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Kill Fees & Deposits Protect You When Writing Clients Change Their Minds

Hi Anne,

Over the weekend I spent about three hours working on an article for a local client of a business where I am also a customer.  I asked for a decent rate which was accepted and things were rolling along good until my last e-mail from them.

They went from liking the article to not being excited about it at all and finally decided they didn’t want it after all.

The mistake I made was not having an agreement in place for a kill fee. I feel I wasted 3 hours of my work time.

In an instance like this, I am wondering what a typical kill fee should be?


William (Dann) Alexander, Frogsong Productions, www.dannalexander.wordpress.com

Hi Dann,

Interesting thought – including a kill fee in a contract with a business client. I associate a kill fee more with assignments from the better magazines and newspapers, but as you describe the situation the client changed their mind so a kill fee might have been appropriate. 

Allena Tapia over at About.com agrees in her post, What Is A Kill Fee? Her example uses 25 percent of the original amount as the negotiated fee – negotiated in advance. So it should, as you indicate, become part of the original contract.

The approach I use with clients is to take a non-refundable deposit before I start to work, although I’ll admit to not doing that when single articles are involved. I generally charge between a quarter and a half up front.

I think asking for a deposit might be easier in the business world only because they understand that concept. Explaining kill fee might confuse the issue.

The other thing I like about a deposit is I have the money in hand. If the project goes south I have been paid something and don’t have to try to collect a fee from the by then probably disgruntled client.

How do you protect yourself with clients?

If you’ve got a question about freelance writing email it to me with Q&A in the subject line.




{ 18 comments… add one }
  • I always ask for a deposit for bigger projects— a series of blogs or guest posts, or an ebook. In fact, the ebook that I am working on now, we agreed on 25% upfront, 25% at rough draft, 25% when resubmitted to me for revisions, and the final 25% at completion. I like periodic payments–they keep the bills paid and me on task:)
    Denise Gabbard recently posted..Thoughtful Thursday: Put Money in the Bank this Week!My Profile

  • Non-refundable 50 percent deposit with the signed contract for new clients. I’m just not taking chances.
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Interviews Part Two: Asking for the InterviewMy Profile

  • One issue with a deposit: how quickly do you get it? And do you wait to begin work until you get it?

    I do think it’s important to get money up front whenever feasible; it’s just that in my freelance writing field I work with very large corporations that have a difficult time getting a payment to me in less than three weeks.
    John Soares recently posted..2011 Social Media Statistics and Your Plans for 2012My Profile

    • Good point, John. I rarely work for corporations, mostly individuals or small companies so there isn’t the goat dance getting payment to me that you face. Isn’t it amazing it takes them that long?

      • The bigger the corporation, the farther the request has to go. The company I work for is based in Sweden. Its American division, which my company belongs to, is in CT and by the time you submit stuff and get approvals, etc. back, it can easily take a couple of weeks. People are always in meetings. It’s ridiculous.

        I see it like a great big truck engine that turns over veeeerrrrryyyy slooooooowwwwwllyyyyy.

  • This is definitely good wisdom, Anne.

    When I used to write for new clients, I did require a deposit of 50% or $50 before any work was started.

    I truly don’t like the sound of the phrase “kill fee” and would not want to have to explain that. I agree with you there.

    ~Donna Marie
    Donna Marie Johnson recently posted..Book Review and Book Club – One Woman Can Make A Difference ‘On Her Own Ground’My Profile

    • Yes, 50% on smaller projects – maybe 25% on books and some sort of a minimum regardless makes a whole lot of sense.

  • I charge a quarter to a third up front to get the project started. That way, I’ve at least been paid for my intellectual time–research, interviews, etc. Also, I’ve toyed with a clause that says something like “use of any part of copy constitutes acceptance of material and is subject to payment.” I’m still working on that part. Don’t want it to sound like if they *don’t* use it, they don’t have to pay.
    Carrie Schmeck recently posted..New Year Day 3. Looking back. Looking forward.My Profile

    • Interesting thought, Carrie. Let us know when you get it worked out.

    • JC

      Maybe I’ll add a specific kill fee in the future, but I rarely get clients who just say, “Forget it, I don’t want the content anymore,” and then honestly never use it. I feel my nonrefundable deposit clause is good enough to act as a kill fee for now. Especially since I require 50% upfront, unless it’s a single article or single whatever – I require 25% upfront for those. It might seem a trivial amount, but its a great way to determine if the client is serious. I find that clients who balk at paying such a small amount upfront are probably not serious, and not worth the time.

      @Carrie: The clause you speak of is one I learned to add by default the hard way. I have been in numerous situations where a clients use articles after rejecting them completely. For instance, one client ordered 20 articles for use on a specific website/blog. The client rejected them because he “wasn’t interested in this specific website topic anymore.”

      He refused to pay for them (he already paid the 50% deposit, so I figured, OK, at least I got something), but within a week of rejecting them, I found the same content posted to a different blog verbatim. I suppose he thought that because the content appeared on a different blog I contracted to write for that it was OK… It wasn’t, and he didn’t get away with it. I was eventually paid in full and for that, I consider myself lucky.

      I think that if a client is so unhappy that they reject the work entirely, without a chance for revisions or otherwise renegotiate what the client wants, why then would they go ahead and use it verbatim? After this client and three others did the same thing, I learned and added a permanent clause in all my contracts that if a client uses of any part of any copy I wrote FOR ANY REASON constitutes acceptance of that copy, despite any verbal or written rejections, and requires payment in full, period. In my experience, it’s a matter of how the clause is worded so that, as you say Carrie, clients don’t think that if they don’t use it, its free.

      • JC, I’ve actually been known to charge enough deposit so I won’t feel ripped off if the project doesn’t go to completion….

  • ella

    This is a great point, i think that 25% is very fair. I never thought about a kill fee before.
    ella recently posted..2012 Winter Antiques ShowMy Profile

  • I think *something* is needed when you’re working with someone that you’ve never worked with as a client before. But as you stated, explaining the kill fee to them and then getting that money from someone who definitely doesn’t want to pay it might just end up making matters worse. I agree that a non-refundable deposit on the work is definitely the way to go, especially if there is some kind of work agreement or contract in place that a deposit could be easily written into. Great advice!
    Krysha Thayer recently posted..How to Build a Website for Freelancers – Part 2My Profile

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