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I'd really appreciate your advice on an ongoing project.

I presented my client with a proposal and design samples which he approved, and he paid in full instead of the 50% upfront deposit as I'd given him a generous discount. He was then slow in furnishing me with some of the content, but once we did, he expected the website to be finished immediately which was not possible. Because he needed it done urgently, we agreed to try to get it done about 10 working days after the content was provided, but the developer who was helping me let me down.

The next week, I completed the website myself and uploaded it to the server on a Friday afternoon. He then calls and texts me on following Sunday while I'm at church to say it's not online (there was probably a problem with his browser). The next morning, I received an email from him demanding a full refund within two days because he couldn't see the website (even though it was live, and I tested it on multiple browsers, a different computer and my phone), and he called me shouting at me because he couldn't access it. Finally when he was able to access it, he was unhappy with a certain detail regarding the slideshow which I began fixing and which was done the next day. He then referred me to another website and said he wanted it to look similar but not identical to it in terms of the layout. He also now wanted to add more features which were not in the original design.

I got a designer to work on a new design which I sent to him for review, which if approved would be completed by 15 October, and he approved it last Thursday. He then called me yesterday to say that he wanted to change the design - he only approved it out of impatience. He now wants the website to be more similar to the other website he referred me to and he wants it done before the 15th! Then, he says to me that other people have done websites for him in three days - website's he's complained to me about for lacking dimension because they were just premium themes, whereas we'd designed and coded from scratch.

I'm thinking of finishing the website but refunding him in full (or at least the refundable 50%) less domain registration and other non-refundable amounts, just to avoid further escalation of this matter and having him call me next week and say he wants to change it again.

These are the applicable terms and conditions as laid out in the agreement:

  1. Total amount due for this project is Amount A.
  2. Client shall pay Consultant a deposit of Amount B (50% of total amount due for project) in advance before any work commences on the Project.
  3. The balance is due within 7 working days of completion of project.
  4. Deposit is non-refundable.
  5. Should client opt to host elsewhere, applicable transferral fee of Amount C will apply.
  6. Estimated project completion time frame is 14 to 30 days from the date Client furnishes Consultant with Brief and all other required media and data, provided that Client has made payment to secure the project.
  7. Consultant will make every effort to meet agreed upon due dates. The Client should be aware that failure to submit required information or materials, or last minute changes and excessive changes may cause subsequent delays. Client delays could result in significant delays in delivery of finished work.
  8. Major changes in client input or direction or brief will be charged at normal rates.
  9. Any work the Client wishes Consultant to create, which is not specified in the attached Proposal will be considered an additional service.
  10. Client agrees to pay Consultant for any additional expenses or additional services not included in the attached quotation and proposal if requested by the Client.
  11. Web design credit in the name of the Consultant, and link to Consultant’s website shall be placed on the footer of the final Website.
  12. Either party may terminate this Agreement by giving 7 days written notice to the other of such termination.
  13. In the event that Work is postponed or terminated at the request of the Client, Consultant shall have the right to bill pro rata at full rates for work completed through the date of that request, while reserving all rights under this Agreement.
  14. If additional payment is due, this shall be payable within seven days of the Client's written notification to stop work. In the event of termination, the Client shall also pay any expenses incurred by Consultant and the Consultant shall own all rights to the Work.

Advice please?

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closed as too localized by Graham Lee, AProgrammer, BЈовић, maple_shaft Oct 8 '12 at 11:43

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One possibility is that he's just playing you for free work or even a free web site. You could fold, call his bluff, flip a coin for a game theoretic option, or have your lawyer do any of those for you. –  hotpaw2 Oct 8 '12 at 7:22
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The proper response to a borderline-abusive customer is to overcharge, not to give him his money back. (If you decide he has gone over the border, the proper response is to DUMP him and not give his money back.) –  mjfgates Oct 8 '12 at 7:28
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4 Answers 4

Do you have a written (e-mails etc) record of his prior approval of previous designs? If so and he keeps changing the agreed spec (and you do not mention that he is paying for these changes, section 8) and is being abusive and unreasonable, I would invoke section 12 of the contract and terminate it entirely, taking your work with you.

If you want as a gesture, refund him the money and supply him with the domain registration details etc.

Also take this as a learning experience about having reliable developers and taking full payment upfront.

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Hi Amy. Thanks for your reply. My developer is usually reliable, he just messed up this time. Yes, I have emails and recorded phone conversations documenting all which has transpired. He isn't paying as per section 8, because he keeps on bringing up the fact that it's late and there was the problem with the slideshow on the first design, and saying he gave me this project as a favour as if I owe him (not that I asked for any favours). I even offered to make a mobi version free of charge as a gesture to make up for missing the first deadline. –  Mahalia Samuels Oct 8 '12 at 6:54
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That's the thing though, 'a problem with the slideshow' is a bug that gets fixed and is not a showstopper, no project is ever 100% perfect the first time. That just sounds like an excuse on his part. I don't think you've done anything wrong here to be honest. –  sevenseacat Oct 8 '12 at 7:07
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@MahaliaSamuels by the sounds of things this client will never be happy. I'd say cut your losses and get out of the contract –  Amy Oct 8 '12 at 7:32
    
Hi Amy, yes but I've invested so much time in this, I'd at least like to walk away with a new addition to my portfolio. I will consult my lawyer though. –  Mahalia Samuels Oct 8 '12 at 7:48
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@MahaliaSamuels - I would present a bill for all the other work done and then give notice that no more work commences until payment is made. If no payment comes then walk away. There is no benefit to you to try to accomodate a jerk client. –  Michael Karas Oct 8 '12 at 7:57
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This is really, really a case for a lawyer. Should you refund your client? Not until your attorney told you so. By refunding your client, you might inadvertently admit that your work was not adequate, so your client might use that to claim damages for his work, for the lost business opportunity etc.

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That's a good point. –  Mahalia Samuels Oct 8 '12 at 7:36
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I would agree with this, if you feel you met the proposal and have done it within a reasonable amount of time considering client was slow with content then you have no reason to refund the client. Sounds like they are trying to rip you off. –  Joel Oct 8 '12 at 7:39
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Some clients end up being total jerks. There seems to be NO reason to refund. Your terms clearly laid out that you would charge him for changes. So present an additional bill for the extra work done and move on. He may not pay it but you do not have to give back original payment. All that said make sure you did deliver that which was originally agreed to. –  Michael Karas Oct 8 '12 at 7:52
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The lawyer said I needn't refund him. I've sent him an email saying I won't accept any further changes unless he pays for them as stipulated in the terms, and I've reminded him that all these changes contribute to the delays because he's quite frustrated by it but lays the blame squarely on my shoulders which isn't fair. –  Mahalia Samuels Oct 9 '12 at 11:31
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The problem here is him constantly changing his requirements. You can easily tell him in a nice manner that I can do this for you but it will cost you an x amount more. That will surely make him stop continuously changing his requirements and understand the development process better. You see if you don't do this people will take your work for-granted and try to misuse your service and you will eventually burn yourself out of your work. So keep it straight. There is no need for a refund as you have already worked for the amount payed and produced something which justifies the amount paid. I ran my own web development company for 2 years and so am aware of such clients.

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As long as you have used a strict policy on only recognizing specs which have been signed off on then I think you're legally fine. However it may be worth invoking section 12 as the job may be more trouble than it's worth. Personally I'd have built it to the original spec and then treat any modifications as separate independent jobs.

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