working with higher profile clients, or people that are putting a lot of money into something. For instance say some web host is starting off, and they have to pay a four digit number a month for the servers they own.

When you go to ask for your payment they may just say, "you know what this is costing me **** a month and, I haven't made like anything so I can't pay you yet"

I have gotten this they are trying to make you work for free basically.

Jay Kerr
Great list. I'm torn about the webhosting issue.

If you sign up your customers with Dreamhost, you can make some money back in referral rewards. You just have to ask yourself if it is worth the headache when things go wrong (like Dreamhost outages) or domain renewals, setting up email etc.

Better to factor this stuff in ahead of time when you are quoting on design and hosting because you'll never make it back down the road.

James Westfall
Good list. The discount issue is critical to understand. If there is potential for a future of sustained projects dependent on the success of the initial project, and you are confident that you can perform beyond the client's expectations, make it clear that you can give them a discount provided they allow you to bid on future projects. Yes, it's only their word and not a contract, but for the most of what I've seen, it can build a healthy, long-term, and lucrative relationship.

Some of this stuff is a no brainer, the author seems to be a bit anal retentive... What ever happened to the "value add", or building a relationship with a client...
#1 Should depend on how much time you spend...
#2 One should usually build some wiggle room into a rate quote...
#3 Can work if you set the ground rules and is a fantastic way to build and strengthen a business relationship and most importantly... Trust!

1) Can you show me a mock-up to help us choose a designer/developer? No.

Absolutely agree. I made this mistake once when I was a novice (8 years ago, an eternity in web development time!), swore never to do it again, and then caved and did it again about 4 years ago for a client that I really wanted. Both times I got burned. Never again, and this time I mean it--if they want to "get a feel" for what my work is like, they can see my portfolio of other clients.

2) Can you give us a discount rate? No.

Well, that depends. I charge $80/hour, but have a standard policy of knocking it down to $60/hour for non-profits. I never go below that, however, and sometimes the discount is only for the primary contract (ie, I sometimes go back to full price for ongoing maintenance).

3) Will you register and host my site? No.

I disagree. Although your reasoning is dead-on, it depends on how and why you offer hosting. Registering domains doesn't make much profit, but it saves the headaches of having to deal with some labyrinthine DNS control panel from some fly-by-night registrar out of Germany (or whatever). Similarly, when a client utilizes my own web hosting services (as a reseller), I'm always confident as to how the server is set up, what platform it's on, what type of databases, scripts, etc are supported, and so forth. I don't have to play a guessing game as to where the CGI-Bin directory is, whether I'll have to tweak the .htaccess file, default chmod settings and so on. Plus, most smaller clients are looking for a one-stop shop, so these services go a long way towards winning them over. It's a matter of convenience for both the client *and* myself more than the profit angle.

The key is to make sure that you include "support time" in your hosting rates. I bill $200/year for a hosting package that GoDaddy or some other big outfit probably would charge $60/year for, to make up for the inevitable support calls when it turns out that their cable modem is the culprit. The client can take it or leave it--and in most cases they take it because they still like the convenience of having one person to call. Just make sure to include "aggravation time" in the fees.

The other way around this is to make sure to bill for any time spent doing hosting/server stuff that the client should be able to do themselves. For instance, my clients often ask me to set up a new email account for them, which takes all of 2 minutes via the web control panel. Since I showed them how to do this when I set up the hosting, if they want me to do it for them, I bill for my minimum time (1/4 hours, or $20). You'd be amazed how many people are willing to spend $20 rather than log into a control panel and fill in a couple of form fields.

4) Can you copy this site? No.

Agreed. Not only is it usually unethical (depends on how "closely" they want to "copy" it), but in some cases it may cost more to "copy" than it would to simply emulate the functionality and basic look & feel of the other site (depending on what type of coding was used).

5) Can I pay for my e-commerce site from my website sales? No.

Absolutely NOT. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER agree to develop a site in return for a percentage of the sales. You aren't Tom Cruise, and you don't have a talent agency negotiating "points off the back end" bla bla bla. I've actually testified as an expert witness in a civil suit centered around just this sort of thing. Unless the site turns out to be the next Amazon or eBay (and no offense, but I don't think those sites use freelancers), you're ALWAYS better off just charging your normal rate.

6) I have a great idea. Do you want to...? No.

Agreed. Again, unless it's a website business idea that you actually want to be a legal partner in, don't do this. And if you do, you can kiss the rest of your freelance business goodbye while you build up your Great Idea Website.

7) Do you have an IM account? No.

Never thought about this one, but I agree. Many of my clients pester me in off-hours via phone as it is.

8) Can I just pay the whole amount when it's done? No.

Absolutely NOT! As you said, always make sure to get a good percentage up front. I usually go 50/50, but sometimes go 40/30/30 depending on the circumstances.

9) Is there any way you could get this done tonight or this weekend? No.

Hmmm...again, depends on the client. I have a few long-time, loyal clients who I've developed enough trust and rappor with to agree to "rush" jobs. Also, sometimes there really is a legit emergency, where sweating the midnight oil will win you a client for life (whether this is a good or bad thing, of course, depends on the client...)

10) Can I be sure you won't use this work in anything else? No.

I've never been asked that one, but I agree. Choosing the wording of the "copyright ownership" in your contract can be tricky.

Very very use full, wish i read this a few months. I had a client also off the bat pay me for what i was going to work on. I finished it and he said he was going to pay me for the website when a mock up was done. Hours lost on a design he did not like which was what he wanted in the first place. VERY annoying. I learned something valuable here today and will go forward freelancing with these principles in mind and in contract. Thank you very much.

I agree with everything except "Can you Copy this Website".

Having worked in big agencies, for Fortune 500 clients I can safely say that this is very, very, very commonly done and very, very, very standard. I could name names, but I won't. But the biggest brands in the world *all* do this.

Furthermore, I have no problem with it and here's why: The finished product 99.99% of the time, will look absolutely nothing like the original site you started out by "copying". Copying is very frequently (hell, almost always) a starting point and nothing more. By the time you've gone through the entire design process, there's really very little (if anything) in common with the "source" site.

I'll even go a bit further and say -- it's frequently a *very effective* starting point.

All the rest of your points, I couldn't agree more.

Ricardo Argôlo
Great! I'm brazilian freelancer webdesign and I like so much all you said. Is all true. But Some things are difficult to do.

Ricardo Argôlo
P.S. Sorry my poor english.

I've fallen for number 4, and the design he ripped from me anyway.

Sean Nieuwoudt
Really good article. I agree with you 110%.

I cant stress the webhosting issue enough tho. As designer you should be bothered with the admin involved with hosting. Dont host... period.

A few that could be added :

11) Can i come see you later tonight at your house after hours to discuss the project? NO

12) You gave a friend of myne a good price for their website, we will only go for it if you give us the same price, can you? NO, Depending on work load.

Also, a project contract is quite important. If you charge a 50% deposit and a client pulls out half way through the project, you ARE NOT required to pay that deposit back, no matter how much they threaten with the law.

Max Bailey
Excellent points. I fell for almost all of these my first contract - and it had all the results of what you have been talking about. Web design & development is a newly developed industry and it's image has been greatly diluted by people taking advantage of the younger population that supports it and their inexperience (mine included). Great list.

Max ... Out!
http://www.cmyblogs.com - free online blogging platform

A lot of the same rules apply with graphic design as well....specificly the 50% down rule. Also, once the project is turned in and paid for, a revision is considered another project in my book!

Concerning #10 and those who have great counterpoints --

I myself am still not satisfied on how I worded that particular point and I understand when clients want to "own" what you are paid to create for them (and rightfully so). Basically, I am suggesting that you cover yourself in cases such as: you use a graphic/code in a client's work that you already had as part of your personal library. You then use that graphic/code again elsewhere and client 1 complains.

As for the disagreements with other points, it is true that every case is different, and sometimes a conditional "yes" is warranted -- it's just that this list has mostly worked for me :)

Brilliant Article.
Even people who I have considered friends have tried to pull the wool over my eyes. Now I won't even even consider talking to them throughly without some money in the pocket.

I have found people seem to see web design as something that isn't difficult. I have been asked several times for mock ups and I instantly have to remind them that ALL the work I do including mock ups will tally to an inflated cost sooner or later.

These aren't just true for freelances. They're 10 rules my company has had to learn over the last few years, you end up living and dying by them.

You have some good content on this blog, but I must say that two things impressed me:

1) This doesn't look like any blogging software I know of. Did you build your own? (if so, kudos for staying "up" and not suffering the Digg effect.)

2) You don't plaster advertising like even many of the mainstream blogs do (minus those two buttons on the sidebar I guess). You should consider some non-obtrusive ads to cover your hosting...wait, what am I saying !?

ON #8 I have to add that a big percent of clients never deliver the FULL content for their sites; even thought they got the domain, hosting paid.

Ragardless of being given the CONTENT partially or not delivering it at all, the best to do is SET A DEADLINE for the delivery of the content. DON'T DO ANY WORK before that date. After that date, either you start or keep the 50%. I've kept a lot of 50%s and ZERO work after all it was a good pay back for all the lost time learning this rule.

"You also, if you are working for a tax-exempt non-profit, bill at $100/hr, collect $50/hr and claim $50/hr as a donation to the organization on your taxes! (your mileage may vary, it worked for me!"

better plan... bill at $1,000/hr, collect $50/hr and claim $950/hr as a donation on your taxes... then pray you don't get audited. If you do, prepare to be asked "do you want to be the husband or the wife?" by your cellmate.

Either scenario requires you to consult a tax professional before putting those deductions on your tax return.

The amount of times people ask me about #10. Simply put, no, I use your code in a lot of projects, it's just been customised to meet your needs. If you want me to code it all from scratch, let me just quadruple the price for you now.

Good post. I think I've accidentally broken most of those rules at various stages.

Really good article but I've found it's ok to bend the rules slightly for some clients. Whilst it can put you at risk, the client will often speak to others who may turn out to be potential clients too!

#4 may not be a great way to get work done but you should be able to rework it so that elements are borrowed from other sites rather than rip it off completely.

#10 is great way to explain the IP in laymans terms and definitely one i'll be using in the future!

Good post, I had one experience myself..., Dude, im your friend.. could you give me a discount price? NO!, it's a bit hard to say no actually, cause it's your friend anyway.. but you have to draw the line somewhere between friend and business and never mix these two

Frequent Freelance Employer
I frequently hire freelancers, and let me say that I would never hire a jackass like you. You work by my rules, or not for me. If I say you use Yahoo IM, then you use it. If I say copy this site, then you do it. If I say the work you do is not to be reused, then you comply. Otherwise you are another pompous crap designer like so many others I have seen. The customer is ALWAYS right.

"Frequent Freelance Employer," I'd love to know who you are so I know to stay clear of you when looking for work! :)

Solid list, by the way. Definitely good guidelines to follow so you make sure you don't wind up as slave labor, much to the chagrin of some (ahem Mr. Frequent).

Full-Time Frequent Freelancer
@Frequent Freelance Employer

The problem with employers like you is that you think that the relationship is one way and that you are God's gift to anyone you hire.

The reality is that the relationship is two-way and that both parties help the other make money. And don't worry, 90% of freelancers (and probably most of all the good ones) wouldn't work for you anyways...


Great blog. Just 1 question on #10. How do you give your clients their site with your code you don't want them to see, reuse or sell on? Do you encrypt or package it somehow?

Best advice I've ever taken? Get 30 to 50% up front, then offer customers 6-12 month payment plans beginning after a job is completed AFTER the price has been marked up to include the interest rate you would get if that money invested for that time. Offer them that much as a discount if they pay on completion. Most customers are eager to take the discount and pay in a timely manner. Those who don't take the bait even out your cash flow with affordable monthly payments.

I am a freelance writer and I must say that you should seriously reconsider and do some networking. Almost 1/3 of my income is from close networks and referrals both inbound and outbound. If you don't offer a service for some specific reason then you might as well make some money off of the referral. I am currently building a promotional website highlighting my affiliates as a one stop shop for services.

Fantastic post, thanks a lot for the insights.

Another Full-Time Frequent Freelancer
@Frequent Freelance Employer

I gotta agree with Full-Time Frequent Freelancer. I wouldn't work for you either,

I don't use Yahoo IM and you won't make me use it. You want me to work for you? Go download Skype or call me on my cell phone.

You want me to copy a site? Won't do it. Never done. Won't start now! You will pay me more? No thank you. But I'll keep an eye on your site for sure.

I may just be another 'pompous crap designer'. but a crap designer that will try to stay away from you (and ask for 50% up front, in case you start acting like what you described in your comment)

Cool Health Secrets
Good stuff. The best wisdom is always grounded in experience, I think. I am not a skilled web designer, but I admire it. (I wish I knew Dreamweaver, but I stick to easy web authoring tools like XSite Pro.) I was wondering if you had any specific tips to becoming a successful freelancer at large. I'm interested and considering doing freelance writing work. I welcome any thoughts.


comentarios de actualidad
Very interesting article
Im not web activities involved , but freelance in other jobs , and thinking that all these TOP 10 NO may be rigid NO , and never mismatched whatelse job we were doing as freelancer.
Thanks for simply and complete explanation.
Best regards.

celebra tu boda en madrid
Fantastic post.congratulations!
Thanks from spain. Luis---

The worst scenario for me was those clients who don't know what they want. I had to update a web site many times because one client doesn't have a clue what a web site is for .

I will never develop any web site for anybody.

Great article. Something I;d like to read is how to drop one of these clients. Currently I have one where I get way underpaid. I simply want to drop him without hurtung his feelings. ($20 per month is well... Dumb)

How about this one:

Son (grandson, brother, sister, cousin, etc., etc.), can you design me a site?

Adam Seale
Taking two from my father:

ONE: It's generally unwise to depend on money from someone who spends all of six months deciding what they want to put into a two-day project. I'm still late getting my car for this.

It looked like a sweet job. Old lawyer wanted her profile and resume up online, wanted to pay out a few hundred just for something that looked pretty. Took her 6 months to get back to him with what she wanted on it, and she never finalized it all. He gave up on getting back to her.

TWO: Never work for someone on a major project unless you have an ironclad contract saying you're getting paid if it takes off.
Google the story behind Lunch Tuscaloosa. Basically, this business major hires my father and one other guy to work on this site that allows local restaurants to post elaborate ads and menus for a price.

It does VERY well. The site itself is a beautiful piece with a LOT of time and energy invested into it. Just as it really gets going, the guy who hired my dad runs through every loophole he can find to gip them out of a fair share.
(Of course, after my dad leaves, the idiot thinks he can maintain the site himself and breaks the source code beyond repair.)

You can bet he's watching the legal matters from now on.

the points are all good ...
but i dont think you will get much work sticking with a NO-NO-NO attitude like that ...
best of luck ...

Markus Diersbock
#10 is perfectly right.

It works very much like wedding photos. You buy "copies" of the photos, but the photos are not yours to sell, the photographer owns the copyrights.

Likewise, the low pricing paid to have a website done, with recycled code, entitles the client to only use the site for their own purposes, they can't re-sell it (except with the business). In other words, if we code a dating site, the client, can't turn around and sell 10,000 copies of the site for distribution on eBay. If the "want" to do this, then that is setup in another contract with additional pay or royalties.

the points are all good ...
but i dont think you will get much work sticking with a NO-NO-NO attitude like that ...
best of luck ...

1) Yes I would, but you should ask your client to pay for the mock-up before doing anything. And in turn if the client choses you, give your client a deduction of that amount he paid for the actual project cost. "Mock up" shouldn't be that complex... you could do 1 mock up design in less than 1 hour or 2 hours max. Many clients nowadays are meticulous in picking designers/developers.

2) Yes... that's one effective bargaining method, either you offer him a discount of the total Cost or perhaps an easy Free Extra Service (e.g. Uploading, etc.). But do this when you feel that your client is willing to bargain, if not... do not. You might end up a loser.

3) Yes/No... if you have a working system (Manually/APIs) on how to host clients, definitely why not. If none better not.

4) Absolutely No. Many freelancers do this, I found it unethical and unprofessional.

5) Absolutely No as well.

6) I agree with the writer's comment.

7) Yes. This is in fact important. "But" only let clients you actually proven that pays and pays good. Alternative IM accounts that you don't normally use is in fact a good idea as well.

8) No. I set an amount where a client should pay in full before anything starts, any amount go over that, upfront fee is a must.

9) Yes, if you really can.

10) No. I agree with the writer's comments.


To Aaron....

"Relatives and close friends" Why not ...


To skillipedia...

Ask him additional fee for the project. But tell him in a non-aggressive way ... lol


To Gordon ...

You should dump him straight to the point or if you don't want ask a raise.

I do not agree with number 3. Yes you are right about clients calling in when something isn't right. But your forgetting the plus side. This builds long term relationship with your clients, and the chances of them choosing you for more projects is big. Not to mention the extra revenue per month. You might solve this problem by having a strict contract with the client. But think about it, unless your a one man show then this is definatley not a good idea, but if it's 3 or 4 then its something that could rake in more projects, money, and customer good word of mouth when things go right.

Yeah I heard numbers 1,5,6,7,8. Number 5 in particular drives me crazy. Great list, couldn't be more true.

A web programmer
Sounds great when youve made it already ,but
a list like this sure gets you no-where when
your a budding artist!

I tell my students to do as many free and
complimentary sites as possible and I really have
noticed a difference.

The more "real" sites you have completed during the
2 years your in my classes, the more marketable you are

What a great list -- pretty comprehensive.

After eight years as a freelancer -- 3.5 full-time, I have heard most of these questions. And unfortunately, have gotten stung by saying "Yes" to a few of these.

Usually, charging 50% up front has been the hardest for me. A note to newbies -- it's usually best to not commit to a price over the phone during the initial confirmation with a client -- especially if they can be a little pushy.

Get the client's email address, hash out the project on paper and make sure you put a figure or rate that you would be comfortable charging. Pretty it up in an estimate template if you like, but, submitting a quote/estimate via email will allow you to think about what to charge and not allow them to push you over on pricepoint.

Kudos Samuel, for not reacting harshly to some of the uncivilized morons on the comments section. People that shun wisdom usually end up fools.

Essex Web Site Design
Great list and I couldn't agree more! I found out most of this the hard way - as you probably did!

Don’t work for free, and never work for less than your worth!

To those who point out that the list is too negative -- I agree :) And yes, I do have posts that also point to going out of your way to please clients (especially those you really want to work for).

The reality is, it would take several chapters to explain anyone's entire philosophy on client/contractor relationship. This post just happens to cover some of the negatives of some of the relationships...

Dan Jensen
I agree with the 1st poster Steve, in regards to the flat-out "No" to a mock-up.

I have asked for these in the past, and the designer when presenting these has won a high paying job - but that is beside the point.

I do agree that providing mock-ups can be a naive process where you (the designer) may be taken for a ride. Which is the entire reason that designers have portfolios.

You watermark your portfolio, and provide a range of your work online, so that the buyer can make up their mind. That way you don't compromise yourself, but at the same time you give the buyer the opportunity to see the quality of your work.

It really is a much better solution than just saying "No!".

Irregular Mutt
My GOD! - I think I have been asked all of these points at least once in the last few years. For all of you budding freelancers out there - heed these words because they will more often than not save your bacon in the future.

@Frequent Freelance Employer

Do you want me to believe that you frequently employ freelancers? I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you sound like a twelve-year old. The kind who has the only football on the playground and is an ass about who gets to play.
I'm not so sure that the market for quality web design is as much a buyer's market as you seem to think it is. I hardly market myself and have no problems whatsoever to fill my 40 hrs/week.
If I don't like an employer because he behaves like a jerk (like you do) I walk out. If it is impossible to walk out, I won't do anything more than the bare necessity of my contractual obligations, which is probably even worse for you.
Believe me: sooner or later, somebody else will show up on the playground with a second football, and you won't have anybody left to play with.


Nice list. Although I don't agree with everything on the list, i believe you make sense on most of them.

Kyle Hayes
Excellent article, I totally agree and am the same way on all points.

Bill Gates
Been there done that. This stuff not only applies for you freelancers but it also applies for internal/corporate sites. The only difference is that your customer is a fellow employee in another department. Luckily you'll have a project manager that can help you keep the scope creep down and say 'no' without making you look like the jerk.

Whiskey Richard
I eat butt cheese. Who needs clients?

Tom Huang

Whiskey Richard
I say no as soon as I pick up the phone. Rather than hello, try just saying "no." Right away, it shows them who's boss.

1) This is wrong... See "Recycle": http://www.webdesignfromscratch.com/reduce-reuse-recycle.cfm
2) People love discount, regardless of what it is, it gives them that "warm and fussy" feeling.
3) Hosting, don't do it as a freelancer, but get a relationship with a hosting company to do it for you.
4) This is already covered by copyright law.
5) Sometimes this can work, especially if it's a good idea.
6) Ideas are great, but ideas don't sell themselves.
7) Using IM can build a relationship with the client, but IM is unprofessional to be honest. Most people prefer to call on the phone, which is a similar hassle.
8) It's a good idea to have a policy of taking a % before you start the project. This commits them and you to the project.
9) Of course you can, just change them more.
10) If they pay for uniqueness, then unique it should be.

Danny de Wit
After reading this, I'm actually glad I don't have to work with someone who operates like this!

Don't you feel that everything you mention here is a bit self-centered?

You mention your clients perspective virtually no-where in this article.

Should we just pay you and fuck-off?

The whole things seems extremely arrogant. I hope your clients love you enough to keep hiring you.


Good article, consider yourself lucky reading it now not later.

You should alwasy invest good deal of time perfecting your contract formula to cover everything, you can even consult an experinced lawyer, will save you $$$ down the road :)


3) Will you register and host my site? No.

Your losing a lot of money here.

If you made very clear list of what is offered in your hosting, you would gain more clients.

I don't know understand the commenters who think this list is bad because you should "bend over backwards" for your client.

In reality, if "bending over backwards" means that I have to sacrifice time with my family, money for our future, or restful sleep at night, then I'm completely for saying "No" on all ten of these. Sorry clients... but I rather like being happy.

For people who don't actually read through the comments, the author has clarified his position more and noted that this list is negative because that's the title of the list. This post is not entitled "A Comprehensive Philosophy of Client Relationships" and yet, people seem to take it that way just so they can argue.

And by way, he does have another post entitled "5 Absolute Yes's for Freelancers" as well.

Chuck Reynolds
One thing I didn't see listed was if they ask you for your Cell Number = NO.
I've made that mistake twice - and never shall I repeat the offense. It seems that 7am on Sundays is a wonderful time to call and talk about the project. Yeah screw that. Man my girlfriend at the time so hated me for that mistake.
With the advent of things like GrandCentral I've often pondered the thought again because I'd be able to control where the call gets directed and at what times it will redirect or I can just have it setup on voicemail all the time, or have rules for a single incoming number as well. I usually stick to all conversation through basecamp or email, that way I have proof in writing if anything comes up. "I didn't say that"; "why yes sir you surely did, as I have it in your email on 13 november at 1:13pm it says...."
I've dropped that a few times and it helps put a quick end to that!
Nice write-up btw!

I suppose an alternative to creating new IM accounts would be just to block users when your "support period" ends - assuming you've included that in your contract!

Chuck Bergeron
@Frequent Freelance Employer: Who's too scared to leave an actual name or website. We wouldn't want to work for a slave-driver anyways.

Great Suggestions you've pointed out...a lot of these things I've had to learn the hard way in starting my own web design/freelance business. I think the biggest lesson I've learned as you've pointed out well, is if you deal with cheap clients, you'll always have to deal with them. They help when you start your business (to build a portfolio), but you've got to move on quickly to better paying clients.

Good advice!

On #3 a good compromise is for you as a designer, is to register with 2 affiliate programs one for hosting, the other for domains that way you can collect revenue for their hosting/domains but be free and clear of support issues.

haha just stumbled on this. pretty funny, quite true though. i make sure i get something, that is if the client ditches me. usually their domain name becomes mine. i have a few of those :)

William Foster
What you say is so very very true, in almost any business. If you undervalue yourself, then other people will undervalue you, and when you are in financial ruin, and burnt out from trying to take any job at cut price rates, you will get no sympathy whatsoever from anyone at all.

Good List.
I'd like to supplement #2. "The road to financial Hell is paved on lowering current prices On Spec of future work."
(ex: Client sez: 'Hey, we can get you 5 sites if you give us a 20% discount on this 1st one')

***Any time a 1st time client, first -or near- coms, and they ask you if you Discount? -Walk Away.

Steve makes some Great Points, esp. b/c some ppl. are just Different; that's the way they are. Sometimes you Do have to adapt & some of Steve's ideas are good ++ Flexible.

#1 -I have Actually been a Consultant on a job where this happened. -The old "Free Vegas Buffet Trick". The starter spec for the job was some wild mashup a pitcher at guru.com did for these yokels for free on spec. They took it and passed it right to my guy.

#9 I personally know a Designer who is routinely screwed by a big client who does this. They ask for Weekend Rush Jobs all the time. Then it turns out they didn't get approval and it won't actually be going through till thursday either next week or the week after. -Heard this repeat at least 3x.


I liked your article. It was really nice to read and think of myself in this way.
I'm a student and a freelancer. I've got a question that I would like you to ask: was it hard to combine studies and freelancer work?


Wow ! you do remind me of my past. 80% of my portfolio I can't use :( hate it. But you just affirmed all my checklists, thanks. Cheers!

Dale Jarrett Racing School
I would agree with Steve on most of his points. Why turn away business because they asked the question wrong. Often in business you need to guide your clients and lead them in the direction you want to go. Often if you educate the clients, they will trust and respect you more. The more trust and respect you gain, the more you can charge.

Good list, and great discussion from everyone. As someone mentioned above, many of the points apply to us graphic designers as well! Especially the "get paid up front"... However, I tend to side with the folks who are saying that a firm "No" isn't necessarily the best idea. Always depends on the client, most of the points are negotiable.

I have a question, tho: Many of you have said that you agree with #7, about not giving out an IM address. Someone said "I'm not using Yahoo IM, why don't you just download Skype or call me?"... I thought Skype was just another IM app? I know you can make phone calls with it, but I thought it was mainly for IM.

My personal feeling is that I'd usually rather IM with a client, for a few different reasons:

1) Not using my cell phone minutes.

2) I can multi-task, and work on other things while we chat.

3) I can send links/images/screengrabs for them to view, so we can discuss the project while we're looking at the same thing, instead of trying to get them to "imagine" what I'm talking about.

Anyway, good stuff, thanks!


Dennison Uy - Graphic Designer
Good list that made me chuckle. I definitely agree with #1 being there and it being the highest in your list -- there is nothing worse than unpaid labor. Although this list is aimed primarily at freelancers, those who belong to the corporate world should also pick up a thing or two.

Wow! this article has taken on a life of it's own!

(Perhaps very appropriate since we dont have lives ourselves sometimes... :( )

Regarding working for a non-profit and Billing $100/hr getting paid $50/hr and recording the difference as a donation to said non-profit is perfectly legal (Though I am Not A Lawyer, consult one or two before acting)

The key thing is; I REGULARLY bill >$100/hr, so it is OBVIOUSLY a donation.
The red flag is if you can never point to billing anyone @ $100/hr on a consistent basis.

RE: IM with customers.. I use IM religiously, why?


You said it, and I can PROVE it.

It's EXCELLENT as an accessory to the telephonic word, not really to be used instead of speak.

For telephone conversations, go to http://numbr.com

There you get a number and an extension you can give clients. They call THAT number and it gets forwarded to you. You can deactivate, suspend or reassign the phone number that gets called, and if no answer it goes to voicemail, the contents of which are emailed to the address you have on file.

You also get an email detailing the incoming call history (great for billing)

But back to the IM; I dont use Yahoo, MSN etc, but instead use a custom Jabber implementation that at the end emails to the participants at my option, a transcript of the conversation.

Thus IM use, while intrusive, time consuming and somewhat annoying, can be a life saver!

@whatsisname.. it IS "milktoast" NOT "milquetoast" .. the day I can pull a cows teat and fill a class with "milque" is the day you get to have it your way!

BTW whatsisname ... if the cows "breast" has only one large nipple.... RUN!!!

Chris Flick
It seems that the responses I've read so far are separated into a couple of different catagories:

1) Those that have taken this blog to be quite literal - as if Samuel quite literally walks up to people and instantly say "No!" to them.

Of course it's always better finacially and professionally to try and find a compromise (or a way to charge for an extra service) but sometimes it's just easier and less headache inducing to simply say "Gee, I'd love to do that but I'm just so gosh darned busy at the moment, I can't spare any more free time or take on any new projects".

2) "Here's $20 bucks - I expect you to now be on my beck and call 24/7 for as long as I want to continue this job. In other words, I own your ass and I expect you to smile while I do!".

To Frequent Freelance Employer...
Is it any wonder you have ended up with nothing but crappy designers in the past? Any one worth thier design weight instictively knows to avoid your kind. The only "designers" you probably have hired so far are the young college students that were either too inexperienced or were the only ones you could find that you could bully and push around until they produced exactly what you wanted: crap.

Added to that, I've also read responses where there is a complaint that web designers don't always get back to the employer or that it's a web designer's fault that a site goes unfinished. My response to that is it's a two way street.

Please don't ask me to design a web site/page for your company and then NOT send me any of your company's material. How can I create an "About us" page for your company if I don't actually know what your company does??? I'm sorry but my mind-reading device generally works over-time when dealing with my wife and kids. When I get to your project, its battery supply is almost always completely drained. :-)

3) Those that think the original 10 points are the only way to do business.

Obviously, that's not the case. There can be lots of flexibility in a lot of those points. What works for some might not work for others. But it's really only a general guide for what Samuel has found to help him. It amazing how literal we artistic types can be sometimes. :-)

4) Those that have their own experiences to share that only proves how valid many of Samuel's points are.

As an illustrator and web designer, I've also made many of those same mistakes as well. Maybe even more so in the illustration field then in web design.

From an illustration stand- point, if you create something, make sure you get paid for it - everywhere it appears! If you create it, you should be compensated in every way and in every place your work appaears.

Just as Harlon Ellison says here:



Editing Services
Great info. I totally agree!

Hey, just wanted to let you know someone ripped off your post without giving credit:


Ho hum. And I've been reading Creativebits on and off for past 3 years. OK, there IS a link to the original posting here, but still...

Tried to send a feedback to Mr Ivan at http://creativebits.org/feedback, got "You're not authorized..."

Great post otherwise, can be applied to other freelance work as well :-)

c. puffer

No, its milquetoast.


It's not a reference to milk on toast but a timid comic book character in the from the turn of the century. It may have been a play on to very white foods, but the word is derived from the character.

Just because you think it is spelled one way/means one thing does not make it so. And insisting that your phonetic misappropriation is correct is just foolish.

Montano Designs
You're list is great. This is the exact advice I've given friends and clients (who become friends)starting a service type business. As my business grew I realized that discounting my fees devalued my services and the referals from clients who'd received a discount would expect a discount as well.

One of my other favorite requests is "if you do this site for us at a discount, we'll refer you to all of our clients." Of course they want to mark up your discounted fee and take a slice from their referals. So your working your ass off. I'd rather do half the work for twice the money than the reverse.

My site requires FrontPage to be edited. No.

Just Tim
RE: Frequent Freelance Employer, who said, "The customer is ALWAYS right."

No, the customer is NOT always right. Not in the restaurant business, not in retail, and not in the creative fields like web design and illustration. If the customer were always right, then the person from whom they wish to receive service would be superfluous to the transaction, n'est-ce pas? In reality, the customer, more often than not, has not the foggiest notion of what they need or want, and need the guiding hand of an expert to show the way — which is why the designer/illustrator/programmer/etc. is there in the first place.

Besides, anyone who is always right can probably do their own d**n work without me getting in the way; which I'd prefer anyway, since who wants to work for someone who has no experience in your field but still manages to know better than you?

RE: 1) Can you show me a mock-up to help us choose a designer/developer?

Sure. For a nominal fee of $xx, I'll work up a quick design and get you a watermarked screenshot in low-res .jpg format. Heh heh, you know that's not what they're really after, they want you to come up with some code and images they can take home on a CD and give to some cut-rate schmuck to finish. But you're not really going to just GIVE that to them, are you?

RE: 3) Will you register and host my site?

Yes, but no. What I mean by that is, I happen to have a favorite registrar/webhost that I use on a regular basis. They are inexpensive, reliable, have lots of bandwidth and space allowances, use Cpanel and Fantastico, and have been around a long time (in Internet years, at any rate). While in the client's presence, I borrow HIS credit card, get him all set up with domain and hosting, then hand his card back. Heck, I'll even do that for free for people I like, even if they don't want to buy design from me. So yes, I'll get 'em signed up, but no, I'm not supplying their hosting.

RE: 7) Do you have an IM account?

Pfft. As if I don't have enough distractions in my life, and you want me to IM, too? Here's my email address. I check it twice a day.

RE: My own personal unlisted peeve: 11) Do you want to trade out services?

Ugh, talk about an awkward question. I did this once with a client, who offered to do some advertising for me. They never did get around to doing the advertising, so I was out my time, the money I was owed, and the advertising I had accepted as a substitute. The only thing I got out of it was revenge — I kept their username and password to the registrar/webhost (I had actually given it to them early on, but they completely lost it and I didn't tell them again), so when their credit card expired, they couldn't provide updated information and their site lapsed. It felt d**n good, but revenge did nothing to pay me for all those hours I'll never get back again.

did you resubmit this or is someone stealing your content?


@C.puffer hey, at the risk of sidetracking this almost meaningful thread with your silly insistings, I leave you with two things:

1. It IS "milktoast" and you can "milque" that fact for all it's worth!

"It was near the beginning of his stay at the World that he added The Timid Soul to the mix, and with it, its wimpy star. The name is clearly derived from the word "milktoast", i.e., toast soaked in milk, which is usually fed to invalids. Milktoast is only slightly chewier than milksop, which is the same except the bread isn't toasted, and spineless persons have been called milksops for centuries. Years later, Webster described Mr. Milquetoast as "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick"."

Thank God you arent a friggin' customer, so I dont have to suffer you and smile while I wait till your check (or, as you may say "cheque" )clears!

Wow, as it's near impossible to keep up with the comments, I won't try. But I did get some good feedback and thank those for it (including a nicely worded summation of the comments by Steve).

As for my article being ripped to another site, I guess that's always a risk you take. I think they might have obscurely linked here -- either way, I'm not too worried. I hope I can continue to write helpful articles...

Paula G
Great article. I've fallen for some of these over the years. I like # 10. I have never explicitly put that in my agreement, but it sounds like a good idea.

I can definitely say that if someone is not an ideal client, send them on their way. I had one woman who wanted to start & then proceeded to change my client agreement to her liking. It was at that point that I said...sorry.... but we don't do that (in a nicer way of course). Never heard from her again.

I noticed the creativebits.org ripping off this article as well, as I was sent to it on StumbleUpon. I looked on the page and saw no link back here.

For what its worth, most of the reviews on StumbleUpon highlight the content theft.

Great list, it reflect a lot of my own experiences. #10 was particularly interesting. As you said, the distinction between owning the code and owning the implementation is a tricky one. Can you let us know how you word that distinction in the contract? It would be a great help.

Just goes to show what I get for not reading the comments before posting one of my own. Found just what I was looking for and more in the Freelance Resources section :-)

As a 14 year AVID freelancer, i recenly changed a few things in the way i operate. I read a freelancers tips column in Creative Cow where someone wrote in and suggested to get rid of hourly rates altogether. Have a half day rate and a full day rate, and that's it. Why? because even the best of clients will sometimes turn into nickel and dimers and once they go there they stay that way and will bug you forever and ever, with crap.

I will not go back to hourly rates if i can help it. Day rates eliminates the stress of those clients that keep changing their minds or delaying the project, as simple as another day another dollar.

In the clients mind, paying by the hour, it is easy for them to take off a few hours here or there and ask for discounts, but the day rate is set in stone in both your minds.

Steve, you are a Tool.

Robot Terror
In addition to #3 I would add the formerly painless "since I'm hosting your web site, how about I provide you with free mail for that domain?" freebee. When mail was as easy as adding lines to virtusertable and restarting sendmail, mail was cheap. Now, mail is a full-time administrative job that requires more processing than Apache, PHP and MySQL applications (if using spam and anti-virus filtering along with greylisting, RBL checking, etc.). I see more and more web designers losing clients due to hosting issues -- especially mail related issues! -- than anything to do with their main business.

DO NOT HOST EMAIL unless your business model is hosting email. Refuse to do it. If they want email hosting suggest several of the big Email Service Providers.

This isn't just about stopping spam, but allowing their "spam" to be sent out. I see several requests from the same client on one hand demanding that spam be stopped from flooding their mailbox but then complaining that Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail, AOL are blocking their mail -- "fix it!" they demand, missing the irony.

So, after installing and configuring SpamAssassin/dspam/etc. and Amavis/ClamAV/Sophos and setting the hostname, PTR, mail headers of PHP-Mailer apps to match along with SPF, DomainKeys, etc. You start to realize that this will never end. You are now offering to help fight in the anti-spam pro-commercial mail battle waging over port 25. Outsource this crap!

Afraid your client won't pay the small per-seat email fee? Client demands a one-stop solution? Then front the email service provider and pay them yourself. You'll sleep better and keep your client longer.

But, the best situation is divorce yourself from services that are not your expertise. After all, the MX record can point to ANY A record. Any.

Hope this helps!

Bryan - calmest_ghostDESIGN
Excellent Read. I hate to admit this, although I have come across all of these situations and a few others and am very aware that I should almost always say no, I do not. I hate to think that I am hurting myself and other fellow designers, but sometimes I feel like I just get cornered into some of these situations, especially when rent is coming up. I've taken risks and lost money and I've taken risks and made money. I have quit my day job and now work entirely from home so I think that in the early stages of becoming a freelancer you really have to expect to make some sacrifices, that is until the work flow becomes more steady. I'm going to have to disagree that it is never worth it in your early stages to take on less than ideal jobs because I think for the most part you really have no choice. While I still take risks, I've gotten pretty good at weeding out the flakes and I have about an 80% success rate with clients. Saying that, I think that I also have to mention that there are just as many freelancers that are flakes as well and that really does hurt the rest of us, especially when looking for projects on craigslist. As a final statement I suppose I'd like to say that whether you take on very low paying projects or not, always take pride in your work, always provide your best work. Even if you have settled for a $200 web design and you new you deserved $400 for the project, give them $500 worth of work. I know this seems a little ridiculous, but in my opinion what really makes a designer is his/her portfolio, the stronger your portfolio is, the more room you have to ask for higher rates. You know how good of a designer you are, but every time you acquire a new client you have to prove yourself all over again and until you have a solid portfolio, it's necessary that you work affordably.

This is a great info for starters, experience matters for sure.

WOOW i m really into this big time!
I am in all the bad points you mentioned and wondering why things were so bad! i have lot of projects but i always fin myself broke because either they don't the whole sum or they don't pay at all!

I quit doing freelancing years ago because clients wore me out, and I always ended up giving them way too much value for their $. A list like this may help designers create a firm set of rules that can be handed to potential clients, and thus protect the sanity of the designers.

I think I've had pretty much all of these apply in some fashion. 1, 2, and 3 are the most common. But should be easy to avoid if you're ready for them.

#1: just give a few possible ideas, but mostly just use your past work as a basis for why they should hire you.

#2: No matter how much you want the job, don't do it. Just figure out how long it would take for you to do the project full-time and multiply those hours by your standard rate. Your 33/50% down payment are pretty spot on.

#3: I offer to locate their host, and provide the initial setup of the site. That's it. I'm not responsible for anything else related to the host.

IM is an effective tool. You can create a work specific one that a client can use when you choose to be "available." You are correct in not giving out your personal IM information however.

Great article... although too many comments to read through :)

Scott Clark
Wondering how this post relates to


I knew I was having deja-vu

@Scott -

Unfortunately, they copied it off this site with very poor attribution (they do have a small "Visit Weblink" that leads back here from the bottom of the article).

I know a couple people who have emailed/told them that they were wrong to do this, but I don't think they've done anything. For now, I just shrug, mark them on my "bad resource" list, and concentrate on producing more solid content over here :)

Scott Clark

I posted a comment on that (it was the first time I saw it) saying it was one of the best posts I've seen in 2007.

Now, I'd like to give that complement to you as the original author. This is one of the best posts of all of 2007 for me, and I've read thousands...

This is truly the foundation of a healthy attitude that will serve any freelancer well.

A half of these rules are hard to understand for beginners, but experienced freelancers know this is all true :). Espessially about supporting client's site or paying for all after everything is done... Deals must be done in an exact time interval and according to exact needs, and after it a freelancer and a client have no more relations and obligations.

I posted a comment on that (it was the first time I saw it) saying it was one of the best posts I've seen in 2007.

Now, I'd like to give that complement to you as the original author. This is one of the best posts of all of 2007 for me, and I've read thousands...

This is truly the foundation of a healthy attitude that will serve any freelancer well.

Fog of Eternity
Some really excellent advice there, and all things I've been tempted to do when trying to drive business and not necessarily considering long term negatives.

Although would be interested in opinions on a couple of the sections;

For #1, understand completely here. But what's the opinion in regards to taking on work to develop a portfolio - i.e. before you make the freelancing a full time thing. As an example, as a designer salaried by a company with a particular focus, large parts of my portfolio are awkward to use in terms of pushing my personal business (as they are sites created for another company), and they are also somewhat limited in subject matter because the company specialises in recruitment sites. My own skills and interests are wider than that.

In regards to #3, what's your opinion of reselling? That does provide potential regular income without making the freelancer the technical point of contact, and seemingly avoids some of the negatives that you identify.

A really excellent article though, many thanks.

Very Good article. I like the part "6) I have a great idea. Do you want to...? No."

I heard so many clients with weird projects .... Some of them you KNOW you shall never be paid! :)

Well... I just got paid some nice $ for breaking the "NO MOCKUPS" rule.

A bit of a sucker doing it w/o advance payment, but the idea of it all had me hooked :)

anyway, here's the key to doing this.

You send client a link to the site


Your link code checks the uniqueviewer id and if it matches, creates a .HTACCESS file, keyed to their IP address, in the folder that allows them to see the site you put there for a limited time.

I create both a cookie and a LSO to uniquely identify the machine ( to stop other people within the same IP having a look)
* The LSO is a FLASH local stored object which is like a mega CROSS BROWSER COOKIE, so even if they switch to IE from FF to Opera, you will have the same LSO!

After my very limited 1hr pre-view time, the site is made inaccessible, forwarding to a 'THANKS FOR LOOKING! PAGE'
* It gives them less chance of picking it apart for days, having it on a screen sitting while a renta-coder tries to duplicate its feel and functionality

They came back with a proposal to do work, but wanted to change my base terms (which is something I DONT do) so I pitched the already created demo to someone else :)

impressed with the incredibly quick response to their request for a demo, I got the job to do the whole thing!
(so sometimes mock-up stuff is good when you can get paid for it eventually, if not from the original requester)

It's milk toast: now bugger off! lol

Chris M
Spot on and brilliant. Excellent article bud!

Great column!

Absolutely FWIW...
RE: #2, discounts -- When pitching I've had good luck selling (emphasizing) many of the often overlooked aspects; to the customer these really are extras, though to you they're just part of doing a great, quality job. It tells them what their money is buying, implies a discount already since you're throwing this stuff in, and softens the blow so-to-speak, makes it more understandable that you can't do more for less. It also implies that if they go elsewhere to get a better price, they're going to have to sacrifice something.

RE: #10, would the concept of licensing help, along with emphasis on providing a service. If you pay a mechanic or plumber (something most can identify with) you don't own their expertise, nor their tools -- just the result of their labors that you paid for. As for licensing, a web site is similar to a document the client produces in Word -- They don't own the software, nor the fonts nor anything beyond the product of their labor, which is that document. IOW they own the end result of your labor that they paid you for.

Besides, that is after all why they should or did hire you: to avoid having to buy the hardware, software, expertise, and experience to do it themselves.

These aren't just good advice for freelancers, they are good advice (mostly) for all firms.

If you reversed all of the "don't"s into "do"s, this would read like a manifesto of one of my previous employers. I don't think they'll be around for much longer.

I agree with all but #5. I host my sites if my clients so choose...otherwise I would feel as if I was dumping the site in their laps rather than supporting what I built. Thanks for the tips!

Neato: my 3 cents:

- track your hours. I use getharvest.com, but hey, a watch'll work too.

- beware of maintenance: it's often quicker and easier to re-write someone else's crap than it is to band-aid a new feature into the php/htmlor (shudder) perl....

And the client will never understand why a 'simple' update can take ages. For me, from now on maintenance requests will be actively dissuaded ( normal rate x 4 should do it i reckon!)

- oh and read 'the art of project management' by scott berkun.

Justin Tadlock
Thanks for the list. I have just recently started doing some freelance work. Luckily, I've turned down some of these "pitfalls" when I realized that the client seemed a little shady.

Paul Mershon
This was very interesting and useful. I would like to see what Samuel has in his "Terms and Conditions" that he has his clients sign. I think that would be equally useful.

Hi. I'm 17 and I just got my first job in web design. I read your article a couple of weeks ago and before i got the job and kept some of the information in the back of my mind. That said, I got the job offer through school a couple of weeks after reading this and the interview a day after the offer.

So I show up on time (5:30 at night) at a farm about 40 miles from my house and have about 5 people running the company start to give me barrage of questions. The main boss is old and knows nothing about web design really, yet he has tons of crazy ideas that will never work ("Can we sell a PDF file on horse stuff for 25 bucks?"), wich conflicts with number 6. About two hours and a million questions later, we get on the topic of pay. We established that they would help with transportation and they asked me what I think I should be paid.

"So, Eli, what were you thinking about charging?"

"Uh, i dunno." I'm terrified. If I go too high, I don't get the job, too low I get ripped off.

"Name a number."

"How about 8 or 9 bucks."

"I dunno Eli. We are helping with transportation and I think you should charge us a little less. How about 7 dollars under the table"

I was dumbfounded. Ohio's minimum wage is 7.50. My mind went back to this article and I balanced the pros and cons. In the end, I took it.

But that isn't the end of it. They asked me to work on the hardware of their computers, to copy elements of other sites, and teach them Dreamweaver. Though all pretty bad, the last one your article did not address. I think rule number 12 should read like this:

Can you teach me to use (software name)? No

Loved the article and will recommend to everyone in my class. Keep up the great work.

Its ALL about the money, all about what you get, all about you. Nice, to hell with others, you already make up your mind in what is right and what is not. Congrats, true hero of "idontgiveashit".

I read a comment that express a GOOD POINT, not the "me me me" attitude of the author of this article. Here it goes (original by Bryan above):

"Even if you have settled for a $200 web design and you new you deserved $400 for the project, give them $500 worth of work. I know this seems a little ridiculous, but in my opinion what really makes a designer is his/her portfolio, the stronger your portfolio is, the more room you have to ask for higher rates. You know how good of a designer you are, but every time you acquire a new client you have to prove yourself all over again and until you have a solid portfolio, it's necessary that you work affordably."

Now thats pure gold. You have to give the best of yourself and dont get "cocky" about "me me me". Design absolutely the best you can everytime, research, learn, work, and look at your clients faces, not their wallets.

That, and a VERY MODERATE use of JUST SOME of the so called rules of this article, are the way to go.

@allabout -

I think you read the article with a chip on your shoulder (while ignoring the author's own note about the list note being a "holistic" attitude).

But then again, I don't think the client is always right, I'd rather have peace than money, and I look at all work as a fair exchange and not "I will do whatever the client tells me even if it's bad for him because he's my employer." So yeah, I'm all for this list...

hehe...i love how any freelancer is considered "me me me" just because he/she refuses to do a $200 job (which amounts to doing 300 such jobs a year just to make normal designer salary). or how a freelancer is "selfish" because they want to make money (really? that's bad? why don't you tell your family, the utility company, and the supermarket that working for money is stupid and they should give you stuff free).

business is business, and this list is about business and not getting taking for a ride. you can bet that 90% of the time, it's the client that takes advantage of the freelancer. if you're not ready for that, go work on school projects and those $200 designs "for your portfolio"

Nice guide, i also stumbled upon some of this problems, but for example i made the website of my highschool( http://info.tm.edu.ro/ ) for free because i had many advantages from this. after this the principal recommended us(me and my partner) for a project ( www.siptim.ro ) in which we made 200 euros a piece. this project, siptim, was my first major paid project. every page has an editor so the client could do what he liked. i offer support for the site after the building period, i dont mind the small amount of time spent. keep it up!

After much reflection and discussion with peers I've discovered most of my client induced tension headaches result from clients who successfully rushed me through THE process AKA “the crazy filter”.

You know you need to follow THE process and you know what THE process is and exactly why it needs to be as rigid as it appears. You know you need to have the scope and the expectations well documented in complete harmony with all the money secured before you start sinking your time in. But there are 1,001 reasons why we deviate from this fool-save plan even though we know too well the dangers that lurk in between the lines. WHY do we do this to ourselves? We do this because our clients are ignorant and helpless and they flood us with panic stricken voicemails and multiple email blasts about the things they think they need immediately. We know how mentally unstable and technically inept many of our clients are so we feel that it’s easies to just do what they are asking rather than try to explain the big picture or help save them from making a bad decision, like signing up for 2-years of the ill-fated Microsoft B-Central tools. Instead of giving them the rope to hang themselves with, we should first safe our own necks by raising our shields and closely monitoring the readings on the "crazy filters" and next, save our techno-challenged friends with a clean, well-documented process that helps everybody win!

Repeat after me:
1. Project Scope
2. Contract
3. Payment
4. Work Begins
5. Work Finishes
6. Final Payment

Stay away from:

-people who don’t have time to talk to you on the phone or send you an email but insist on meeting you – today – now. These are those impulsive people who are going to make your head spin before this project goes down in a ball of flames.

-people who can't get to a fax machine to send back a contract for paramount work that is mission critical right this moment.

-people who threaten to "just find somebody else if you're too busy today"

-people who think their project is "BASIC". After 8 years, I am yet to build a website that is "basic" "simple" or "just like".

-people who signed off on completed work and immediately submit a new scope and thus assume they can refrain from paying the initial invoice. This is typically a whiny client who will sound stumped “well, I don’t understand why I can’t just combine this invoice with that invoice and then I need x,y,z and then I can send you a check?” NO. You do not “combine” your financial obligations and pick the due dates that best suit your cash flow. Be a grownup, pay the amount on the bill by the date shown. You can do it. If you can’t write the check, you can’t hire a web dude.

-people who actually have the mindset that makes it possible to speak the following words in this specific sequence: "can we get my website up today – you know, some pictures, a history about how we got started, our product catalog….you know basic" These are the people who will wake up tomorrow morning and embark on their next new career du jour.

In conclusion, I find when I allow a client to stampede through the entry gate, it paves the road to misunderstanding, headaches and lost revenues. This is when you’ll find out how cheap and clueless your clients are about your skill and talent.

@hourglassgirl -

Wow. Thanks for that well thought out addendum to this post. It could definitely be a solid post in and of itself. Your points about "making sure you start off right" are all very helpful and true...

As tax consultants (www.delstone.org.uk), we have seen issues with clients and all your points would be applicable - perceptions regarding services seem to be that they don't cost anything...

All the points discussed above are very informative for me. I will try to implement on what you stated above as i am also a developer and face these types of situations. Thanks for such a creative article.

web designer/programmer
Great points! all true.

I once fall with issue number 4 about copying the site.

This client gave me all of hes specifications and design he wanted for hes website. Did just about what he wanted. On each design i gave him kept saying "no i don't like this one!" at the end he gave me a site to copy which i did with obviosly slightly difference and check this out when i showed him he said i also don't like this also with hes reason it's not what he had in mind. and just left me hangin with lots of my time wasted.

No offence but some clients i feel are just there to waste others people and time. Just because you hire a freelancer, they are not your slave and deserve respect.

Always remember to stay professional.


I learned these the hard way, so I wish I had this list when I was starting out...

there's so much made about "the customer is always right"...well, I don't believe that anymore...I'm no longer kissing ass and biting my tongue to sell myself short and benefit someone else's business...

I've actually QUIT being a designer altogether as a result.

My very last brief, which I quickly turned down, combined #2, 4 and 6.

I only wish I was more of an asshole.

great post.

Seems interesting article with good comment from hourglassgirl..

However, keep the suggestions tuned up to your circumstances.

Most of them work.
Some dont.

However, the attitude of dealing with the whole ordeal, is whats the crux.

~ Soul

Hi and thanks for the great advices.

I have a really good friend of mine whose dad is about to open a Satelitedish shop and he wants a website for it.
The problem is that since he is a good friend of mine the dad and the rest of their family kind of expects me to do this for free or very little money..
I'm a bit confused about this, if I tell him how much $ I deserve he might get offended since me and my friend are so close friends and close friends don't do that, here atleast....
Do you have any advice for me?

Thanks for a great blog!

@rob - "I only wish I was more of an asshole."

you may already have your wish!
Geez - a sadder loser may never have been found! :(

@Lee .. well, the question is.. are you any good?
In that case, not only should you NOT get paid anything, he shouldnt have you DO the website in the first place!

But even if you arent 'super duper', get a $59 template off of template monster or one of those template shops- even better boxedart.com (moderatly attractive tho by almost no means semantic CSS driven or cutting edge)
They will certainly fit the bill of a generic "Business Card site"

i.e. the site functions like a straight up Business Card, saying HERE WE ARE, THIS IS WHAT WE DO, CALL US AT THIS # or VISIT AT THIS ADDRESS! - nothing fancy, three pages the absolute MOST.

You make him sign up for the template service (and give you the credentials and you download the shit out of it)
You make him sign up and take care of the hosting (send him to goDaddy or some ***)

dont ask for money, BUT - get a sat system or an IPod Touch if you can (say you need it so you can make his site "mobile ready" - practice in the mirror a couple times to be believable/plausible.

MAKE SURE HE KNOWS THAT YOUR ROLE IS TO JUST PROVIDE CONSULTANCY AND TRAINING (for which you get the IPOD TOUCH - if you get less than a Nano then you are a pussy-dont talk to me again)

"teach/show him" how you modify the crappy boxedart.com template to create a somewhat less crappy Sat Dish site..


Since you arent "doing it for money" but only for an IPOD, then they shouldnt get offended.

you can also, if he is using a PHP based host, install Mambo or Joomla and either use a free template or have him buy the template from a template club.

I'd use the best FREE template from the club (being free, they have less of the shit you will have to take out, and are thus easier to customize)

sure, it wont be a piece of art, like this site is -smile-, but you are interested in TURN OVER at this point, a few hours work (and maybe a few months of frigging nagging from friend and dad) for an IPOD

done properly, your friends will only slightly hate you when this is over! :)

Scott Merrill
Thank you SOOOO much for this article! Having been a "part-time" freelancer for a little while, I just lost my full-time day job last week. Suddenly, those "fun, for-side-money" projects are now responsible for putting groceries on the table. Your article helped make me realize I was doing just about EVERYTHING wrong. Thanks again. I sincerely hope it helps other freelancers out there in my situation :)

@Scott - Sometimes, it is okay to go against these suggestions if you believe the client is a good one. In other words, free stuff sometimes leads to lucrative stuff -- just be careful about it all nd don't sell yourself short...

@Scott - I second what Samuel said too -
definitely DO NOT sell your self short!

but I gotta say this, WTF is up with your website!!

you have some serious work to do my friend. :(

the overall look is very 80's/90's architecturewise and it all looks quite dated. You are cutting yourself off prematurely before you even start, if you let your FIRST IMPRESSION come off so poorly.

best bet - concentrate on collecting your unemployment check for a while before you advertise with that crappy site, and spend some time redoing it with some snappy cliched "WEB 2.0 goodness!"

eg. Dont promote "Instant QUICK QUOTE" then have that link to a page that announces your inabilities as a coder and how you are going to look for a script or some shit..WTF??


best point out in your link to "Quick Quote" (and you SHOULD HAVE one, as thats probably what a prospective customer is looking for),

simply say:
"Your site, whether I build it sparkling from scratch, or revitalize a site that just istnt getting you the return on investment that you deserve, wont be served by a glib "price sheet" like a McDonalds, or boilerplate questions that dont quite address YOUR NEEDS!

YOUR real Problems demand a real person!
so call me, *1 (really!) at this number

Leave me a note with some information (using this handy web form)*2

Or even FAX me at this number!*3

*1 google "phone forwarding service"
it allows you to get a phone number that forwards to your real phone - you can have it go to voice mail or screen your calls.
Click4me.net has a free service I believe where you can put a link on your page and people click it and talk to you directly.

*2 phpform.org

*3 use a free (or paid) internet fax solution that directs incoming faxes to your email.. inbound faxes are usually free, and its very convenient, the fax being in the form of a jpeg or PDF.

ALWAYS -ALWAYS get a deposit first, and dont take no shit from nobody! (we produce enough on our own as it is!)

good luck

Too true, too true. I operate in violation of #3 myself, but I use Mosso and their client tech support services. I also charge a higher rate than most people would expect to encounter, but I strongly emphasize the fact that the hosting service is only offered to my site production clients. People love that exclusivity factor.

And #5 should say, "Yes, you can pre-pay right now with your first $xxx.xx of projected sales." :D

Anthony a.k.a. OldSchool
Amen! We are live, learn and grow through these and similar challenges.

I have to say I am asked about #6 all the time. If I had more free time, I might even consider some of them.

Great Post!

I can relate to every subject, especially discounts. I never give discounts anymore, the main reason that it came back and bit me once a client found out that her colleague was charge less for basically the same structured site.

And no matter how much you charge for webhosting, it can be a pain in the arse!

Rich Morgan
Very good post on this subject. Thanks for taking the time to post this.

Great article.

I think alot of the people complaining haven't been out in the freelance world long. This isn't really out of the ordinary stuff.

The fact that people even request #1 is a big pet peeve of mine (though they do, regularly), especially on the freelance listing sites. Whenever I see a listing that reads something like "Please submit your mock-up and we will pay for the one we like best" I wonder if these people even realize what they're asking. I suspect they don't go into restaurants and tell the waiter, "Just bring me one of everything on the menu, and I'll pay for the meal I like the best."

Paul Ferrie
I wish i found this sooner :)

Great read

Great post, and so true!

Don't ever let people mess around with you..

This is a very good podt for me. I am willing to work as a freelance designer and have just got one project till date. These tips are useful and I am lucky to read them before I have even started.
As I am a newbie, I have to market me myself and I don't exactly know how to present my work and potential to people who don't even know what exactly it is and what exactly they want. And being inclined to the art side I am not that good in business terms and money matters.

Thank you for your post,
Cheers and regards

Cheated by Client Story

The work done for this project may be seen at http://nickysworld.net.
I was hired for a straightforward case of web design; this person approved of the work; she discussed ongoing maintenance and requested that I upload the site and supplied the account info in order for me to do so. The agreement to maintain the site was made on my part only in exchange for the unused disk space on the server, and free of charge; basically an act of good will and the best intentions on my part; she also requested to pay half at that point, half after upload; here is when things got interesting. Although my policy is work first, pay later, upload last; on the assumption that I would be maintaining the site I foolishly thought I could trust the her.

This person never paid half first but I went ahead and uploaded the site. Agh. A few days later she informed me that the site was "funky" and had reverted seemingly by itself to its previous state, which was a generic template that she had made using the template builder provided with the web host. Hmm. This time she made a $50 payment, which was 1/2 of the 'half first' or 1/4 of the total payment; requesting me to again upload the site, and informing of the new password to the account, which had inexplicably been changed. Ok-? In an effort to be helpful I stated the obvious in asking this person whether she had used the template builder, which still had the old copy of the template stored, which the client denied as if being accused of something.

It was only a few days later when no further payment or instructions appeared from the client that I realized what was happening. Ms. Menage had waited for me to upload the site, then promptly changed the password to shut me out. The client then stupidly attempted to use the template builder to modify the new website, inadvertently reinstating the old one by mistake. I sent a two-page email, which went unanswered, patiently explaining the differences between the template
editor and alternative means to edit the site, something I had contacted her about two weeks earlier, requesting to set a time when we could put our heads together to implement a customized solution; a request that also had gone unanswered. I then wrote another two emails over the course of two days patiently explaining my position in our agreement, all the things I had done and were willing to do for the benefit of her website, and explaining that the agreed upon fee for the site was more than $50.

After a few days this person responded. This time I had apparently crossed the line and been irrevocably disrespectful in some way with my 'smart comments'; and no further pay would be forthcoming. Two separate conversations are presented below.

Sadly, it is apparent that THIS CLIENT NEVER INTENDED TO PAY ME. It is unfortunate that so many take advantage of the internet's open market system to cheat and connive their way through the system. Thank you for taking the time to listen.

On 2/17/08, I wrote: (this is a small part of a 2-page letter)
Okay. Please don't confuse content management with that Globuild template builder they have got up on there. Templates are very limited in that they can only allow you to change pictures and stuff around within the look and style of a premade layout.
--------------------------------- (etc.) -------------------------
Because this is kind of starting to drag on and it seems we haven't been communicating very well and time has been getting wasted. I have been trying to do everything you wanted me to do but when I asked you a couple of weeks ago if we could set up a time to hook you up with the content management you never got back to me; then last week you

On 2/17/08, Tanisha Clayton wrote: (apparently replying to a
completely different conversation)
> no. Any what else is new with this?

On 2/17/08, I wrote:
What part of what I said are you saying no to? I don't know what else is new with this because I don't know what you are expecting me to do.

On 2/19/08, Tanisha Clayton wrote:
I dont even remember what this email was about. What's with the bad attitude? I spoke with Danielle and she says that you are very rude.

On 2/18/08, I wrote:
> Please complete payment for the site this week. You have my ongoing full support for minor issues such as technical problems with Globat, in addition to the number of pages in the Cover section, ad placement, and anything else relating to content management; in exchange for the extra space on the server I will be here to continuously support and update the site. But this is dragging on for too long and I really don't know what more you expect from me. Please don't dole out payments at me $50 at a time like that. This is a business and I am worth more than that.

On 2/19/08, Tanisha Clayton wrote:
I know that and I really don't need all the smart comments. For all that you can keep the $50 and take down the site. you and I both know why I asked to only pay $50 and further you saw for your self that something was funky with the site. Now that it's up I have no problem paying the remainder balance. The problem that I have is the smart attitude further irritating me is the fact that I just got my email up and running only to see emails like the one below.

And my "rude" email to her referral, Danielle:
What changes will you be wanting to make on a monthly basis? I assume you said something about having monthly specials on there so we can do that. I can start by suggesting that we put your slideshow from your myspace page on to your brands page, instead of having "To view current collections click here" link to your myspace page - that seems kinda unprofessional. Also having "for map and directions click here" link to Msn Live Maps is pretty sad especially since it is only showing a map of the entire western half of the U.S. on my computer when I click on it. I really hope you didn't have to pay your previous webmaster to create this for you.

You only have yourself (and perhaps your mother) to blame.

you have also, obviously, been less than professional in your correspondence with this "client".

A web host account with a crap load of space cost only $3/month with 1and1.

get your own damnn webhosting account,
i.e. "nickeywebdev.com"
and then create password protected folders for your clients to see the work as it is being developed (ON YOUR SITE)

As a matter of fact, make it (the cust demo) IP restricted as well (so it wont be trivially easy to have somebody else copy and complete the demo you put up)

Frankly though, I wouldnt pay you jack shit either, as you seem very much an immature asshole, plastering the clients name on this site, (and others too, I notice) possibly opening up the site owner here to a defamation lawsuit regarding your believable, but ultimately, unsubstantiated and unverifiable comments.

all this for what, a $200 web job?
I will NEVER allow somebody like you within a URL of anything of mine. :(

you are a DISGRACE

wow man, I can see you are upset, but there are better ways to get satisfaction.

It does look like the person didnt intend to pay you -or to have anything else to do with you since, once they felt they had the shit loaded, then all they had to do was just tweak it (which didnt need you)

still, I gotta say..

your stuff looks rather shitty :(

Yep, I totally agree with all, and some others should be added as well, like you better pay up or we send Vinny to break yer legs, or hands, maybe a finger or two.


Yep, Mark, dude, yer stuff looks like shit! I mean, really it does, not kidding, wtf is that mate??? Terminator, alien blended theme, except it does not even work, below is what I am referring to:


Get serious! Sorry if I offended someone, but I typically only say something if my sensibility gets offended way out of proportion.

Hey, Yep - I think Mark was linking to this other guy's "portfolio" of crap, lol.

has anyone given mucg thout to how the behavior of a guy like this affects us all on a whole?

I mean, I would be really wary about hiring a webdeveloper or ANY kind of freelancer after a debacle like this - yes, you can have non-disclosure and non-defamation contracts/agreements, but if the person themselves were not trustworthy then a contract wouldnt be worth anything

Completely agree with #6,7,8,9 - especially #6 as charity work seems to be what that almost always turns into and they're idea seems to be turned into a wanting for a business partner or something of that nature.

#5 is great by us because, we do web hosting and the design is just an extra service for more reoccurring revenue.

Web starting out doing freelance it became an excellent way of adding hosting to our services and now hosting is at the fore front with previous clients becoming our best clients.

Thanks for the tips!

seo demonstration
the discount one is the main one we've fallen foul of, you do a favour for customers you like or want to help, and they tell all their friends what a great job you did (good) and how much you did it for (bad) because the next referral then always thinks you're ripping them off for trying to charging your normal prices.

& lmao @ "powerpoint site" these idiots who send you screenshots of something they knocked up in word or PP and whine about different typefaces :)

great blog really lovin yr stuff.

Adam Cox
11) Be careful when the client wants you to sign a 20 page NDA.

I once had a client start marking up my contract as to what he would and wouldn't agree to. i immediately declined the project. That said, my #11 would be "listen to your gut." i've had so many projects that i KNEW up front something was a little fishy, but i didnt listen to myself. Now, i see something i dont quite feel good about, so i listen and react accordingly. it's saved me tons of time and headache.

Here is one of My "NO's"

As a freelance artist, Im always amazed at how a person will view my site, rave about how much they love my work , and then without skipping a beat, ask me can I draw such and such in the style of so, and so...

I always come back with, If you want so and so, why dont you hire THEM? and even if I COULD draw like so and so arent you attracted to ME in the first place because of MY STYLE? at least thats whay you said!

Great article!

Especially the part about domains and hosting. At a first glance this sounds interesting, but your point is definately valid.

11) Don't do any work for lawyers, ever. They have an infinite, bottomless, legal resource. Think about it- if you can't afford to enforce the terms of your contract, then you have no contract. But they do.

"11) Don't do any work for lawyers, ever. They have an infinite, bottomless, legal resource. Think about it- if you can't afford to enforce the terms of your contract, then you have no contract. But they do."

ummm....yeah, also add to that,

"Dont do any work for Black people, they could kick your a*ss (or rape our fine White women)
OR "Dont do any work for Juan Valdez, he could swap your fine Columbian Coffee with "Folgers Crystals"

Actually, lawyers are fine to work with, just dont fuck up - but that applies to everyone.

Lawyers are fine and make better direct clients, because:


(after each successful milestone, any previous funds paid are non-recoverable - because the milestone declares that the job has been successfully delivered

4. Your contract states that failure to comply or accept the current milestone by either party can be defined as intent to cancel (by either party) and the ONLY recourse is that deposits paid FOR THAT MILESTONE ONLY are refunded

blah blah blah snipped

Cutting a long story not so long, your real danger is not from working with LAWYERS per se, but litigious asshole companies that have a LAWYER ON RETAINER, i.e. some kid outta the public sector who gets paid like 65k/year and does all their frivolous lawsuit bullshit.

99% of frivolous lawsuits are not brought by stupid old ladies burning their vaginas with hot coffee (vaginas that havent seen heat in 30 years) but stupid business men trying to browbeat the competition or not pay their bills.

LAWYERS on the other hand, can be easily gotten to:

You adhere to the terms of your contract, and this lawyer is fucking with you (which is really, not really likely) you can complain to the Local Bar association - they take a DIM VIEW of unethical behavior or abuse of legal process, the Better Business Bureau is also an organization to check as well

Great article!

I also thought that getting hosting is also a freelancer's problem..

website design
@Frequent Freelance Employer

Do you want me to believe that you frequently employ freelancers? I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you sound like a twelve-year old. The kind who has the only football on the playground and is an ass about who gets to play.
I'm not so sure that the market for quality web design is as much a buyer's market as you seem to think it is. I hardly market myself and have no problems whatsoever to fill my 40 hrs/week.
If I don't like an employer because he behaves like a jerk (like you do) I walk out. If it is impossible to walk out, I won't do anything more than the bare necessity of my contractual obligations, which is probably even worse for you.
Believe me: sooner or later, somebody else will show up on the playground with a second football, and you won't have anybody left to play with.

Wow - seven months later and still making waves...

Thank you. The spirit of the piece (defining limits to what you as a designer are willing to do) is wonderful - it's good to hear it reinforced that you have the right to say "No," or at least to say, "Not for the same price."

I think the best advice to pull from this is that you need to know your abilities going into it, define your obligations up-front, and establish ahead of time where you are and are not willing to compromise. As long as you are as respectful of the client's interests as you expect the client to be of you, you should be able to come to an agreement (even if the agreement is that this project isn't right for you at this time). If you aren't respectful of your client, EXPECT to get shafted; and if they're not respectful of you, shake hands and walk away from the deal with a smile, knowing that the only thing you would have gained from working with a "Frequent Freelance Employer" is the experience from which this article is trying to save you... unless you WANT to be a little more jaded and frustrated with the world.

PS - fortunately, English is a beautifully dynamic language, allowing both Milktoast and Milquetoast in its beautiful lexicon... it's sort of a gray (or grey, if you prefer) area. :)

Just Another MouseHo
Oh, I wish I had read this back in the day!

I have bookmarked this essay and will give the link to any and all who ask me how they, too, can have such a glamorous, easy and stress-free lifestyle "working from home!"

#3 alone makes your piece an absolute must-read, and will save countless poor souls an incalculable amount of time and money.

We have all suffered and learned the hard way to say "no" to all these Frequently Demanded Absurdities, my wake-up call came when one of those clients who considered a web designer to be a provider of a 24-7 on-call tech support for all things in any way computer-related called me as I was getting out of the shower with yet another question about her desktop software. She was having issues with something like Netscape 4, and when I made a reference to clearing her browser's cache, she gasped "Aren't YOU my browser?"

My strategy for dealing with the "can you copy this site" bunch is to ask them to go look at the site and list for me the elements they like best about it. Most of the time, it will turn out that what they want to copy is a shade of blue, or the placement of a "Click here to contact us" link, or a mouseover effect on a menu, and it had never occurred to them that they could have a website with its own unique look and feel and representation of THEM, and also have that mouseover, or that soft blue!

I could go on, but couldn't we all!

Thanks again for writing this!

Just Another MouseHo
OK, sorry, I just have to add my #11, too!

Understand that only about 5% of those people who are given your name because they are "thinking about getting a website" will turn into money, meaning actual clients who actually end up sending you a check.

So decide in advance how much "free Internet Presence Consulting" you are able and willing to provide, because what typically will happen is that "lead" that you get, whether it comes from your sister-in-law, her hairdresser, or one of your own happy clients, when you ask for specifics about their company, and what they want its website to do and be, you will quickly learn that they have given the matter very little thought, and the budgetary aspect even less, and you will end up spending hours explaining the internet to them, in addition to what you can do for them in terms of a website, once they give the matter some thought and decide just what they want, and once they realize that it will actually cost money, that is the last you hear from them, with the exception of the 20% who will call you a second time and ask if you can't make them just a very small e-commerce site (their new vocabulary word they have learned!) for free, or for #2, or #5.

During the dotcom boom, it was typical for people to offer web designers a fancy title and stock options in lieu of dollars, and some of the people who accepted such offers ended up having a lot of money on paper and none in the bank, and having to pay the IRS based on the paper, or pay what little money they did have in the bank to a lawyer to help them stay in housing.

So prepare a strategy! Give them some things to think about. For instance, I will suggest that they do some web surfing and jot down the urls of sites they like, and sites they don't, and write down what it is they like and don't - and be sure to look at the websites of their competitors first!

If they do decide to really get a website, their competition is one of the first things I will be looking at, so they should make that a priority, too.

I explain to them all the things that will cost money, a domain, hosting, and their web deveopment options. They can use an online "code spitter" and make themselves a template site, or they can look for a volunteer, a friend or family member who can use a desktop generator to make them a slightly more "personalized" templated site, or if they want a custom-made, professional website, they will have to hire a designer, either me, or someone else.

And then they will need to decide how they want to draw traffic to their site, and either do some research themselves, or pay a consultant who specializes in that.

If they decide to go with a yahoo or eBay store, there will be regular fees involved.

Then I advise them to go over all these things with their partners, if any, decide what they want to do and how much money they want to spend, and I am excited about the project and looking forward to hearing from them again soon!

As noted, very few of them turn out to be real clients - of mine or anybody else, and while I will be the first to admit that sales is not my forte, I am not really trying to sell them a website. They are not ready to be sold a website, anyway, and for me, my method is a good compromise.

I am giving away a reasonable amount of "goodwill" consulting. I am providing them with useful information and a plan of action, simple and concrete steps they can take toward deciding what kind of "Internet Presence" they want, need, can afford and are willing to pay for, I am laying the groundwork for a future business relationship, and at the same time I am courteously weeding out that 95% whose "interest in a website" consists of a remark to that friend of a friend at a cocktail party, and deftly and tactfully making it clear that I am not a good match for their need for someone to spend some time walking them through setting up an additonal email account on their AOL, or designing a wedding invitation on some Microsoft Office tentacle or other! :)

this is bullshit, outdated mentality, a lack of communication with clients, in-it-for-the-money attitude or call it whatever you want... don't be such an egocentric, most of the clients don't have clue what's going on in the profession, sadly, even most authors don't. :) but being good in something and being good in giving it away for something (it's not just the money...) shouldn't be separated. this is mu honest opinion. now it's time to enter this verify code, so it will prove the eclectics of my contribution, haha :D

Gerry Trevis
I can't believe so many people are hating on the author about how to run his life and his business.
Honestly I can't think of a better way to show how immature one is as a person than to insult someone who has come up with these guidelines based on actual interactions with clients.
I've personally found that at the end of the day if someone tells you to change, as many commenter have, when things turn sour the best they can do is say "Oh Sorry". So unless you guys have more of a gaurantee than that with your advice, you should probably stick to timid suggestions

Min Thu
Totally great answering "NO". :)

Maybe Martin is a client in the freshness of grief resulting from a series of most disappointing conversations with six different designers, all of whom had read this article. ;)

To "Frequent Freelance Employer":

It's "micro-manager," tyrannical, Nazi jackasses like you that inspired me to shuck my corporate wage-slave job where I was sweating away my life in cubicle farm hell for the life of a freelance designer.

It's not just about the freedom to run your own show. It's about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

I am a professional and demand respect as a professional and also as a Human Being.

Just because you pay me a fee does not automatically transform me into your personal freelance SLAVE and I'm not really into groveling when you start doing your little Hitler impersonation.

If you want your web designer to really bust his rump for you on your project, then treat him fairly and as a fellow professional - not as your hired lackey.

Jesus! I shouldn't have to explain the Golden Rule to an adult....

Wax Lily
This was EXACTLY the clear reinforcement/affirmation I've been looking for in how to work freelance. I'm a newbie, only been doing this for over a year, and I have already been burned by many of these issues!

May I suggest another point:
client: "we want an image-HEAVY site, but don't want to hire a photographer OR use stock photography. Can you use these pics from my (crappy home) camera, and make them look good?"

--NOOO!!! This was my initial reaction, but then I agreed. I learned the hard way--a total waste of time/energy/money for everyone and myself.

Lesson learned!

from now and then i would say no.. haha.. great piece of work , Thanks amir

Yeah.. i know what you mean.. seriously.. say no to extra work... being a freelancer doesn't mean that you're always "FREE" I have encountered this kind of problem with one of the clients when i was a newbie.. this really sucks.. sometimes clients gets carried away giving you task that you should not do... and you're not getting paid.. and doing small favors for things that you think that would affect you over time... and clients get abusive of your talent and kindness... men...freaking BIG mistake on my decision making..


Ilcho Vuchkov
If you want to make really money see http://freelancers.co.nr

Code It Red
Great points. I have encountered them nearly all of the time. The one thing I do hate is when clients have an idea and hire you but the end result is kind of vague. They think they have a great idea but it is really quite stupid and won't work.

I really should start yelling at them that their idea will NOT work!

Spill To Jill
Love the list - and the comments - of course there are so many now that I can't keep up.

Learning how to become a professional freelancer while I work full-time.....

Great list. You guys can probably get some good advice on making more money freelancing online by checking out superscripts ideas to freelancing online.

Heres the link to the forum


Great list. You guys can probably get some good advice on making more money freelancing online by checking out superscripts ideas to freelancing online.

Heres the link to the forum


Jatin Kaka
Thanks for sharing this.. Useful article..
bookmarked it for future refrence


@ steve:

Deliberately provocative...

Isn't that trolling?

Website Designing Company
Hi Guys They think they have a great idea but it is really quite stupid and won't work. Thanks!

Great Article Sam,

I do same job and everything you exposed happenned to me too. Your article has been printed and permanently glued on my wall.

You should make a poster, I'll buy one.


Daryl James
Man, do I have problems with #10. I'm a writer/designer who's been doing more writing than designing lately and there is nothing more frustrating than the feeling of being "cheaped out" of all of my hard work. I struggle with that - on one hand, I need the work, on the other, I need the dignity!

So I am trying to freelance, and I have had about 50% of this happen to me. How do I make money? We are in a recession, I'm about to lose my current day job, and I want to be a graphic/web designer and I want to freelance and let that be the way I make money. What do I do? How do I make money? What are the outlets?

Lord Matt
I disagree completely. You should answer yes in every case. It's how you answer yes that matters. The link I've left covers this in more detail but rarely is an outright no a good answer.

Nice writeup - and good call on a lot of common mistakes. I'm actually quite partial to having the client pay 50% upfront. I've been down the invoice-chasing road before, and it's never fun. Having a bit of a deposit before the ball even gets rolling is a VERY wise move.

L. Wesley
Just thought I would add...you can tell a person "yes" after saying "no", but its hard to tell a person "no" after saying "yes".

Elaine B.
Excellent article! This is for anyone who can`t grasp what a web designer does. Discounts are hard, but I think about it this way. If they can negotiate and lower my monthly bills, then yes, you can have a discount. So far, no takers.

You should also have mentioned-This happened to me-, that after the design is approved, coded and live, there are no changes. Web sites aren`t dresses. What you see is what you get, there are no skinny mirrors.

Great article. I've had a few of these questions, ignored some, said no to others, and in some cases, fell for some.

Thanks for this. I now know I made the right choice on some ventures, and still know what to avoid in the future.

Phil E. Drifter
Hey steve @ 10/15/2007 1:07:42 PM:

SHUT THE FUCK UP. You wasted your fucking time trying to tell this guy how to handle HIS fucking job. You sir, are a complete fucking moron. You probably were one of the 52 people who voted for McShithead.

Now I'm wasting just a little bit of my own flagging you out as the fucking pinhead you are.

Uh, Phil, why are you yelling at someone who posted in 2007? You think he may come back a year later just to see if someone replied to him?

thanks Samuel, I'm pretty sure you've just saved me a great deal of time and money!

Great article! All valid points that any freelance designer should know about.

Hey guys, I found http://www.Yaaze.com to be SUPER useful for getting freelance work quickly and easily. You can make a portfolio, interact with other members and put in availability so employers in your area or anywhere in the country can hire you directly for jobs!! It’s really perfect for freelance and short-term work.. check it out!!!

All are true...but I do host sites and email through a simple reseller agreement and push out the customer service number to clients.

I tell client,"Do not call me for hosting or email issues, we have a 800# for that...here it is." Works pretty well.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned along with the above is this: "There is work...and there is profitable work." Turning down projects because I see the train at the end of the tunnel is now much easier and ultimately has increased my productivity and profitability.

As a hosting company, I couldn't agree with #3 more. It's not even possible to run a quality hosting company as a single person operation, so how can a freelance designer possibly do it?

Reselling plans for a web hosting company, marking up the prices, and then providing worse support (in the form of a single person who has no/very little sysadmin experience), is doing nothing but raping your clients. Obviously, my opinion is a biased one, but if your motive isn't sheer greed, send your client to deal with people who know what they're doing.

Did all those 10 NO's in the past. There's a lot of small and medium sized companys that have the same issues, it's not only freelancers.

One way to avoid it is to really position yourself and focus only at what you are the "local expert" on. There will always be people who work faster, cheaper and delivers the same quality as you do. So, make sure you add value and create a trust-based business.

Ways to Make Money Online
Thanks for the additional info. Found this article very useful since I'm also working as a freelancer. Kinda encounter some of them.

Great article. For all you guys who's interested to do freelancing jobs. You can visit my link.

Henry Halff
As someone who has worked both sides of the fence, some comments.

1. I've gotten a lot of business by doing a little work for free. If you know that a prospect wants to use you but needs a proposal or SOW to get started, do it.

2. I've never given a discount rate, but I've never failed to find some way of respecting my client's budgetary constraints.

3. Can I think of an exception to this rule? Sure, If a site belongs to your client, or you can buy it, or license a copy, go ahead.

4. I've been victimized by people "selling" me their ideas, but never went too far down the road. I don't think I'll ever stop being interested in other people's ideas or deciding beforehand where they will or won't take me.

10. You would never get a job from me. We have a work-for-hire agreement in our contract. If you want to use pre-existing products, you can except them and we'll even sign an NDA for them. But what our contractors do for us, stays with us. Conversely, what I do for my clients belongs to them.

Here's Absolute No #11. Absolutely no absolute "Nos!" Failing to be flexible and responsive to a client's needs is an excellent way to fail.

G R E A T article. Really, man. I'm currently doing occasional freelance jobs aside from my time in university. That article again revealed a little bit more about the insides and innerworkings of being a freelancer. Again, really good article.


Jeffry Houser

I got inspired to write my own response to this, so here it is:


A few people asked about reviewing contracts / terms and conditions; so this is a link to something I have used in the past:


I released these docs a while ago as companion documents to an article I wrote for a techincal magazine on business ( https://secure.houseoffusion.com/Vol2Issue1.cfm ).

It's a bit odd to revisit this post after so long, but I just want to point out for future commenters that right before the actual list, I make note that these are questions I "almost" always say no to. I realize that there are always exceptions and workarounds for different clients and different projects. Hopefully, the list helps future freelancers think through some of their own processes to figure out their own personal areas of avoidance.

Client: "I can't pay more than $X for this project, so leave it or take it"

Me: "I can give you a website for that money.

This is the list of features:
F3, and

We will have to eliminate F5 and F6.

Now you leave it or take it bro!"

Note: In a real conversation with a prospect don't say the last sentence.

Wow, great post ... but wow, there are some really scary responses to it; things that I know people wouldn't generally say out loud or or if you knew who they really were.

Anyway, I appreciate your advice. The range of comments just begins to represent who's out there - and who freelancers have to engage with little or no safety net. That's the biggest reason why I thank you for taking the time to write this (almost a year and a half ago *LOL*).

Amber Weinberg
Good points, unfortunately I've done almost all of these on my way to becoming a full time freelancer ;)

Bryan Williams
Great article. Can't tell you how many times I've fallen for these kinds of things. Every time it seems worth it in the beginning, but causes frustration and headaches in the end.

For all of you who use Elance to find jobs..this is the best advice I’ve found on the net.



Badnmad Web Dev
These tips are great!
I haven't yet began to become a freelancer but I am currently reading up on it and this website it great, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in freelancing.

Simon Bowler
Great article, thanks! I have experienced many of these issues it good to know someone else has too.

Shouldn't # 5 read as:

"Can I pay for my website from my e-commerce sales?"

Good stuff, great article!


I want to appeal to people working in the field of website creation and referencing freelance.
We want someone familiar with the Internet and its mechanisms.
I can train on the specific tools if needed.
Thank you kindly send a resume by email.

Brian H
awesome article. I was reading an article about "Wikinomics." This is around you #1 tip. More and more people are doign work for free and it is cutting costs for major companies.

Great article! Thanks! I am not exactly a designer but I also encounter similar problems.
My 2 cents: One of my favorites is: "We can't pay you much for this but we have tons of work for you in the future". This is certainly a bargain for me - tons of low paid work to fill my schedule to the limit, accompanied by exhaustion for me and missed tons of normal (i.e. 10x better) opportunities.


WoW.. this writing like this that brings true value to the web.


one deadline
This site is bringing tons of projects very soon. We are contacting thousands of leads to bring the best business to the market.

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Sunny Days & Rain
What is all this?
My name is Samuel Ryan and I make websites. Sometimes, I write about it. I disappeared from this blog for a couple years, but I'm jumping back in now -- even began using my twitter account. If you care to know more, go here.