Work without a contract? How does that work?

over 5 years ago from

A couple years back I read about a freelancer (90% sure it was a designer) who would tell clients to pay him whatever they thought the work was worth, and apparently over time that became a good strategy for him — he ended up getting more clients that valued his work and people usually paid as much if not more than the market rate.

Do you know of similar experiences? If so how do you best explain this to your clients?

If you know the article or the designer, can you please reply with the info?

Thank you!


  • Marcel van Werkhoven, over 5 years ago

    You can only do this if you a wide variety of references and with certain clients. If you give a speech to say a big banking firm and ask them: "What was this worth to you?" after you've visited their competitor. They will cough up a huge sum not to look cheap.

    If you tell the local restaurant: "How much are you willing to pay?" they will say $1 for the effort.

    I tried this once with a pitch because we had spend a lot of unpaid time preparing an excellent concept. They asked us for a quote on our concept and the full project. I told them, if you pick us for the full project, the concept comes free. If you don't want to go ahead with us, you can decide the price of the concept based on what you think it is worth. They didn't understand this at all, were offended that we would ask money for 'just' a concept while still in negotiation. When things settled down I explained to them that really any price would've been OK. They could have brought some beers to our office to make our designers feel appreciated for their work. Alas, in the end we got 0.

    So unless you are famous or in high-demand at top companies I wouldn't risk it. I would pursue value based pricing instead. I've been implementing that and it works like a charm and beats charging by the hour any day of the week.

    6 points
    • , over 5 years ago

      Thank you for sharing Marcel!

      It does seem risky indeed since some people may not pay.

      I'm wondering if it could still work with the alternative; for example, some clients do pay you fairly and that relationship grows along with getting referrals to similar clients.

      0 points
  • Matt C, over 5 years ago

    I stopped working with contracts several years ago. If the client provides one and insists I'll read it over and likely sign it, but if they don't then I don't bother with it.

    I just don't do free work (aside from what goes into a proposal). I ask for 30% up front, then I do 30% of the work. Then I ask for another 30%, then I do another 30% of the work.

    I've never had a small business or something put on the brakes because I don't have a contract. Large tech companies and agencies have had me sign stuff, but they've got that shit ready to go.

    3 points
    • , over 5 years ago

      Thank you for sharing Matt! I like your approach — it seems flexible and reasonably risk averse.

      0 points
  • Ivo ArzentonIvo Arzenton, over 5 years ago

    The freelance name you are looking for is Erfan Talimi (i guess the website is this one: www.talimi.de). The article is in Novum Magazine, issue: September 2010. I have a copy of the magazine if needed.

    1 point
  • Gavin JonesGavin Jones, over 5 years ago

    I don't work with contracts anymore for project billings..instead the payment milestones are frequent, and are presented clearly during the bidding process. If a client breaches the agreement mid-project, then work stops. If a contract were in place, we would reach the same outcome...only with allot more overheads dealing with legal.

    Other contracts are signed, i.e. confidentiality agreements, ownership of code, right to display etc...but those are generally boilerplate agreements not requiring very much back-and-forth.

    A contract's only worthwhile if you have intention to enforce, and frankly, I'm not going to take someone to court over lost-earnings for work I haven't executed.

    0 points
  • Tiago FrancoTiago Franco, over 5 years ago

    That strategy but they pay in advance, before the kick-off meeting. Make it work, and you will be the most brilliant business man in the world.

    0 points
  • Molly Lavigne, over 5 years ago

    For sure it's better to work with contract, especially if you're a good designer. Moreover a good web design company will help you to improve your skills even more. Here's a story of one web designer http://www.internetadvertisingcompany.us/2018/04/06/how-to-improve-the-designer-and-how-the-agency-helped-me/ where he tells how he started to work in agency and how it helped him further. Maybe it'll be interesting to you.

    0 points
  • Sjors TimmerSjors Timmer, over 5 years ago

    I remember a different variation; wherein the designer requests to be paid as a percentage of the additional revenue generated after the redesign.

    0 points
    • Marcel van Werkhoven, over 5 years ago

      The risk with this is that some clients will mess it up even with a good design. It's not worth the risk in most cases I think. I remember cases when we worked our asses off including holidays to build something amazing. Only to watch our client botch up every marketing effort.

      It ultimately depends on how much risk you want to take on.

      Furthermore working without a contract also allows your client to walk away at any given time with everything you've created. They could walk a day before delivery even if you've already given them 99% of your work and not pay a single dime.

      1 point