In about my 2nd week of being self employed I got an inquiry for a PSD to xHtml job. I charged too little, I worked too much, and I generally should never have taken on the work in the first place. The client had high expectations, no budget, and claimed to know a lot more than he actually did. It was a harsh lesson in knowing when to walk away from a paying job.

How It Started

So I got this inquiry along with a request for a quote, he showed me the design (which was very simple) and I told him I'd do it for £50. He replied saying that he was on a very tight student budget and asked if I would be able to do the work for £40. I'm always annoyed when clients do this, if you're going to ask for a quote, then why quibble when you get one?

Mistake Number 1: I agreed to his price of £40, and made it clear to him that it was a price non-inclusive of revisions, only for a single page, and that it would only include work outlined in a specification document that he should send to me. Of course he sent through the specification document wanting the design to be coded ready for a style-switcher which he himself would implement because he's "a developer".

In addition to that little hiccup, he hadn't prepped the PSD file properly so I had to come back to him 3 times to actually get a complete set of image files to use. That, along with the style switcher meant that it took me 3 hours to code the whole layout - baring in mind that his payment of £40 covered less than 2 hours of my time.

Mistake Number 2: Once the work was completed and sent back to him, he (of course) had some revisions, he wanted a javascript text scroller to be implemented and an addition section of text added. Instead of quoting him for the additional work - I just did it, and sent it back to him, making it clear that I would not be able to do anything else on the project. He barely thanked me, and continued to email me (about 8 times) asking "how to change this part" and "that part" with the CSS.

Mistake Number 3: I'd forgotten that I'd just registered for VAT, and didn't charge him VAT, so I had to take it out of what he'd already paid. To cut a long story short I made about £34, which for the amount of hassle that this guy was - totally wasn't worth it.

Needless to say, I was glad to be finished with the job - and vowed never to do it again.

Keeping My Promises

A couple of weeks ago, the very same guy got in touch again with this fantastic opening line (not an actual quote) "Hi, I want another site but I want it to be a full custom blog this time, and another web design company have quoted me £80 for this, please could you give me a quote"

That got my back up right off the mark.

So I replied saying (very simply) that my custom design and development work starts at £400. He replied once again showing me examples of the site that he wanted and saying that his parents could only afford to pay £200 (turns out he's 17 and wait, what happened to his budget of £80?), he also gave me links to 3 sites which he wanted it to be like. So I replied and told him that for that amount, I could customise a WooTheme for him.

He got back to me telling me (no joke) that he thought I was being "a bit tight", and thought that I was overcharging him. I explained that every single one of the 3 sites which he had linked me to were modified WooThemes, that is what I would be giving him. His response was that he had chosen another web design company to complete the work as they were able to meet his budget.

Other than banging my head repeatedly against my desk, I did 2 things. I sent him an email wishing him the best of luck with his site, and then immediately called up the web design agency who he'd told me he'd be using. I told them what sort of a client he was and just how much hassle they were about to let themselves in for, and the owner thanked me profusely for letting him know. I wasn't trying to sabotage the client, I was trying to prevent a fellow web design agency from making a serious loss.

The Moral of The Story

Yes paid work is good, and yes at the end of the day the client is paying the bills and you have to do what they want.. but there's a limit. I should have seen this guy coming a MILE off. Someone who wants to argue about £10, is someone who wants to argue about a lot more things.

Don't do what I did, learn from my mistake and just say no. What nightmare clients have you had in the past? Did you successfully walk away?