99% of the time, your follow-on work with clients goes off without a hitch: both parties walk away happy, perhaps already talking about the next project.

But it’s worth covering your bases for the other 1% of the time, so when snags or disagreements do arise, you’re able to promptly resolve them in a professional manner and prevent them from escalating into full-fledged disputes.

Take the following steps and precautions to structure your fees and set expectations when working on 1-to-1 projects; you won’t regret it.

Communicate on 99designs


The 1-to-1 projects platform is there to help you keep organized (photo by Theen Moy)

We created 1-to-1 projects as a place to collaborate with clients, exchange deliverables and payment all in one convenient location.

Having everything in one place like this makes record keeping wonderfully simple: if you or your client need to reference a prior agreement, like the due date for a deliverable, you only need to scroll up, rather than trying to remember which email thread or Skype conversation it was from.

Additionally, communicating on 99designs allows site admins to review correspondence, so in case there is ever a disagreement, we can weigh in.

Inventory all deliverables and corresponding fees


Outlining your project and itemizing your fee will spare you trouble down the road (photo by Jaypeg)

Nobody likes to be overly formal, but when it comes to freelancing, meticulousness is a virtue that cannot be understated.

For example, saying “I’ll make a landing page for you for $1000” may seem straightforward enough, but it is actually much better to itemize the job in a more detailed fashion. “$300 for the page structure, $100 for font selection and treatments, $250 for the hero illustration and $350 for icons” is much better: it leaves no questions about where the $1000 quote came from, and in case you can’t complete the job for some reason, it allows you to easily figure out how much you are owed for the deliverables you did provide.

Agree to a firm timeline

due dates

Make sure you and your client agree on deadlines before getting started (photo by Calsidyrose)

This is probably the number one reason clients back out of relationships with a designer — not because the designer’s skills are lacking, but because he or she is not delivering work at the speed the busy client requires.

So, after agreeing to an itemized set of deliverables, your next question should be “when do you need this done by?” You can even set your quote based on that: higher fees for quick turnarounds, lower fees for lengthier turnarounds. And be real: if you don’t have the capacity to do a quality job in the timeframe needed, respectfully decline the job.

Put a cap on drafts


If you don’t negotiate the number of drafts offered, you could find yourself doing more work than you bargained for (photo by Mark Van Laere)

A landing page for $1000 (for example) may seem like a pretty good opportunity, but if that page takes you 1,000 drafts because the client is detail-oriented, then it might not be such a profitable use of your time, after all.

The simple way to avoid this is to explicitly cap the number of drafts — say, at two or three after the basic wireframe is agreed upon. It can be a hard cap, if you have other projects and your time is stretched thin, or you can set an extra charge for further drafts after the cap is reached. Make sure this charge is itemized, too.

Set a payment structure


It is in your best interest to schedule payments at intervals throughout the project (photo by 401(k) 2012)

Most clients are trustworthy people and you don’t have to worry about them disappearing into thin air midway through a project. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to protect your interests and make sure you get paid.

Often on 99designs, designers will charge by the project. Many designers request as much as 50% of the fee up front as a sort of insurance policy, with the agreement that the client will pay the remaining 50% once the project is complete.

That method works great for relatively simple projects, but for more complex ones like our landing page example, you may want to break up payment even further. 25% up front for conceptual work and wireframing, 35% for drafts and 40% for the finished product could be one option. This also makes it less painful for either party to back out, in case the relationship just isn’t working.

Charging by component (structure, font, illustration, icons) could be another option. Heck, if your client were amenable to it, you could even break up payments for each of these sub-components! Of course, there is something to be said for keeping things (relatively) simple …

And charging by the hour. There are many ongoing projects where a designer will find it better suits their business to determine an hourly rate rather than a single rate for the entire project. It depends on the requirements of individual projects, the designer’s working style, or even a customer’s preference.

Keep in mind that 99designs highly recommends that regardless of the payment structure you choose, that designers utilize the pay and hold option. This means that payment is transferred to 99designs and we keep it safe until the client has confirmed satisfaction with the deliverables and opts to release it. This protects designers as well as clients: in case either party should for some reason disappear or break a written agreement, 99designs can help make sure that the funds are transferred to the deserving party. Granted, the pay and hold option is less critical when you are already dividing payment into several intervals, so if you already have a strong relationship with a client, you may ask if they are comfortable with paying you directly.

Be professional


Photo by ThinkPanama

This goes without saying, but it’s worth repeating: even if a client loses his or her cool for some reason, it is your job to keep yours. If you find you have a disagreement that you cannot work out between yourselves, just holler for a 99designs admin and, assuming you followed the previous five tokens of wisdom, we’ll see if we can’t help to smooth things over.

Do you have any advice about handling 1-to-1 client work? Please share in the comments!