The Problem

You have just put the finishing touches on a web project for a new client. The site goes live and you get paid. Two weeks later, the client is asking for changes. You budgeted well for the project, so you take care of the quick changes at no charge.

The change requests keep coming, so you try to approach the subject of a maintenance contract. At that point, you don’t hear from the client again for a while.

A few months go by, you receive an email from someone else at the company. “Hi, I’m Steve. Bob has left the company and I’ve taken over where he left off with the website. Would you mind making a few changes if I email them over?”

It ends up that Bob became bored with the job because the company didn’t have a marketing budget. They were able to allot the funds to design and develop a website, but didn’t consider the maintenance costs that would be required to maintain the site.

Your client then pops in with an email every few weeks, trying to squeeze in a few changes under the billing radar (for free). You mention the maintenance contract again, only to silence your client for another few weeks.

Eventually, you just don’t hear from your client anymore. You’re left with a dormant website on your server, struggling to collect monthly hosting fees.


I have a small but amazing book of clients. They’re all very prolific on the web, understand the value of a web presence and actually see ROI that comes from it.

It’s the last one that makes for a good client. If your client can’t see any connection between their web presence and their bottom line, they won’t be as motivated to continue improving their web offerings.

So, yeah, I have awesome clients, now. It was not always that way. When I started out as a full-time freelancer about 8 years ago, I was doing what anyone would expect: taking any job or client that was interested.

To the contrary of what you might think, during the first 3 years of business, I produced 2 or 3 times more websites per year than I do now. But, these were one-off sites – clients who simply wanted a web presence – a URL for their business card.

As I eluded to before, 75% of these clients hadn’t a dime left in their budget after the launch of their website. Okay, so big deal, I launched a site and I got paid, right? Sure, I launched the site, got paid, but the months afterwards were not very profitable.

Clients would ask all sorts of questions that were last ditch efforts to squeeze a little bit more out of the original estimate I provided them:

  • Why isn’t my site on the first page of Google?
  • Can you update the home page to make it look more “fresh”?
  • I know you already trained me, but would you mind training one of my employees on how to use the CMS?
  • I’m having trouble figuring out the CMS, can you just make this change for me?
  • Can you send out an email blast announcing our site?    (huh! to who?)

The list goes on, but you can see the pattern. The problem was two-fold:

  1. I wasn’t taking on the right kind of client.
  2. I wasn’t explaining the complete picture to my client.

It’s really the second point that got me into trouble. I only had myself to blame. My clients simply didn’t know what to expect. Most clients made one of the following assumptions after the job was complete:

  • The site would rise quickly in search engine rankings
  • The minimal hosting fee would cover any changes to the website
  • The CMS provided would give them complete control to make any change (template included)
  • They might need to update their website in a year or so, in which case they’ll hire me again to overhaul it.

The Solution

The solution was simple, but it took me time to arrive at it. I would build “maintenance hours” into the original website proposal. This had a dual purpose:

  1. Ensuring that I don’t get stuck making changes for free.
  2. Demonstrating to the client that any site maintenance takes time and costs money.


Post-Launch Site Maintenance/Updates   5 hours          $xxx.xx

With this method, each time I made a chance, I was able to report back to my client how much time was left in their “website change” allotment.

This was a continual reminder that changes are tracked and billed, they’re not free. But, it also provided a means to cover the inevitable revisions that need to happen after a website gets some real user interaction.

Don’t waver on this. Your prospect might say, “We won’t need any maintenance, please remove that line item”. But it’s important to stick to your guns, and if your prospect insists that it isn’t necessary, respectfully withdraw your bid.

It seems extreme but if a prospect insists that maintenance will not be required on their website, you’re in for a world of pain!


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