What do I say when I’m asked to do free extras?

Hey Nick,

I’m doing a website for a friend. We agreed on payment but I now find he doesnt have any images, no font nor color palettes. Text is from Wikipedia.

He said that Im free to do whatever I want but If I just throw in some fonts and pick a random color, is that good for either of us?

These things are going to cost extra because I dont want to deliver half baked goods.

Don’t want to end up in yet another situation where Im doing stuff for free.

What would you suggest?

Hey ****

Ooh good one. This is a very common situation!
A lot of web designers will forge ahead, and use their experience and expertise to select fonts, colours, source photography etc.
This is what I used to do.
You find yourself basically giving away a mini branding project for free within the price of a website.

Then you resent the client for the freebies.
But the client probably isn’t even aware.

Your a designer right, you do the design?

Remember this is a natural assumption for the client to make, so you have to do a bit of education.
In future, you’ll know, to always ask these questions during the scope stage:

  • “Do you have brand guidelines, or do you need me to quote for brand design?”
    • (and make sure you explain specifically what you need, not just a logo!)
  • “will you be providing content or do you need copywriting?
    • Explain why good copy is important. It’s important because it helps you SELL.

Obviously, hindsight is a wonderful thing lol.

What if you’ve already started the project?

So the way to handle this is to get back on the phone,
and just explain that this is the quote you gave was based on a scope for web design only.
Simply explain you’ve realised he also needs help from you for other stuff which you need to design the site.
He’ll need copywriting since you can’t reuse content from wikipedia, you’ll get spanked on SEO.
He’ll need brand design as he doesn’t have a brand.

Normally you work from brand guidelines, or quote for brand design.
Normally client provides content, or pays for copywriting. (Though I always include “tweaking” and optimizing client content for conversion and SEO, it’s one of my unique selling poitns)

Brand guidelines usually include a logo, fonts, colours, as well as the brand in use in a variety of uses such as brochures, mockups, promotional imagery etc.
He doesn’t have a brand in place which means you can’t design the site.

You can help him design a brand for his business, but we’ll need to expand the scope to cover branding. Present your branding packages with specific prices and make a recommendation.

Clients sometimes struggle to understand why it costs more.
It’s just ideas, right?
I like to put things in the context of real-world things they can relate to:

Here’s some analogies you can use to help explain.

  • “It’s a bit like trying to design a suit without the measurements.”
  • “If you try to build a house without plans, It could turn into a mess!”
  • “A logo is a symbol for your brand, but what is it symbolising? Your brand is the thing that’s going to help you attract the right customers and charge more, and this is what we’ll design the site around”
  • “Why’s it going to cost extra? Well imagine you got your weekly shop, then at the checkout last minute you realised you also needed butter and milk. You’d expect the cashier to charge you extra right?”
  • “I want to get the best result for you, and you’r really going to need a brand and copy to do this right”

Whatever you do, don’t do this…

Beware, when a client says any of these things:

  • “Just do what you want”
  • “I’m not fussy”
  • “Use your initiative”
  • “I’m not sure but I’ll know when I see it”

What they really mean is “I have no idea what I want, and I haven’t bothered to figure it out, so let’s do this by trial and error until you claw your eyes out with frustration”.

Design is about solving problems. You must figure out what the goal is before you can design the solution.

You must tease this out of them before proceeding. You can use different tools for this.

  • Use questionnaires with multiple-choice answers.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Get them to provide at least x3 examples.
  • Jump on a call and look at moodboards.

Whatever it takes to get some concrete sense of direction from them.

You may find yourself under pressure to proceed, maybe they are in a rush or have a tight deadline.

But do not proceed without this or you’ll quickly find yourself in a spiralling number of revisions and vague feedback.

I promise you, when it all backfires, it will be YOUR ass that gets blamed for lack of results, not their lack of clarity.

If you have to charge extra or this part of your process, do so, as the client will get a better result.

Part of your service may be helping them figure out what they want or need.

This can often account for half of a project budget, depending on the client.

When you go back to the client….

  • Don’t take it personally, they probably just don’t know any better. They aren’t a web designer after all!
  • Know what you will and won’t do within the existing scope.
  • Never do anything you aren’t happy to do, as you’ll only end up resenting doing the stuff you weren’t happy doing.
  • Go back with a prepared quote ready, so you aren’t caught off guard and blurt something out.



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Nicholas Robb

Founder, Design Hero
Author of Life by Design

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