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Having client difficulties? Protect yourself with an exit strategy clause

(ENTREPRENEUR) You want to keep around that one client that pays your bills but when they are difficult make sure you can run away from a gig gone wrong.

Client exit strategy

I am not a lawyer. Do not take legal advice from a news story.

BUT

Over at Hongkiat, Veronica Howes has a great piece about the rights that every designer should give themselves when it comes time to make a contract. It’s not just good advice for designers, though. Anyone at the mercy of the client revision deserves to know these tips.

Many of them are about making sure that the rights to your work are secured. That’s important! Work-for-hire has always been treacherous territory. But in the gig economy, when more people than ever are doing contract work, holding on to your intellectual property is important, if you can swing it.

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But just as important? Knowing when to walk away — and having the freedom to do so. Having an exit strategy is important to everyone who has ever had a bad client experience, trust us on this one.

There are plenty of reasons you might need to do this. Creative differences, a work environment you weren’t expecting, or even just an unreasonable number of revisions. Obviously, you never *want* to lose work, and you never want to leave a client unsatisfied. But sometimes walking away is better emotionally and financially than finishing the gig.

Writing in a “kill fee” can help you do this safely. A kill fee is a guarantee that you still receive some compensation for the work that you did, even if that work wasn’t completed. It’s an exit strategy. If you sink a year into a project for a client and then they decide to move in a different direction, the kill fee makes sure that you didn’t just waste a year of your life. It’s an important safety tool for anyone freelancing.

The standard phrasing to include in the contract is: “Termination. Either party may terminate the contract at any time through written request. The Company shall upon termination pay Consultant all unpaid amounts due for Services completed prior to notice of termination.”

And it is worth talking about the specifics of the kill fee. Some may charge for hours already worked regardless of who terminates the contract, others may choose to keep a retainer, and so forth. Think that through and include it in your contract.

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Now, let’s talk about revisions. Half the time, the reason you’d want an escape clause is that the work wasn’t scoped correctly in the first place. You need to be very clear about the expectations of the amount of work that’s going to go into a job.

Let’s say you quote someone a flat fee of $100 for a tiny project because you expect it to take you an hour or two. But suddenly, there are 12 people at the client’s office arguing over what the project should actually be, on a conceptual level, and you’re caught in the crossfire while they re-imagine the project you’ve already finished. The worst-case scenario here is that you’re stuck doing dozens of revisions, and with each minute you spend, your hourly rate just dwindles down to nothing.

Setting up an exit strategy with appropriate expectations ahead of time (in writing) can really save you here. Allot for one major revision of the work and some touch-ups, or maybe three rounds of revisions. Do whatever’s appropriate for your field and the scope of the work. But be sure that the expectations are clear, have it in writing, and be sure you’ve got that escape hatch at the ready if things go past it.

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Written By

Staff Writer, Garrett Steele is your friend. He writes lyrics, critique, and copy for ads, schools, health organizations, and more. He’s also a composer for film and video games, when he’s lucky. (One of his songs is an Xbox achievement!)

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