A typical situation: "I was working on a series of brochures for a new client. The job began taking a lot more time than I originally expected because the client kept asking for more and more changes each time I presented them with my interim layouts. Plus some of the changes meant using a more expensive paper than originally planned. Now the client is not wanting to pay the full bill because the brochures ended up costing a lot more than I originally projected. What can I do?"
An estimate is an approximation based on a certain set of criteria, not a guarantee. If the criteria change, the estimate must change.
Contract Clauses Cover Extra ChargesYour contract is your first line of defense when a client questions the finished product or the invoice. If the additional charges are addressed in the contract, simply pointing this out to the client may be enough to bring them around. It will also provide you with protection if your payment dispute has to be resolved by other means — mediation or court. If your contract doesn't spell out how to handle changes in the project or if you were working without a contract, you'll have a more difficult time protecting yourself if a client wants to dispute your charges.
Use the Power of Persuasion Plus Good PaperworkIf you don't have a contract, I hope you kept a paper trail of all discussions and all changes. If you can show the client where you discussed how certain changes would make the project cost substantially more (such as more expensive paper or a more expensive printing technique) then you might be able to persuade the client to pay up. This documentation will also be helpful if you decide to use a third-party mediator or if the dispute lands you in court.
Take a Loss As a Last ResortIt's possible that you may end up having to take a loss on this particular project. If pushing the client too hard could result in more bad will and loss of future business than you're willing to risk, then sticking with your original estimate might be in your best interest — only you can decide. If so, before you do another job for this or any other client — get a contract. And make sure that contract addresses such common situations as revisions and substantial changes to the scope of the project.
And even with a contract that includes an additional charges clause, keep your clients appraised throughout the job of any and all substantial deviations from the original estimate. Have them sign off on an updated estimate as necessary.