Some of you designers' may already be familiar with a few very challenging problems that I've experienced with VERY unscrupulous clients, and a very rigid and 'you are guilty until proven innocent' approach by Paypal.
Some of my top-tips are at the end of this post:
Several times last year, after completing several freelance logo design projects—in one case the client actually stating that my work was good, and was just what she was looking for—subsequently filed an 'Item not Received' dispute with Paypal.
The long and short of this means: Paypal immediately put my funds on hold, and actual debited my Paypal account with the amount being disputed, which in one case was £1000, until the dispute is resolved.
Resolving these disputes is incredibly time intensive, very frustrating, and so stressful, not to mention he financial burden.
If you feel that the client will win the dispute, even though you have proof that they DID indeed received the logo designs after spending a solid month on the project, then this obviously leaves one very financially ducked.
I'm happy to say that in each case, after I submitted a considerable weight of evidence in my favour, the disputes were finally resolved in my favour.
The process took weeks to resolve, so that's a lot of needless stress to be dealing with when you're trying to work with other much nicer clients.
Not the end of the Story
After seeing that a VERY small minority of clients tried to screw with me, ultimately trying to get a logo design for free, I decided to limit my use of Paypal to receive project payments for new work.
However, I would still use it on very few occasions: mostly when I had a good previous relationship with a client, but also using a more bullet-proof contract, and work-flow (to prove that I had done my job, and that also to prove the clients have also seen this work).
Last week I woke up to find an email from Paypal: one of these past 'clients', even though they'd tried to get a full refund from me by filing a dispute, which inevitably went in my favour, that the client had now decided (a full year on) to file yet another dispute.
Apparently they weren't happy that their scam backfired, so wanted to try again!
This time they were using a chargeback process on the debit card, issued from their bank, which they had used to pay me, which was linked to their Paypal account.
This was a total surprise, and frankly shook me to the core.
Once again, I was now £1000 down in my Paypal account, and once again I had to provide proof that I had indeed done my job, and delivered the final logo designs etc.
That I had already been completely vindicated the first time around, it apparently means nothing when a client decides to go through their bank, if they had used their linked credit card.
In this case Paypal are basically supplying all the proof/evidence that I submit, back to the clients bank, and then the case is dealt with with Paypal an intermediary negotiator.
I'll leave my upset ramblings there, because the whole system with Paypal is so messed up when a 'buyer' decides to pull a fast-one.
A Fair Warning
I'll end with a big warning to any of you freelance graphic and logo designers, who still use Paypal to receive payment.
There is no guarantee that a client may choose, at any time, to file a Dispute, not once, but twice (with apparently no time restrictions in place, and even if the first dispute was settled in your favour, which is just utterly ludicrous.).
Even if they have said they were completely happy with the work.
Some Tips to Avoid being Scammed by a Client
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself, in order to help yourself provide the evidence needed to show Paypal in such a situation.
- Use a project management application—I use Cageapp.com, that allows both the designer and client to add comments, and also 'Approved' notes to any design.This basically shows Paypal that the client had indeed seen your work, and that you were doing what you were being paid for. Even better if you can get the client to 'sign-off' on an idea during the project.Without showing the clients comments that had expressly stated she had both seen my ideas, and also liked them, I'm not sure I would have won the dispute.
- Keep all emails (sent and received), take screenshots of any correspondence that show the client has been seeing your work, your progress and any positive comments and/or feedback they have given you.
- Ensure they have signed acceptance of your Contract and/or Terms of Conditions, and ensure you get a copy of this signed documents before starting.I use Bonsai to provide my digitally signed Contracts, that has several clear clauses/explanations of what will happen if a client decides to 'play dirty'.It's shame one feels the need to do this, but it sends a message.
- Based on this recent 'Chargeback' fiasco, you're not even really safe using Credit Card services like Stripe etc, as you're still open to a client deciding to file a Chargeback dispute, leaving you in exactly the same position as I am at the moment.The only real safe option is to use the tried-and-tested Bank Transfer, Cash, Cheque, PO, Western Union, etc for all monies sent by your client.
- An obvious one is not to use PayPal, but this is not always convenient for many designers etc.If you still need to use Paypal, then if you adopt the above, although you'll not avoid having a 'Dispute' being raised, you will be in a good position to win the Dispute with the evidence you have, such as I have on two occasions.
Rest assured, once this current dispute is resolved, either way, I'll absolutely be termination my PayPal account, as not knowing if a client from last year, or year before suddenly decides that they need some money, and tries to file a Chargeback dispute from their bank via PayPal.
I simply cannot live with that uncertainty any more.
Any questions you want to ask, or any other tips you can share, then please do so in comments below.
Previous Posts on Paypal
You'd think with all my bad experiences, and rants and moans, that I'd have learnt my lesson by now, but I'm simply too trusting, and hate to think the worse in people.
However, this current situation has completely thrown me over the edge, so no more 'trust' with Paypal.
- Graphic Designers: Avoid PayPal ‘Item not Received’ Dispute
- Using Paypal Safely
- Paypal a Curse for the self employed designer
Paypal DOES provide protection for people providing digital services and goods, in so much as the client cannot, at any time, simply believe they can 'successfully' reverse the payment process, if something has made them a little unhappy.
What Does this mean to you, the designer?
What my experience (explained below), and the positive outcome, does demonstrate: you are safe in continuing to use Paypal, to receive: funds, deposits and payment of invoices, from clients, AS LONG as you:
- Keep all emails and documentation relating to the project, and all files sent to the client (emails you send, and emails you receive, that relate to logo design ideas you have sent, ie. feedback, issues regarding the brief, etc.)
- Keep all your digital files, logo versions, and submitted logo design files, safe and backed-up.
- Use an online project management application, like CageApp, that will provide all the proof anyone could need that you upheld you side of the contract, and also proves that the client accessed, and viewed, all the uploaded logo design ideas, and concepts.
- Ensure your ToC's clearly state that deposits are mostly non-refundable, except in those cases, such as: illness etc, prevents you from finishing the the job you were hired to do.
- I'll be adding a small paragraph to my own ToC's, stating that: filing a dispute with Paypal, to seek 'reversal of Paypal' payments is not possible, and a complete waste of everybody's time. That Paypal will ultimately side with the designer, so long as digital proof is available, as stated in Paypal's ToC's.
- Also, a few other general thoughts at the conclusion of this post.
An Unfortunate Paypal Experience
This post is a direct result of a very unfortunate experience I had with a ruthless client, and Paypal, just a few days ago.
I immediately took to Twitter to vent my anger, frustration and complete bewilderment at the apparent ease at which a client of mine had managed to get Paypal to reverse a £800 deposit, paid to me, for a new logo design. I also want to add that I resisted the temptation to publicly name the client, as angry as I was, and I'm so glad that I was able to resist a somewhat strong urge.
A Very Cautionary Paypal Tale
Anger because this deposit had been paid some 6 weeks earlier, and I had subsequently worked over 100 hours, over a 6 week period, on this logo design project.
If this so-called 'dispute' was upheld, it basically meant I had done 6 weeks of work, equating to an £800 deposit—in real world terms this was peanuts due to tax etc, and meant I had no means to pay my mortgage and bills for this following month.
This £800 was my income/wages for the previous month, not some random bonus that could be reversed without much collateral damage. Imagine you working for 6 weeks and getting paid, then using that money to pay bills, and generally fund living a life, only to be told you had to pay it back!
After the client lodged an official dispute, a very quick and simple procedure, Paypal were just as quick to put this deposit of £800 on immediate hold, meaning I now I owed Paypal £800.
Aggrieved Client from Hell?
I should add here why the client was felt so aggrieved that they had to first threaten me with taking this to Paypal, then actually following through: we were close to the suggested deadline for the completion of the logo, yet they had summarily dismissed a number of very workable solutions, had themselves been late (upwards of 1 week) to actually get back to me with feedback, and changed the brief enough to warrant going back to the drawing board a number of times.
This required a refocus of my efforts trying to appease their somewhat unrealistic expectations, so it it made sense, at least to me, the deadline would suffer. There is also the mention, in my ToC's, that I cannot come close to promising a final delivery date, for a logo design, due to certain things somewhat out of my control, like the client repeatedly not liking a design.
Each time a design is dismissed, more time is needed to come up with another design. If that desing is dimissed, then yet more time is needed. At some point I'll draw the line, and gently hint that one of the previous ideas has to be chosen, at least as a general direction from which to work from.
Apparently all of this 'not getting anywhere' was all of my own making, and if I didn't, "pick up the pace" as they quoted to me, they would look to get their deposit back from Paypal.
Sure, I'm the one designing the logos, and I'll take my portion of the blame for not being able to visualise a constantly changing brief, and nit-picky client
So OK, I know there are often 2-sides to every story, but in all honestly, there really wasn't anything I could have done differently, other than to have been much stronger armed earlier in the process, than I already had been, but it was my choice to continually try and get this logo design project resolved for them. Mostly because I just wanted the thing done and dusted, to the best of my ability.
Sometimes you genuinely do think the end is in sight, but then you're not, and other times you don't fully see you are being taken for a massive ride… This client was certainly a challenge, but I didn't foresee them acting in this way at all.
I've been doing this gig for a fair while now, and I can honestly say these clients were one of the most unreasonable, most arrogant most incredibly ruthless clients I have every worked with, yet I still tried my utmost to design a logo that they could finally say, "Yes!". I'm quite capable of biting my teeth, and riding out a period of client unpleasantness, but for all my patience, putting myself really on the line, all they could come back with was to try and threaten me with the loss of my deposit: my income and earnings for a month!
Would it be silly of me to add that 'most' reasonable people would accept a deposit (one months earnings) as being non-refundable, as my ToC's had clearly stated?
A monologue that I have sent PayPal regarding the dubiousness of them playing Judge & Jury in valuing my work/time pic.twitter.com/7ubUJNWlHp
— Graham 'Logo' Smith (@thelogosmith) September 16, 2014
Back to Twitter
Back to that day in question, and I simply tweeted the hell out of the situation, sharing as much information (but not the clients identity) as I could, and CC'ing in @AskPayPal with every tweet, and my goodness were their a few tweets!
It became clear they were only going to assist me with the resolution process, but certainly not providing any words of wisdom, comfort to someone who was clearly petrified about loosing 6 weeks worth of labor to a shitty uncompromising client.
If you feel inclined, just take a look at my Twitter stream for that day, the 16th September 2014, starting from 11.46am. It's a good days worth of tweeting and DM'ing to @askpaypal who I shall say were quick to establish contact, and clinically guide me through the 'resolution' process.
This was one of the very few times I felt so incredibly defeated, deflated, used, abused, anxious, scared and just generally very low spirited.
Even feeling like this, the hell I was going to allow this client, or Paypal for the matter, ride rough-shot over me! This is why I used social media to simply carpet bomb the living hell out of this particular situation, rather than just keep it to myself.
Paypal: Judge and Jury
In order to have any luck at reversing this decision, I had to basically prove to Paypal that I had 'delivered' the 'services/goods' that were paid for.
Fortunately I had every email, every long-winded explanation of each of my logo concepts, screenshots and master files of each of the logo designs, PDF's of the invoice, changes to the brief via there emails also showing there relentless negativity and unmovable ability to be flexible, and finally their very very stupid attempt to try and get me to, "pick up the pace a bit".
Anyone who's anyone should know that resorting to email threats is a recipe for disaster, and this proved to be the smoking-gun that I needed to smash that last nail oh-so-very hard.
After working with @askpaypal the whole of that afternoon, and uploading all the necessary items of proof, Paypal said they would go away and 'investigate' the situation.
The following morning there was an email from Paypal (above) saying:
"We have concluded our investigation of the Buyer Complaint for the transaction detailed below.
As stated in our User Agreement, PayPal's Buyer Complaint Policy applies only to the postage of actual goods and does not apply to complaints about services and other intangible goods. Therefore, we cannot take any action in this matter."
I would indeed be having the deposit released back to me, and the client could kiss my… Yes I felt pleased, but still felt a nasty taste in mouth: having to go through a period of anxiety over something that could have seriously caused me some financial difficulties.
Also considerably miffed that Paypal, who seemingly have such a clear official position on this, that it still took them 24 hours to get back to me, and not even hint to me that there was likely no grounds to uphold the dispute. They knew from the outset this wasn't about 'a posted item not received or sent', but was in fact about 'services and other intangible goods'.
From where I was sitting, the outcome should have been immediately clear to them after receiving all my proof, but it still took till the next day to get the answer, and in this minor period of time I was repeatedly expecting the worse, that Paypal would side with the 'poor aggrieved client'.
What is also worrying: I had heard other similar stories where the designer lost the deposit, which begs the question is there still such a massive lack of continuity with some of Paypal's ToC's, or more specifically, how certain Paypal staff might perceive a certain dispute?
Is Paypal a Risk?
During this period of uncertainty, it became clear that using Paypal to receive money from clients, for services, looked like being a massive risk. If any client could lodge a dispute, and have any amount of funds withdrawn, any period of time 'after' sending, then this surely would be a hugely unacceptable way of managing a payment company.
This lead to a lot of conversations, and statements, not just from me, about not using Paypal any more to accept client deposits, should Paypal side with the client.
Clearly, in the end, Paypal DOES provide protection for people providing digital services and goods, in so much as the client cannot, at any time, simply believe they can reverse the payment process, if something has made them a little unhappy.
You've already read the basic advice that I put at the beginning, but simply: should you find yourself in a similar situation, where a client tries to strong-arm their payment to you back, try not to panic too much like I had done.
If you have proof that you had delivered on the contract, that you delivered the digital files, and/or are still delivering on the contract, and still in the process of designing and delivering logo ideas via email etc, then according to Paypal's own ToC's, a client doesn't have a leg to stand on, even though you might see funds 'temporarily reversed' while Paypal 'investigates'.
Don't even contemplate 'not doing anything (proving your side of the facts)', as Paypal WILL likely favour the client. Make sure you respond immediately to the 'dispute', and send Paypal everything you possibly can to categorically prove you had/are delivering on the agreement.
It's not for Paypal to decide if your designs are good or bad, worth the deposit paid, or not. Paypal simply just need to see that you had acted, or are continuing to act in good-faith, much as I was.
Also, don't feel tempted to hurtle angry emails to the client. I managed to cease all communications the moment I realised they had lodged a 'dispute', and I made sure that I did not contact them again, in any way.
Once it was all over, I did however, send this little email off:
That's the last I heard form the client, and last email I have so far sent. No more, no less.
I often get asked why my logo design process seems to differ from many other freelance logo designers. I don't take your money, scurry away for a week then present you with 4 gleaming logo design ideas for you to choose from. You choose one, offer up some remarks then I scurry away again and make several rounds of alterations and changes. After a few days, I come back to you with a more complete logo. Then possibly a few more changes before completing the project. Finally, hoping to get paid.
This seems to be a common approach for many logo designers I know. There is a set cost, set number of ideas and revisions and possibly some extras thrown in like basic stationery designs, letterhead, business cards etc.
This process is solid and it works for many clients, so this is not a criticism of this approach. I am outlining my own approach and how it differs from the above and how it might, for some clients, be a more interesting and enlightening approach.
I was hoping to get the whole process in one post, but as usual, my inability to keep it short and sweet has lead me to section the idea. Rather than offer a quick overview, I have gone into excruciating detail on each significant part of the process. So this first part focuses on the first contact, when a client approaches me with a view to hire me for their logo design needs. I hope it offers some insight into how I work and might offer some ideas for you to implement yourself.
From the get-go
I place a lot of importance on communications at the beginning of a project, way before any money has parted hands and long before I even know the project is secured. I usually first find out about a possible job through a potential client filling in one of two online quote forms, or mini brief. A set of questions designed to get the client to think about what they need and for me to get a solid understanding of their requirements.
I use Google Docs for my online quote form, it's not the prettiest but works well.
As the quote form is quite long, I do suggest that clients can call first. This might be useful if they need some help with aspects of the logo design process, rather than sit down filling in a heap of questions. If the filling in the form is the only option available, if might very well put them off contacting me. So I encourage them to contact me in whatever way they feel comfortable with, then we can take it from there.
Better to call
Even though this is the usual first contact, I do encourage people to call me first. Nothing can substitute actually hearing about a project, listening to the hopeful new client explain their business. It is easier to offer thoughts, suggestions and advice. A deeper level of understanding can be gleaned from a call than filling in the quote form, so this is my preference.
I know of some logo designers who prefer to deal with clients only via online methods, not the telephone. There are some projects where a decent chat is essential, especially if you are working on a personal brand. You need to hear the voice, find out about their personality and drive. No matter how much you email and IM, you will never fully 'get' the person if you don't at least talk on the phone.
Once we have chatted, we usually work on filling in the online quote form. To sum up what has been discussed and to put down in writing the various aspects needed for this project.
Specify a budget
I don't have a set price package so to speak. I feel it's not for me to determine how much a client should place on the branding of their company. If their image is important to them then I would like to see this come voluntarily from them, rather than me suggesting a price. Only they can place a true value on their business.
Often a client just has no idea on the value of design, how much it should cost. This is not to say they will be looking for the cheapest option. Far from it. In fact, they often just need some guidance, some explanations of the importance of a solid brand identity and also a explanation of what is really involved with a logo design project. Once you lay all this on the table, they are often happier to consider a higher budget.
Fortunately for me, clients on average voluntarily put up anything between £750 - £2000 for a logo design project, this is without any interference from me, and this gives me a lot of hope in general. Not all clients are looking to get logo design on the cheap, in my experience over the last 6 months, quite the opposite. So this is encouraging for the industry and for any freelance logo designer.
Here I will get a good idea on how a potential client perceives the value of design.
I do consider lower price work if approached directly, there maybe a icon or simple badge to create opposed to a full blow logo design. But for simplicity, I keep my online form focused on the bigger picture.
It is true that aligning your work with higher prices helps the client perceive you and your work in a certain way, opposed to a bargain basement approach. There are pro's and con's to both, but for me I have decided to focus on aligning my reputation and work at the middle/higher end.
Some clients appreciate seeing higher prices as a sign of experience and quality. Some clients will just run a mile and find the cheapest designer they can get their hands on. But the work in your portfolio is the real focus, if they like your work but you are not the cheapest, you still stand a chance to secure them as a client. They want to feel they will know the type of work you will likely do for them and this will help them make that decision on how much to spend.
Securing the project
After I have received the completed quote form, I will assess all the information and compare the work needed with their proposed budget. If the work required to complete a successful logo project is substantially more than the proposed budget, I will write back to the client and explain that their is a shortfall. In order to provide the client with logo based on their information they will ideally need to raise the budget. If this is a problem for them, either cash is limited or they just don't want to pay what is needed, then we look at ways to reduce the time needed to complete the project. But this is not always easy to do. For me, I cant always justify spending unpaid hours on a project with a small budget.
If there is still a deadlock with the budget, then I will take a view on a per project basis. I will not necessarily refuse the job, it may be a good job and client to have on board and I may accept I will have to spend more time than I am getting paid. This is ultimately my choice. If there is a massive discrepancy, or the client just seems to not value design or I get a sense it could lead to a somewhat challenging client designer relationship, then I will politely bow out.
Proposal and Budget
After any initial conversations on the phone or Skype, or regular email correspondence we will look to take the next step. Once I have the brief, a verbal acceptance on the budget, I will approach the subject of payment. This is a slightly sensitive issue, so I tread carefully here. It is clear on my quote form where I stand with regards to the deposit and full payment scenario. So hopefully, any clients still on board with me at this point are aware of my policy. But I still tread carefully.
If the client is overseas I will send them a polite email gently reminding them that in their case I will require payment up front. I will explain my reasons for having this policy, that it's a general rule and not personal. I finish the email by simply asking them if they have any concerns over this arrangement, rather than simply saying take it or leave it. I am always open to negotiation at this stage, but thankfully for me, every over seas client thus far has not had a problem with paying upfront.
Assuming we have the all clear for payment up front then I will send a basic proposal detailing the work to be done, with contact information and a basic run down of a few key points. I cover cancellation, refunds, ownership of the artwork. The proposal is created in InDesign, a simple 2 page affair. Client and project information on one side, with costs and brief project outline. The reverse has the basic small print. Nothing complicated or lengthy to read.
I don't have a contract. To take action over a client who has done the dirty costs money, money that most freelancers don't have.
There are situations where a contract would make sense, but right now, I don't I need one. Most of my clients are overseas, enforcing a contact for a overseas client, in times of dispute would be problematic, time consuming and expensive. They may give you peace of mind, but I think it's a wasted peace of mind. As my business grows, and the type of identity work I take on increases in complexity, then I will re-visit the contract issue.
My proposal form does contain the usual things such as cancellation, copyright, ownership. These I can explain in a small paragraph to avoid confusion that a heavy contract can give.
Payment up front is my insurance.
Now I have all peace of mind any freelancer can have by getting paid up front. I am able to rest easy, and totally focus on the job at hand without any of the low level anxiety we all face when it comes to invoicing at the project end.
So assuming all the above points have been dealt with, I need to secure this client. I can't rest easy until I see money in my hands.
Presently, I keep this simple. Paypal or direct bank transfer, I still prefer Paypal. Even though the fee's are a little high, the flexibility and near instant transactions with Paypal are worth it. I use Freshbooks to manage all my invoices, this means I can send personalized invoices, with a PayPal link via email. This makes it very quick and easy for a client to pay the deposit, assuming they have PayPal of course.
The deposit needs to be received before I will seriously start working on a project, although it doesn't stop me from thinking and tinkering around with a project before I have the deposit. This usually depends on if I have a good feeling about the client's commitment to the project.
Waiting for the deposit or payment
Some time may have passed from the clients first contact to the point where you have sent the invoice. Some times it have been a number of weeks of communications and messaging. Some clients need quite a bit of reassurance, especially if they are investing upwards of £1000 in their identity, totally understandable. So I try not to rush them, although at the same time, I would like to get the deposit secured. So I do all I can to create an atmosphere of trust with them.
Some 'dead certain' projects fall by the way side, this is normal. Can be frustrating, but you just wait for the next one to come along. Maybe you could look at how you conducted yourself, did you reply promptly? Did you communicate effectively? There are any number of reasons why a client may change their mind, some will just be down to their own personal or professional circumstances. Personally, I have had problems with time management and I know I have lost a few clients because of this. Once you realise your own faults, accept and acknowledge them, you can at least do something about it. I am far from being perfect, but I continually try hard to improve my service.
Once you have the payment or deposit in your account, then you can at least breath a sigh of relief. I have recently started sending a PayPal receipt, acknowledging the payment. If you have sent someone money, it's reassuring to know they received it, and of course it is useful for their own records.
Now you can start the project.
End of part 1
So this would be a good place to end this first part. Hope this gave you some insight into how I work my freelancing. Everyone has different methods, so this is by no means a 'you should do it this way'. It's also not exhaustive and comprehensive, although it's pretty close. Part 2 will focus on my method of working from the research aspect, sketching and idea formulation and interactions with the client through-out the logo project.
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The Logo Smith : Freelance Logo Designer, Brand Identity & Graphic Design Studio
Providing PR Services with The PR Room: Technology PR, Smart Home PR, Internet of Things PR and Lifestyle PR Agency.
25 Years Experience in: Logo & Brand Identity Design, Graphic Design, Advertising, Marketing, and Commercial Print.