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I have been self-employed for 2 years and most of my work is in web development/general IT. I mostly work for small businesses and sometimes they need extra things like graphic design. Often my clients aren't super interested in paying for a graphic designer as well and I pride myself on being able to put together something decent for them. I am not a graphic designer but I have gotten pretty decent at GIMP and I am a quick learner.

Now on to the situation. One of my clients that I have been working for since the beginning of my self-employment started a new business and wanted me to do some web design for him as well as create a brochure for the business. I did fine with the website but the brochure didn't go as well. When he asked me to do the brochure I told him that I hadn't done one like that before but I was pretty sure I could figure it out. He told me that I could feel free to take some extra time on it to make sure that it looked professional.

The trouble started when he gave me a brochure by another company to get the pictures off to use for his brochure (he is friends with the owner of the other company and had permission to do this so no copyright worries). I have access to a digital scanner so I didn't think it would be a problem, but it turned out that the scanner didn't scan at a very high resolution and so the pictures were poor quality. When I discovered this, I asked him to try and get the original pictures from the other company but he never sent them to me so I just went with what I had.

When I sent the brochure to the printing company, the image resolution was poor (because of the digital scans) and the brochure looked blurry. Also, the printing company informed me there could printing issues because I didn't include bleeds and trim marks on the images I submitted (this was completely my fault due to my ignorance).

I would like to try and fix it, but I am no longer quite as confident in my skills in this area. Maybe I can fix it with the original pictures, but maybe I can't. Either way, I am not sure that I should bill for the time that I spent on the brochure since it was not a product that was to the level the client was expecting. He hasn't asked me not to bill him, but I want to do the right thing.

I want to have a reputation for taking care of my customers and if not billing for this is what that takes, it is worth it.

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I think you answered your own question there.

If you don't think you have delivered something to the standards required and you have only done a couple of test prints and not printed a pallet-ton, then you can show that as a proof of concept to the client, say that you would need the original images to be able to make it look better and that there are some technical things that you need to change.

If they are used to being billed for unfinished products, you have done some work so you should bill them. If they usually get a bill on finished product, then bill them when the product is finished. If this is a customer that you have for some time, make it a fair bill so that you can still make some profit but not annoy them for it. Since you have both earned experience and made money, you would be profiting either way.

If they are not happy with the brochure altogether and want to go to a graphic designer for it, then you can decide:

Respect that they have been a customer and not bill them.

Bill them for hours used working on an unfinished project (not unheard of).

EDIT:

You have one more avenue to explore here. As you value your reputation and maybe this customer, take the requirements and images and all of the stuff you need and check on Fiverr if someone is able to do it at a reasonable price. You can even pay extra to have the original files, which will help you learn.

In the future, you can opt to outsource this kind of job through places like Fiverr and have a permanent price tag for such solutions. You can even find a regular designer on Fiverr for that case. if not, paying a bit extra for the original files will help you see what the person did and will help you learn what you need to do for the future.

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    This 100%, maintaining a good relationship with a client is far more important than a bit of money. – Xander Apr 3 at 12:54
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    @Xander depends on the client really. It depends on what you value more and that is a case by case. I agree with you probably 80% of the time, but if you have a client that always pays below average, late, gives bad requirements and complaints every time but comes back every month for work...I would leave towards my money instead of the client lol – fireshark519 Apr 3 at 12:58
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    You're certainly right, and I am talking about this particular case. it seems the OP values this client so if I was in his shoes I wouldn't mind the loss. – Xander Apr 3 at 13:01
  • I didn't even consider fiverr. That could be the perfect solution for this situation. – Justin Morrison Apr 3 at 15:21
  • @JustinMorrison I've used it a couple of times and have no regrets. I could have spent hours brushing up on my PhotoShop Skills to make the logo for my new website OR I could pay $7 for someone else to do it lol... – fireshark519 Apr 3 at 15:22
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I would like to try and fix it, but I am no longer quite as confident in my skills in this area. Maybe I can fix it with the original pictures, but maybe I can't. Either way, I am not sure that I should bill for the time that I spent on the brochure since it was not a product that was to the level the client was expecting. He hasn't asked me not to bill him, but I want to do the right thing.

I want to have a reputation for taking care of my customers and if not billing for this is what that takes, it is worth it.

Either fix it and do a good job, or don't bill for the brochure work.

It would make sense to give this another try, assuming you want brochures to be part of your service offerings.

Talk to the client and offer to spend a bit more time figuring it out and producing a better brochure. Give the client the choice of doing that or going elsewhere for the brochure.

Your professional reputation will be a very important part of your future business success. Protect that reputation.

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I am no longer quite as confident in my skills in this area.

In your post you mention a couple of fairly basic errors in print work (trying to scan images that have already been scanned, no bleeds and trims - and while we're about it, using GIMP (a photoshop type image manipulation application) for page-layout).

So... I wonder if it would be worth engaging a print experienced graphic designer for your next job of this sort, and sitting with them while they work, and working together?

That way you will pick up loads of invaluable hints (sharpening images, and outputting appropriate files for the printer, for a start!).

I did this with a client and now the client does all their own desktop publishing to a very high standard because they took on board what I was doing and asked intelligent questions (eg "what are you doing" "why are you doing that").

It's a small outlay for a lot of practical learning and will mean you can charge much more in future for such ad hoc printwork because it'll be to a professional standard... You'll also potentially have a handy print expert to ask when things go wrong.

  • This is a really good idea! Great suggestion – Justin Morrison Apr 3 at 15:08
  • @JustinMorrison this is definitely the answer. Your business attitude (Justin) seems spot-on. You are completely correct in your summary at the end of your question that you should just not attempt to do this. – Fattie Apr 3 at 17:06
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You should always be paid for your work.

However, what you're talking about is the extra costs of fixing the mistakes, partially caused by the client not sending high-quality images and your own ignorance in using poor images in the first place and not understanding printer requirements. You should not charge your client for that time, and just consider the fixes a cost of doing business.

It's not clear that your client ever saw what you created and you're just acting on his behalf for him. There's value in showing him what happens when low-resolution images are used in place of high-quality images. He would be able to see for himself why it was so important that he bug his friend for the originals.

If you haven't sent the work over, you can still save your reputation. Send him what you have as "a sample" and see if he can send you the correct files. The sample is your courtesy to him as a long time client, an introductory discount, etc. But make sure he understand that it's a "work in progress". In fact, I would even put "TEST", "WIP", or "SAMPLE" in big letters on every page, so a) he can't use it, and b) it looks "official". (Also make it clear you won't print samples again, unless he wants to pay....)

Now that you have a clear understanding of printing requirements, make sure you include those the next time you send the right files over to the printer so you won't have to pay out of pocket for those mistakes. But don't charge him for reprinting costs.

For future clients who insist on using bad images for high-quality work, you can:

  • show them a scrubbed version of this brochure so they see how terrible it looks
  • refuse to do the work
  • send the work to the printer with the full-disclosure that the client will be paying for any revisions if they want to reprint with better photos as well as your time
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    I have sent him the digital versions of the brochure (which actually looked pretty good) it was just when he sent it to the printer, they turned out blurry and the deficiencies showed up. Thankfully he only printed 50 instead of 1000+, but still. – Justin Morrison Apr 3 at 14:00
  • @JustinMorrison I suggest you offer to reprint the brochure, with the correct images or new ones, at no charge. Up to 50. Invoice for your original estimate, and possibly a discount. I also recommend you remain focused not just on pleasing this one client, but also on making sure you produce work that will get you the next client. That is, producing portfolio-quality work. – user70848 Apr 3 at 14:09
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Independent of your current problem, it would be a good idea to find someone who can do this kind of work at high quality at a decent price, so you can accept contracts where some of the items are outside your own comfort zone.

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I'll address the non-billing part of this question.

As freelancers, we often want to be all things to all people. We also don't want to turn down the opportunity for income BUT you are doing your client and yourself a disservice if you take jobs and projects that you are not equipped or qualified to do. I'm not doing my best for my clients if I take on a project that is not in my "wheel house" and I botch it.

If my client presents a need that I'm not qualified to fill, then I do my best to put them in touch with someone who can. I may do great work for the client in many other ways, but it only takes one botched project for the client to sour on you. Why take the risk of losing a client? Why put the client in a position where something you've done has impacted their ability to conduct business?

Your job as a freelancer is to give your clients the best work you can and to give them the best counsel you can. Sometimes that means telling them "I can't do this, but I can help you find someone who can."

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