After four prototypes on a mailshot design, the client is now telling me that the project is going to be cancelled.

Because a lot of work was involved, I submitted an updated "cost estimate" (in this case the project was being made in a "project-value" kind of cost estimate).

Anyway, now the client is asking for parts of the project (very small bits), telling me that they are paying parts of the project so they're "entitled" to have some parts, and I am in the middle of an argument trying to explain that the new cost estimate is related to the work done and not the deliverables, I thought a canceled project means no deliverables, right?

So, what should I do?

A. tell them to pay for my work and nothing more (no deliverable handed)

B. send them those bits, very insignificant but still this goes against my point (my concern is that in their minds they feel they can use my work and unfortunately my contract isn't very specific for those cases because honestly in 15 years this is the first time this happens!) If I take this option, I will definitely tell them that they are forbidden to use any other material.

C. ?

  • Have you already sent them the comps? What is different from what you've sent them vs. what they are asking for (is it a matter of sending psd's vs. pdf)? Commented May 18, 2011 at 15:31
  • @Mark Phillips I have sent them previews in the form of PNGs, but now they are asking for one element isolated from the rest as a PNG also, very easy to do but hard to "swallow" knowing that it was canceled...
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 15:34

7 Answers 7


It sounds like you've already made up your mind :) So, here are a couple of after-thoughts on it.

Send them the bit of work they are asking for if you want to work with them again (and make sure the next contract is more specific).

If you don't want to work with them again, tell them that unfortunately, since the project is canceled that effectively means that your engagement on the project is over. But, that you'd be happy to work with them again in the future.

Be very professional and non-emotional about it. Don't take it personally. Chalk-it up to a learning experience.

  • Very good suggestions, and after reading all replies I will probably send them the element they asked for and make sure the next contract specifies the ownership. The "Don't take it personally" bit is very important and I thank you for that reminder, but as you know, even if the money envolved is very small, it's hard not to take it personally, or at least be upset, but hey, life goes on and hopefully I won't have another dose of this in the future :)
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 8:53

They are paying for your work. In my opinion, that means the result of this work is theirs. Of course, you have no obligation to finish something that is currently not, as they want to cancel the project, and are probably not ready to pay for more work. What's actually the problem with sending them what they are paying for?

  • The problem IMO is that if they cancelled it, what's the point in asking for elements? I know for sure that they are going to use them, and that means they are getting the work for a smaller fee.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 8:46
  • 1
    Nothing is unspoken, or at least I think I wrote the whole story. They commissioned a mailshot, and after four prototypes they decide they won't go for it, that's when they cancelled my work, in other words, rejected it, and that's why I don't understand how they can ask for parts of it since it was rejected. The big deal is that the project was a whole and not parts, and my new quote was related to the time I spent and not the deliverables. All or nothing sort of thing, but as mentioned on other comments, the conditions should state that in a better way.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 9:59
  • 1
    Oh, that's pretty different from what I got from your initial question. You made the complete job, they refused to validate it and to pay what the contract stipulates, and now, they would like to get the result for a discount price. Now I get your problem. If they refused your work, it's not good enough to them, so there is no reason they would like you to give it to them. If it's good enough to be used, it's good enough to be validated as such, and so, it's good enough to be paid! I feel your pain... Commented May 19, 2011 at 13:31
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    That's right, any of those four prototypes could (and can) be used. It all depends on their ethics. Your last comment is also good, but unfortunately as Mark Phillips suggested, if I do want to continue to work for that company (not for that department of the company, which was the first time I've done something for them) I have to hand it. My fear in refusing to hand the bit they asked is the repercussion on other departments in that company, as you know someone inside can distort the context and I will probably be out of more work, sadly I will have to swallow this one.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 14:16
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    @jmort253: Working for free is never a good thing when you are freelance. How can you ask money for something you made for free before? You're degrading your own value by doing so... Commented May 22, 2011 at 13:34

I'd have to agree with Traroth. I'm having a hard-time reconciling how you justify not giving them what they ask for. They paid you money, they're entitled to what you produced.

I t was their prerogative to start the project, and it's their prerogative to cancel it. If you accepted money from them, then you were doing so "in return for something". That something is theirs, working or not.

As for them asking for just a piece, if you're really that upset, then send them everything and let them separate out what they want. But for me, that's just bad business.

  • Thanks for you reply! the last suggestion would be lovely if I wanted to "screw" the client, but I won't do it.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 8:49
  • I think Trevor's suggestion is just fine. If you sort out what they need in the stuff you have already done, that means you are doing work you will not get paid for (sorting out). So either they pay you for doing it or just send them the whole package and let them manage it by themselves. If the bits they want to use are of any value for them, what's the problem with paying you the time you need to deal with it and deliver it properly? Why should you sacrifice your time without being paid? Commented May 19, 2011 at 9:26
  • At this point you can see that this client's intent is to get away with paying as little as possible and get the most of it. I am more or less stuck because unfortunately need money and can't afford to wrestle over this one. Burned now, will be carefull next time.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 14:20

Your contract should already spell this out. In a services-type project, it is explicitly indicated who owns the intellectual capital and product materials produced during the project. In many contracts, some of the material is owned by the seller and others by the buyer. Your contract should already state ownership. If it does not, it is too late and your only recourse is through arbitration, which is likely not in your best interest.

  • This argument is very spot on, but after reading my cost estimate (which contains the conditions), it reads that if the project is changed, the quote needs to be changed also, but to be fair, it doesn't really specify the ownership, I need to update it for future work, anyhow, this is a surprise, because in 15 years it's the first time this happens.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 8:48
  • My firm uses three categories simply labeled type A, B, and C. Under each, there is explicit language as to who owns the IC or product material, to whom and how a buyer can distribute it, license for use and reuse, price differential, etc. It falls somewhere within the T&Cs of the SOW and becomes contractually binding. Good luck with your approach moving forward. Commented May 19, 2011 at 12:46
  • Thanks for the extra input. It's sad that I really have to detail this sort of ownership, at least from now on I will be carefull to do so.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 13:05

I know this seems tricky to you, but it seems to me that if I've paid for the work, I get the results. You need to think bigger than just this project. If this is an ongoing client then they get a bit more than they've paid for usually.

I may be wrong but I'm hearing a bit of reaction in your question that looks like anger that the client has cancelled. If so, put that aside, the client has paid for something more than just your time. If deliverables are complete, my suggestion is to hand them over.

  • The "They pay, you deliver", IMO doesn't apply to this case, because my new quote was meant to pay for my time and not for the actual work, otherwise they should pay the full quote, I think this is logical, that's why I'm "angry", they are trying to get the deliverable (or parts of it) for a lower price with the excuse of a cancellation.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 21, 2011 at 17:20
  • @jack - Why would I want to pay you for nothing? Your time means nothing to me if there is no mutual benefit. You get paid, I get a deliverable. Again, as I asked before, what exactly are you losing by giving them what you've already done? What are you gaining by withholding the deliverables?
    – jmort253
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 0:10
  • @jmort253 the client seems to be trying to get the deliverables for a cheaper value, (of course the client wouldn't like to pay for nothing), if you want a comparison, it's like commissioning a painting, and in the middle of the work, the person that commissioned it doesn't like it, should the artist hand over the work done? I think not, but that's just me, I don't think it's ethical. At least if the client didn't cancel it I would understand and would probably hand over parts of the project, but that's not the case.
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 13:49
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    They're definitely getting what they paid for: A half-done project for half price. Are you really sure that they're out to get you? There may have been things that came up. Maybe they want the work you've done so far for historical reasons or for when business picks back up they can have something to start from. Think of it from their perspective: Maybe they just want something to show their boss so it doesn't look like a total loss. And of course, since it neither hurts nor benefits you, I don't understand why you don't just give it to them. Seems like you're being a bit vindictive.
    – jmort253
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 17:09
  • @jmort253 no, it's not that. They can keep the prototypes, and obviously show it to their boss. My problem is using them, if they do use them why not pay the full quote?
    – jackJoe
    Commented May 23, 2011 at 8:21

Legally, you own the rights to your own work, and, unless stated elsewhere, the client owns only the "use" of your work for a specific project.


What has your client paid for so far?

If I were in your position, I would give the client the deliverables for whatever work he has already paid for, in its current state.

If some of the project parts that he wants are completed but NOT paid for yet --> then I'd explain that we can give him those parts for whatever additional cost would cover the work already completed on those elements.

I'd further explain that these deliverables are incomplete, however, and he's going to receive them in their unfinished form, reflecting the work that had been done up until his final payment.

I think that's the cleanest way to handle it without arguing over nomenclature, semantics, understanding of project manager process terminology, and standards, etc.

My own opinion, having been on both sides of this argument before:

  • If I were your client, "cost-estimate" means an estimate for work not yet done. So I'd be upset if my contractor told me that he couldn't give me elements of work that I'd already paid for.
  • From your perspective, I understand sometimes it's not always that clean and clear, but that's a risk PM's need to mitigate when these issues come up. (And similar things have happened many times for me. I've had lots of clients who were capricious and employers who couldn't say 'no' to requests that seemed overly complex and absurd to me as a PM. So sometimes you just need to do the best you can given the situation. This sounds like one of those times.)

As a matter of principle though -- I think clients should be able to get whatever work they've actually paid for, even if it's incomplete, and the project was canceled. Sometimes projects get messy, but that's okay. There are no hard and fast rules in project management (no matter what anyone says), and I think giving the client what he's paid for--and nothing more or less--is the fairest way to handle this case for everyone involved.

Hope it all works out.

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