Good Design Ain’t Cheap

May 17, 2021 | Business, Web Design

Can I tell you a quick story about the time I sent the collection agency after a client who tried to stiff me?

I’ve been in this industry long enough to realize that many people don’t value the work of website developers and graphic designers as much as they should. It’s not a physical item that they can hold in their hand, so they undervalue the work. I’ve been offered a couple hundred dollars to build an e-commerce website, but I’ve also been offered “exposure” in exchange for my time and effort. If you’re shopping for a website developer, please don’t ever offer them “exposure”. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

But I digress. I once had a client who tried to back out of our agreement by using a bunch of creative excuses. This client signed an agreement with me that carefully detailed my obligations to him, as well as the payment terms and what he was responsible for. Long story short, there were specific days in which he was to pay me money for the work I did, as well as processes in place for changes, modifications, etc. A lawyer looked over the agreement; it was iron-clad. Most important thing to remember as a designer: Always, always, always get your client to sign your agreement.

My client signed this agreement and paid the deposit. We had discussed the scope of the work, how he wanted the website to look and the process involved in creating it. It was a fluid process in which I would design and he would offer thoughts to ensure I captured exactly what he wished his website to be. Sounds pretty straight forward, right?


Client received the beta version of the website, along with a list of things I needed from him – including any changes/edits. He loved the initial work and would provide me some input within the next few days. A few days came and went… nothing. A gentle reminder was sent, noting that the second phase invoice would be sent the next day. I received an email back to let me know he was still working on changes. An hour or so later, I received another message that he wanted to terminate the project completely.

Friends, this is where your agreement comes into play. I referenced the section that stated he was responsible to pay the entire amount. He was surprised, but then asked if we could simply continue the agreement as originally stated. Sure thing, I said.

A couple days went by, and I sent another gentle prod. A text came back to tell me he wasn’t paying the amount owing. I referenced the agreement again, to no avail.

At this point in time, my client was overdue on payment and per the agreement signed, I was well within my rights to fast track the collections process. So I called up a collection agency and gave the file to them. It was at this point where I learned my client had actually hired a new designer who undercut my price and offered the client a screaming good deal.

I would like to mention right now, that cheap design is never good design. A website for $400 may seem like a steal and in this particular case, it was most definitely that – the web designer used a program to mirror another website and steal their images and source code. I discovered this by checking the source code of the secondary website my ex-client had. My investigation led me to find a handful of other websites created by this “designer” that had been stolen from other sources.

As an ethical person who has spent many years trying to succeed in this industry, I felt obligated to notify the website owners and designers that their code had been lifted and resold. I don’t know exactly what happened after the fact, but I can see each of the websites has been changed and the designer’s portfolio has been disabled. I’ve also been blocked from the designer’s social media.

Long story short, cheap design isn’t good and good design doesn’t come cheap. I ended up paying a collection agency to settle the debt my client owed me, and he ended up paying almost double what he actually owed me by hiring this other designer. In the end, the collection agency was only able to recoup about 50% of what was owed, but that’s 50% more than I expected to get.

If you’re in the market for a web developer or artist or anything “creative” with a digital result, please keep in mind that you’re actually paying for their experience. You’re paying for years of schooling, even more years of industry experience and their skill. You’re paying for their time as an expert in their field, as a business consultant and your advisor. You wouldn’t expect a surgeon to work for pennies, would you? Both a surgeon and a web developer work for years to perfect their skills, but you don’t hear about a patient trying to negotiate or walk away from a surgeon’s bill. Just because you can’t hold the finished product in your hand doesn’t render it worthless. When you really think about it, a well designed website is your single greatest strength as a business owner. Your website is a 24/7/365 employee that basically works for free without asking for vacation, benefits or other things a human employee would. A properly designed web presence can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for your business; please don’t try to stiff your designer when it comes to payment. That just makes you look bad and could end up costing you more in the long run.

Take it from me – screwing with your web designer is like being rude to your waiter. You don’t want them to spit in your food, do you?

Also, the look on that owl’s face? It’s the same one I give my computer screen when something questionable happens and I’m not sure if my cuss word vocabulary has a word to cover it.