When the Client Ruins Your Work–What Would You Do?


As I wrapped up the web copywriting job, I was pleased with the results. The copy was punchy, yet to the point. It was perfectly geared to the target audience. And it was persuasive and well organized.

In short, it was some of the best writing I had ever done. I just knew that the client would get lots of results.

Except…the client never used the copy I wrote. Not really, anyway.

When I went to see the website, I noticed that the copy the client actually used was completely different. Sure, they had used a phrase of mine here and there, but the power of the words was completely lost.

If you’re a freelancer whose work has been changed by a client, you’re not alone. Sooner or later, it happens to nearly every freelancer, regardless of their field.

Changed work can leave a freelancer feeling like he or she failed. It can also make it difficult to build up a portfolio you are proud of. After all, you don’t want to add in work that really doesn’t represent your best effort.

In this post, I’ll discuss this common freelancing problem and then open the comments up for your feedback. If you enjoyed in this post, you may also like What to Do When the Client Is Wrong.

The Sad Truth

The sad truth about changed work is that there’s often nothing you can do. If the client has paid you in full and especially if the contract gives them the right to use the work as they see fit, you may have to resign yourself to the client’s changes.

Of course, if you have a good relationship with the client, you can ask about the changes. In my case, the client told me that the copy that I wrote just didn’t “feel right.” In fact, he had added a lot of the things that he told me he didn’t like about his original copy right back into the new copy.

A lot of client satisfaction is subjective. Despite the fact that you may have years of professional experience and training, the client is the one who is paying the money. This often means the client’s opinion is the one that wins out in the end. That’s not always a bad thing, either.

In many cases, there’s not much you can do. Try not to take the situation too personally. You probably won’t end up using this project in your portfolio, but know that you probably did nothing wrong. If the changes are too bad and you have a byline, you may quietly ask that your name be taken off the end result.

When You Must Speak Up

Of course, there are times when a client changes your work and you absolutely must speak up. Here are some of those times:

  • You’re a web developer and the client’s changes have broken the site.
  • The client’s changes introduce an illegal or immoral element into the project.
  • You’re a journalist and the client’s changes distort the truth.
  • The client uses the changes as an excuse not to pay you (even when you met the scope).

If one of those situations fits, you must speak up and make your client aware of the risks that they face. There’s no guarantee that they’ll change the work back, but at least they’ll have been warned.

There’s often nothing you can do about a client changing work after you’ve turned it in, but there are a few preventative measures you can take.

Preventative Measures

You can eliminate some client changes by taking preventative measures. Here are two such measures.

  1. Get a detailed scope. A lot of client changes happen because of miscommunication. Make sure that the scope you include in your contract is thorough. Ask questions if there’s anything you don’t understand.
  2. Sell the finished project. When you turn in your finished work, don’t just say, “here it is.” Instead, explain the strengths of what you did and why you did it.

These preventative measures won’t guarantee that your client won’t change your work. But they can reduce the probability of changes.

Your Turn

What would you do if a client ruined your finished work? Or, perhaps a client has already made major changes to your finished work. Either way, share your thoughts in the comments.