What to say (and do) when...the client wants the deposit back

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It happens to everyone at some point, usually early in your self employed career, but sometimes later on too...

You deliver what you promised to a client who showed no red flags throughout your qualifying process.

But then suddenly, this person transforms from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde and decides that what you've done isn't working and they want out -- and their deposit back! 

What should you say and do? 

This happened to a few clients recently so here's some of what we all learned in the process.

In each, there was no possibility of salvaging the project and providing the client something they would accept. So here was my advice:

  • Don’t be pushed around. The client in one situation insisted that the designer decide what to do by day's end. I advised her not to agree that on principle. "He's not the boss -- you are." She responded with, "Sorry you're not happy but I need some time to think about next steps."
  • Send your contract. In the meantime, remind them of your agreement. You can say, "Here’s what we agreed to. You'll see that the deposit is non-refundable."
  • Sleep on it. Don't ever make decisions at the height of emotion or under stress. 
  • Talk to a lawyer and put everything in writing from there on out. In this situation, the lawyer advised not to refund the money. The message with the contract reminder worked -- she hasn't heard from them since!

    Biggest lesson: You can’t please everyone.

    But you can (and should) protect yourself. If you haven't already, read my most popular blog post by far, "I will not start a project without an agreement."

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