Should designers charge to “resend” files after the project is long finished?

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Every once and a while I hang out in freelancing forums and read what other freelancers are struggling with. Yesterday, I read a really interesting question that went something like this:

“Should I charge old clients for re-sending old files?”

I thought it was an excellent question! (Let me know your answer by leaving a comment.)

We’ve all had it happen before:

A client hires you to design a logo (or whatever you specialize in), you send the final files, they pay you and you’re on your way to the next client (unless you tried to upsell them, that is).

Then 6 months or a year down the road, your past client calls to ask you to send the files again.

The reason?

I’ve heard them all:

“John Doe had them and he got fired.”

“We updated our servers and lost them.”

“We just can’t seem to find them.”

The big question

So here’s the big question that I wanted to pose to you today:

Should designers charge their past clients for resending old files?

Not only that, but should designers even have to hold on to files that are so old? Should retrieving them for your past clients even be an option?

I know designers who charge by the hour for something like this and I know other designers who do it all Gratis.

In my opinion, if you don’t charge, they’ll just think they can come back to you anytime and ask for the files again. Who’s to say they won’t lose the files again?

So what do you think?

This post is obivously more discussion driven. I really want to hear what you have to say about it. Go ahead and answer the question by leaving a comment on this post!

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. Personally I don’t charge, only ever happened a few times, and for the sake of doing a quick search in finder, grabbing the design, compressing and resending (all of which takes about 30 seconds) I really don’t see how I can charge!

    I do however make sure I send them a copy of all our latest deals etc, a little friendly reminder to use us for any other design work etc.

    Also I would advise keeping all of your final design work for clients, just grab yourself a large external hard drive. If that client comes back a year later and wants additional design work doing, all you need to do is get the original work out and hey presto you have all the colour palates and fonts ready to roll!

  2. I am one who does charge clients for the retrieval and resending of old files. Most businesses assess convenience fees and handling fees, and before we had the option to email or FTP there were postage fees. Those all have to be accounted for, so my thought is, “why should I have to suffer loss”

    Case in point: I had a client who, while on vacation, asked me to resend some samples of work I had done for him so he could show a buddy of his. I billed him for the time it took to go back thru my archives, to collect the files into a .zip file, and to compose the email. Why? Because those steps pulled me away from other things I could (and should) be doing when a little forethought and better planning – on the part of my client – would have prevented the entire scenario. The client got upset, but I explained that my time has value…

    Concerning file storage, I keep copies of all work that I do. For 6 – 12 months I consider them live projects and so they are stored on my server for easy access. After that they get transfered and catalogued onto CD/DVD/BD and are stored offsite.

  3. Hell yeah! I charge an “Un-archiving Fee” which usually equates to 1hrs design time. This covers the cost of finding the required files and pdf’ing them to the client. None of my clients have ever raised so much as an eyebrow at this.

  4. I think all designers should charge for any services that are needed by a previous or present client. Any time of a designer is worth money. Don’t let clients take advantage.

  5. I resend files upon request, and even answer questions about what font did you use, what is the Pantone or web equivalent of the color in old designs. I keep copies of all my work in an organized way, so re-sending a file isn’t a huge deal. Sometimes I keep the files on my public Dropbox and just resend the link. I feel the links are secure by obscurity.

    I have not had too many requests for this, but I use each opportunity to re-connect with the client, to ask them if anything also needs update or they are ready for a new marketing piece. Might as well take advantage of the moment.

    Thanks Preston for your ongoing excellent topics and ideas.

  6. I think it depends on the nature of the relationship you had with the client since you last communicated with them and also what Terms and Conditions you have set.

    Generally speaking, I tend to be sort of a packrat when it comes to files, an organized one, but a packrat nonetheless. I still have certain files from 2009 on my HD. However, in my T&Cs I state that I’ll hold on to files for a period of 12 months, after which I reserve the right to discard old files.

    If I really like the client, or enjoyed working on their project, I have no problem sending old files that they need free of charge. Even if things ended on poor terms, I’ll still archive old files “just in case” there’s a chance for that relationship to be repaired or at least to make the pain of dealing with an ex-client as minimal as possible.

    If the relationship can be repaired, why put a stumbling block to that restoration (and more work and money) by “nickel & diming” over sending an old file?

    And if there’s absolutely no way the relationship can be repaired, do you really want to bother trying to get a few extra bucks out of someone who’s just going to drain you of your time and energy?

  7. If it’s a 2 min. process + not a big deal + Nice client = No charge
    Bad client + takes time + It’s aggravating = Charge

    • +1 Hugo. Same here. If it’s logo files or something that I have catalogued and only take a couple of minutes, I’ll send them. Obviously if the client keeps asking again and again I’ll just say “I’m charging you next time ” (only happened once).
      If the client is asking for different file formats that we’re previously provided it’s charged.
      On a side note I keep EVERYTHING! Every file ever. And it’s all organized in an easy way to find. HDDs are so cheap there’s no reason not too.

      • You can’t charge “sometimes”. When you do a hand over of the project you should outlay the fees for any further services – such as archiving and resending. This in turn will ensure they do their best not to come back and ask you for you to resend the files, or if they do, they already know they will be charged for it. You can at the end of it say “oh, don’t worry about the fee” – this will give them a sense of ‘wow, fantastic customer service’. The value of your time isn’t just about the amount of time it takes to resend the client files, but the amount of time you lose from another project.
        @chrisbratt

  8. Although it really depends on each situation, I’m going to say no. How hard is it – really – to find old files? If you have a good system for organizing your projects, it shouldn’t be a problem at all, and would only take a few minutes of your time. So why charge? If you cut your clients a little slack they’re more likely to keep you around, since nobody likes being nickle-and-dimed. I have one particular client that does this to me ALL the time. He is terrible at keeping track of his files, and he asks me several times a year to resend various projects, and I do… And he keeps hiring me, because he knows I care about him and his business and I’m not just in it to get paid. I only charge when it requires actual work on my part. Popping an old disc into my computer and sending a files isn’t work.

    I’ve been freelancing since 2006, and granted I have relatively few freelance jobs to archive, but I still have everything I’ve worked on as of right now. I’ve decided I will probably purge jobs over 5 years old. For those who have many more jobs to keep track of, maybe two or three years.

    One thing I will say, whatever you decide to do make sure you write that into your contract. If you’ll charge for resending after “x” months, if you’ll even keep the job archived that long… make your responsibility very clear, or you’ll risk losing clients over it.

    • Great point, Barb. As I’m reading everyone’s responses, I’m thinking to myself that this is something that can be easily included in your contract so that these fees (if you do intend to charge) are in writing and there are no surprises.

      I tend to keep most of the work I do. Clients I enjoyed working with or have an ongoing relationship I will keep more files and more easily accessible, clients which I didn’t enjoy working with, I tend to keep only the final artwork. I will archive work on CDs, but it’s good to point out how long a client can expect to reach out to you to resend artwork, it should be their responsibility to keep final work.

      As far as whether to charge or not, I personally don’t charge for anything that I can post on an FTP or email. If there are special services required (ie. sending via Fedex, UPS) I think it’s fair to request the client’s account number so the shipping costs can be billed to them directly. I’ve not had to do this yet, most of my clients can easily download from DropBox.

      Also love Damian’s point of using the opportunity to reconnect with older clients and alert them of latest deals or new offerings etc.

      I gained a lot of insight reading everyone’s comments, thanks Preston!

  9. Let me preface this by saying that my contract stipulates that I am under NO obligation to store their files after I have sent them their copy. That being said, I do resend on the rare occasion that a client needs them again. To me, it is just good customer service. However, if a single client developed a pattern of needing them again, I suspect I might have to start charging them for my time.

  10. Wow, that’s a good question! Thanks for sharing! I would say, that this is something that definitely needs to be covered in your contract with your client, saying something along the lines that “a logo/design will be kept on file for one calendar year from the completion of the design”. This means that you as the designer had better back up that file in multiple locations, but it also means that you’re protected in that if you’re running out of space on your hard drive, you are free to delete old files after the specified period of time. Maybe even specify the date in which the file is safe to let go of in the name of the file so you’re not having to revert back to copies of old contracts or correspondence with the client. I will also consider the option to begin charging for the retrieval of old files, though luckily I haven’t had to do this for any clients as of late.

  11. Yes you should charge, but charge only a small amount. If it’s free, people don’t value it. I make it easy for myself by putting the files I send out in a folder in the project called “Media Shipped”. That way, when John gets fired and Mary needs the files, I go into the Media Shipped folder, find John’s sub-folder, and send it to Mary! Voila! An 18-minute job has been turned into a six-minute one! I then bill them for six minutes — but I DO bill them.

    While you’re at it, why not attach the files to a ready-to-go email that includes images of your latest work, a summary of that web design course you just took, etc.!

  12. As a Thought Leadership Writer and Strategist, I consider these requests for long-ago files a golden opportunity to have a fresh conversation with either the client or one of their associates. So I don’t charge for this service, as I think it would just create instant resentment. The additional incremental income simply isn’t worth the chilling effect on client relationships, and if you handle the request graciously, there is definitely a halo effect when they’re considering who to choose as a resource for their next project.

  13. Short answer: you should not charge!

    Long answer:

    I’m a software developer but work with designers all the time and even deliver design work to clients.

    I highly recommend keeping ANY file that you have previously sent to any client, and also having a folder for every client you work with. If you think this is cluttering your “work” folder then you can create an “Archive” folder inside it and put all your old client folders in there. Don’t forget that storage is super-cheap those days and files and the effort that went into them are very expensive.

    Now, with the above setup, sending old files to client is a 1-minute job and charging will put you at a disadvantage. Of course, if they ask for change or anything that requires additional work on your side (re-installing that website they lost in the server crash!), then you should definitely charge.

    Cheers.

  14. I am a successful freelancer, and I do charge accordingly, but I disagree with what seems to be implied in this article. Of course, I’ve had clients come back after months (one time a client came back after 2 years, asking for .eps files); and I feel it is a courtesy of the designer to furnish them upon request.

    I don’t know what others charge, but I typically charge anywhere from $70-$100 an hour — most of my clients being start-ups and established companies or organizations. But the people who come back later looking for lost files are not those people. In my experiences, companies are very organized; individual clients are not. So, from my perspective, I feel that if a person spends their hard-earned cash to buy my creative services, I sort of owe them a slight bit of kindness, forever; in the same way that most consumers feel local businesses that they frequent owe them small courtesies, a break here and there, and an overall disposition of kindness.

    Even if it is a big corporation client that committed the evil act of asking for your ten minutes of help on locating a file, why would you want to burn social bridges? Why be a jerk, when you could easily make them happy? The marketing value you get from the impression of your name on their email inbox when you send the file, is worth the tiny effort it took you to re-send it, haha.

    I should also add that the bulk of the money that ends up in my checking account at the end of the day is from referral clients, on-going contracts, and repeat jobs from on-going, happy client relationships.

  15. I tend to lean toward not charging the client unless it’ll be a big hassle for me, which isn’t often. I’m a file organizer so it’s pretty easy for me to go back and send the file(s) with minimal effort. If it becomes a habit, I might talk with the client about how they could manage their files more effectively as well as broach the subject of paying for my repeated time.

    Overall, I would feel kind of petty charging for a few minutes of my time – creating an invoice, sending it, and recording the payment would probably be a waste of time for the few bucks I’d be receiving, and making the client go through the same accounting hassle over what? $20? seems harsh to me. I can’t imagine charging much more than that for resending a file. I think customer service and the client appreciation/relationship (and a possible referral) is worth more than that to me.

    I also use this time to reconnect with them and see if they might have any need of further design work, and I always remind them to refer me to anyone who might be interested in my services.

  16. That’s a tough one. As a rule, I never ever delete anything. I have archives of all my past work (it’s come in handy more times than I can recall). And I have had past clients ask for files of work that I’ve done, months after the job was finished. It’s a teeny bit of an inconvenience, but unless they want something added or changed (“can you send us .gifs, .bmps, .pdfs, and .tifs of the logo too? Oh, and we’d like our business name to be a little bigger too.”) then I’ll just do it Gratis as you call it. After all, just resending something that’s already packaged up and ready to go (from the first time) takes five minutes.

    I personally feel charging for something that is so quick and easy to do would be nickle and diming them, not exactly the best way to stand out positively in a client’s mind, in my opinion. I’d rather be seen as going above and beyond, being easy to work with, and being reliable. Of course my initial prices should reflect that, but I consider it all a package deal :)

  17. What differentiates you from other designers? Customer satisfaction is what keeps your past clients coming back and don’t forget about possible referrals. Never close any doors.

  18. Marian Smith says:

    It was always my understanding that once a client pays for the work I designed for them, and all ends well, it is my obligation to give him a copy if that’s all is needed. Of course, if any work needs to be done, that’s new work and that should be charged for. But just going back to an archive and pulling it up and sending them files only takes a few minutes. I would give the client that courtesy.

    However, all that being said, I just had a request from a competing design company who asked for the design files I had done for a past client. This client (a large and successful company) asked me for a quote to redesign their branding from what I previously did. They had new management and didn’t like what the old management had chosen. I gave them the quote but they never got back to me; I assume the price was too high for them. Now some months later, my competitor is asking for the files. Obviously my client hired them instead of me. It made me quite uncomfortable, but I sent them on away because I believe the client owns that work. They paid for it, the files belong to them. But I did not like how that played out. I felt it to be unprofessional of the client and my competitor. I thought the client should ask for the files, not send my competitor after them. If the situation was reversed, I would have told the client to get the files and then give them to me. I think it is only respectful for all parties involved.

    As an aside, I never throw any design work away. I keep everything. I still have files from 1991 when I began. I don’t know if I can access them because of the software I had then, but I have them!

    My 5 cents….

  19. This is a good question, I tell my clients that all files will be deleted 30 days after project completion. Maybe this time frame is too small, but I don’t want to have to keep replacing files every few months. Clients are grown ups too, in my opinion they should learn to take better care of their things and create backup disks for all important files.

    I also think that if I did decided to offer the option to save files on my hard drive for a client that’s long gone, there would be an extra one-time fee depending how long they wanted me to keep the file. For example my standard is 30 days, so if the client says ‘I want you to save my files for 60 days.’ then it would a small extra fee($) and if 90 days a medium extra fee($-$$) on top of the final project cost.

  20. We’re not a big company but we definitely charge for sure. More like a tiny fee for the time taken to find the files, resize, re-compress plus all the admin stuff etc etc.

    We call it a ‘Reloading Fee’.

  21. I make sure every client gets a DVD with their files on it at the end of each project and make sure and explain that this is something they need to put in a very safe place. When you give them a physical record of the job, clients tend to place a bit more value and security on it. Using this method, I’ve only had one client come back for files in 11 years. And yes, I charged them a nominal fee for doing so.

    Why?

    Because it takes time out of my day to stop what I’m doing, go into our archives, find the files, un-compress them, burn a DVD and then send them via whatever method is best. I don’t charge a huge fee, but I charge them something to make a point that my time = money. It’s about fostering respect, to and from each party.

    Marian, I would have told the competing firm to have the client ask for the files directly and I would send them to the client, not the competing firm. Better safe than sorry.

  22. In terms of trade craft, you would retain your work in a secure location not only for your own reference but in such situations. A fee for re-sending this work is not too much to ask since you are in effect providing backup storage services for your clients. The amount of time you may want to retain the work for access by the client should be clearly stated in your contract. So say, in 5 years, the work is no longer accessible. This will prevent you from being liable to the company in case they are part of a police investigation or try to take you to court for refusing copies of completed work.

    If you want to be creative with maintaining backups, you can offer it as a service of doing business with you.

  23. matt leach says:

    It would be wise for all freelance designers to charge for every service they provide, no matter how basic it may seem to us… If keeping files properly stored was easy and not worthy of a charge then the client wouldn’t be calling you to get them out of a jam in the first place… At the very least, the client should be charged a minimum of 1 hour for the service at whatever your going rate is… Not charging at all will tell your client that you’re OK with free services and they’ll continue to poke the bear so long as they get away with it… I even charge a minimum of 2 hours for my services to prevent the client from getting too comfortable calling me for everything… Since uploading these files would take a max of 10 mins (as long as I stored them properly), I tell them they might as well have me design something small for them to utilize the 2 hours I will charge them… I make it clear though that printing costs are extra and that they are filling the 2 hours with my design…

    • matt leach says:

      We’ll continue to be expected to do free work for as long as we refer to ourselves as ‘FREElance designers’…

  24. Obviously i will not charge the client. It just takes few minutes to recover from the archives. But i make the client not to take over advantage and happen the same once again. If its happened again means then i will charge them definitely.

  25. James Eves says:

    I have a minimum charge for any work I do. So anyone who calls me to produce a result can get billed. However, I rarely charge my current clients for 30 second jobs.

  26. Dependent on the situation but for the most part this is definitely chargeable. Finding the files and re-formatting them, etc takes time – time which would have been spent elsewhere otherwise (and have been paid time). I have seen it before where you give an inch and a mile is taken, therefore it is best to value your time and charge accordingly.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Should designers charge to “resend” – Graphic Design BlenderBy Preston D Lee… in freelancing forums and read what other freelancers are struggling with. Yesterday, I read a really interesting question that went something like this: “Should I charge old clients for re-sending old files?” I thought it was an excellent question!Graphic Design Blender […]

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