Vindictive Billing


I'm a self-employed graphic designer, so it's important for me to establish relationships with clients in order to cultivate ongoing work. It's usually easy to do this since most people are basically nice, and often my clients become close, personal friends.

But on occasion you might encounter "the client from hell." -- you know, the one who calls you evenings and during the weekend and emails you at all times of the day and night, expecting you to drop everything so you can finish their urgently important project. Please note, these are precisely the people you don't want to have your home phone number.

In case you don't know, the clients who are the most trouble almost always are the ones who want to take the greatest advantage of you. In fact, there seems to be an inverse ratio of “pain-in-the-ass factor” to “billable hours/expenses.” The more problematic the client, the more demanding they are and the less they want to pay. The pro-bono clients are the worst, because you often have to bump paying work to accommodate their freebie project. You’d think the people paying you the biggest bucks would be the worst and expect you to bend over and grab your ankles, but actually, they’re usually the most reasonable AND appreciative.

My best friend, A.G., and I have had many conversations about each of our “hemorrhoidal” clients. One of the worst insisted on coming to the studio and standing over A.G.’s shoulder, directing changes until her blood pressure nearly exploded. Twice I’ve had clients like that, and when it became apparent how much they enjoyed twinking with work on screen, (“Gee, isn’t it just the most fun to work together this way?!”) they were banished from my office. I had to explain to them I couldn’t work that way, but would be happy to address their concerns if they would like to articulate them to me in a meeting, via email/Acrobat or fax. (By the way, A.G. eventually fired her client.)

Which brings me to the concept of “Vindictive Billing.” Lots of firms and individuals tack on a “rush charge,” when a client forces a project to the front of the queue. Rush charges are usually double and cover a lot of ground (working late, working weekends, phone calls, emails, meetings, and whatever else is required to get their job done). It’s a reasonable consequence of rushing something.

But Vindictive Billing works like this: when you’re designing for a client who doesn’t value your work in the first place and you KNOW they’re going to jerk you around anyway, it is perfectly reasonable to charge them more. I even know of a printer that has an invoice line item called, “mental-anguish change orders,” for clients like this, penalizing them for making arbitrary or idiotic changes -- usually under extremely stressful conditions. Once when my husband asked a contractor his hourly rate, the contractor said, “$50 an hour if I work alone; $75 an hour if you watch, and $100 an hour if you help.” He practiced preemptive Vindictive Billing!

You can’t always identify this kind of client right off the bat, but the next time you work together — if there is a next time — you need to incorporate the pain-in-the-ass factor into the cost of the job. And if they don’t like it, in the words of Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, “Time to Say Goodbye.”



i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura