The Secret Garden Inn | Skillshare Projects

The Secret Garden Inn

I've been freelancing with my husband for about a year after having left a large agency. In general, it's gone fairly well. I have a fairly robust contract, I provide detailed estimates, invoice on time and always try to do the best I can in every aspect of the project. After watching these videos, it's clear I'm worth more than my $55/hour rate (and some clients have even been so kind as to point that out to me), but in general, things are great.

Thus far, things have only gone disastrously horrible one time, so I'm using this project as a jumping-off point to learn from this horrible shitshow. 

I met the client through his significant other, a freelance copywriter, who I had done a complete brand identity project for (logo, stationery, applications, website). At the meeting, the client told me about a mandate for an inn he currently runs in Cape Cod. He told me his budget was tight, but he'd like me to prepare an estimate. 

I prepared an estimate. I was pretty excited about the opportunity to work on a fairly creative project and quoted 1/3 of what I usually would have changed (mistake #1), so long as we agreed to keep revisions to a minimum and stick to the tight timeline he had given me. He approved & signed the contract.

During meeting #2, the client and his significant other came over to chat about the progress of the project, at which point they stated that the rate was now unaffordable, and that they could only do $500 and comp my husband and I a few nights free at the inn. I was peeved & reluctant to take him up on this offer, however, I was already quite proud and invested in what I had done and as a "finisher" and a perfectionist, I felt like I had a personal obligation to finish what I started. I agreed. 

By this point, we are beyond three rounds of revisions. The client would spend 3-5 hours at a time, backseat art directing me, asking me to move bullet points 3 pixels to the left. I'd never experienced a client that was so micromanagerial -- especially given how tight the timeline was... and now, the budget. As much as I tried to progress on the site, it was never enough. We were now up to 6 rounds of revisions and over 30 hours working on the project...and we were still on the brand identity portion. 

From there, the client went out of town, so we agreed that we would manage the project remotely via e-mail. He needed the print deliverables fairly quickly, so I agreed to provide them. We are now up to about 50 hours of work. Beyond that, the website took an additional 20 hours worth of work, plus four rounds of revisions. At 70 hours (almost triple what I had initially outlined as part of our agreement), I put my foot down and said additional changes will be billed at an hourly rate of $55/hour. He agreed that the website was good enough and that we should get it online upon his return. 

Though we refused to put the website online until we received payment, we uploaded the work to our own portfolio for the purposes of showcasing to other prospective clients. Immediately, it got featured on 20+ blogs and has been published in four design books. Needless to say, my husband and I were thrilled that our hard work wasn't going unnoticed. It felt nice and I thought it was going to be great that the client could see the benefit of a rebrand. 

After about 3-4 weeks, we tried to get in touch with the client casually. We reached out via e-mail and phone. The client had let me know that his mother had fallen ill, so I chalked it up to a health issue and gave the client the benefit of the doubt. Six months passed, and not one e-mail or phone call was received. 

On month 6, we realized something had to change. We called the inn, and politely asked to speak to the client (previously, we had been calling his personal number). The client seemed surprised that we were calling, but we were cordial, and simply stated that we wanted to get the website up and running as soon as possible, given what seemed to be an extremely tight timeline. Additionally, we wanted payment to be remitted. The client said he would be in town "at the end of the month," to which my husband responded that it was the end of the month. We invited the client to pay us via PayPal, Stripe or other online methods, but he said he preferred to see us in person. We arranged to meet in 3 days time. 

Needless to say, the client never showed up to our next meeting. We repeatedly tried to call & e-mail, and as per our intial agreement, we added interest for the overdue payment. Nothing seemed to work. The significant other than reached out to me and proceeded to give me a two hour lecture about how "this would serve as an invaluable lesson to me in business one day," and stated that I would never see my money and "sometimes, that's just how life works." I was hurt & confused -- I delivered a service and payment should be remitted for it. I pleaded with the significant other, "you're a freelancer, too -- you depend on your clients to pay you," but he just kept chalking it up to life experience and sometimes, life deals us a shitty hand. When I threatened legal action using a small claims court, the significant other laughed, "We're in the US and you're in Canada. You can't take legal action," he responded. Then... I was furious. Was this their plan all along? 

It's seven months later, and I've still yet to receive payment for the project. Quite honestly, the monetary amount (at this point) is so small that it's not even about the financial benefit -- it's about principle. 


  • How I can present the value & skillset I bring to the table to prospective & current clients
  • To stand firm in my rates & never reduce them
  • To write great proposals that close
  • To understand the value that my design & strategy expertise brings to a client


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