One of my very first clients asked me to redesign a “simple” website. Being a young graphic designer, I was so excited that someone was about to pay me to design something (anything) that I ran full throttle into the project with no contract and little research into the size of the existing website. I probably could’ve made more money flipping burgers when it was all said and done.
So if you’ve got a lot more work ahead of you and you’re watching your hourly rate plummet with a sinking feeling in your stomach, follow the steps below.
Step #1: Where did you go wrong?
Determine how you got here. Did you underestimate the amount of time you needed? Did you run into an unforeseen complication? Did you go outside of the scope of the project? Were your terms of completion too broad? Did you (eep!) not sign a contract specifically outlining the scope of the project?
As they say, knowing is half of the battle. Once you can pinpoint where you went astray, it’s much easier to prevent it from happening again.
In my case, our terms were to “redesign the website.” I failed completely; I failed to outline the scope of the project or research the breadth of my client’s existing website, and my client was under no legal obligation to pay me for a job well done let alone something he wasn’t quite happy with.
Step #2: How much longer are you in for?
Be realistic. How much longer will it take you to finish the project? Are you capable of finishing the project?
Step #3: Are you willing to do it?
Decide whether or not you’re going to finish the project. Do you bite the bullet and finish the project? Do you throw in the towel and bail? Consider the risks. Can you afford to lose a client? Do they know any of your other clients? Might you lose new clients due to this?
I chose to finish the project. I wanted the experience under my belt and to keep a client with many ties to the local business community happy.
Step #4: Change your ways.
Going forward, fix the problems from Step #1.
I vowed then and there that I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice, and I haven’t. Sure, I’ve had jobs where I probably should’ve charged a bit more, but I’m a lot more careful in researching the scope, size, and time it will take for me to complete a project. I keep track of my time on projects to better estimate similar future projects. And I never, never, start without a written agreement.
Have you ever severely underpriced a design project?
How did it happen? How did you recover? What lessons can you share with the rest of us? Leave a comment on this post describing how you dealt with it and what you’re doing now to prevent it from happening again.