Design Invoicing: 4 Tricks To Avoid Disputes

Every web designer has been there – you build a site only to have the client look at the finished product, read the invoice, and begin to object. Why did it take so long to build the site? Couldn’t this all have been done more cheaply? Isn’t WordPress free?

Though some of the most common client complaints stem from basic misunderstandings, a lot of them are simply not-so-subtle attempts to get out of paying for the work that went into the website. Is there a way to put an end to all those complaints?

One way to short-circuit the critical client cycle is by upgrading your web design invoice process. A well-designed invoice helps clients understand exactly what work you performed and how it’s been valued within the larger project. And, even more importantly, this invoice style can help you stop undercutting yourself as a designer.

Drop The Billable Hour

For years, web designers billed clients based on the number of hours it took to build the website – and now it’s time to stop. Billing by the hour is a poor strategy for all parties because it makes it hard for clients to understand the labor involved, discourages designers from learning new, more efficient strategies, and because it firmly caps your income. Billing by the hour, rather than by the task, also tends to make customers feel entitled to micromanage the process and that slows everyone down and makes the design process more frustrating.

Always Itemize

When you ditch the billable hour, you’ll have to find an alternative, and that’s where itemizing enters the picture. Each web design invoice should include a line-by-line breakdown of services performed and a price for each task. This approach not only helps customers see the many moving parts that exist behind the final website, but it also makes it easier for you to indicate added expenses like licensing art or paying for a hosting platform.

Conquering Creep

Web design projects have a bad habit of growing continually as customers request revisions and additions, a process designers refer to as scope creep. Clients are especially prone to making added demands when they’re paying by the hour because they can’t imagine how long it takes to accomplish each given task. Now that you’re not billing by the hour, though, you have more control over the pricing for those add-ons, and you can make the growing scope work to your financial advantage.

In addition to making scope creep more profitable, changing how you invoice also tends to reduce the likelihood it will happen at all. Under an itemized billing process, clients have a clear sense of the design project’s scope and are less prone to requesting those add-ons. And when they do, you get to tell them the price point first, rather than just tacking it on to your hourly formula.

The Fine Print

Finally, though this information should also be in your initial contract, use your contract to underscore important information about your portfolio and design products. Every web designer needs a great portfolio, and the only way to build that portfolio is by retaining display rights to your work. State this on every invoice.

Another piece of information you should include on your invoice is the fact that you retain rights to unused sketches and that any design tools created for the project are licensed to the client – but that they are still yours. In other words, design tools incorporated into deliverables may show up elsewhere in your work in the future. Many clients don’t understand the practice of recycling components of final deliverables even though it’s standard in the design field.

Arguing with clients over a completed project or answering countless questions as they micromanage your time during the design process isn’t the best use of your time – and the billable hour isn’t the best use of your skills. Embrace an enhanced form of the invoice and put those days behind you. You’ll see fewer disputes and greater potential for growth.

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