The Freelance Creative

Ask A Freelancer: How Do I Deal With a Client Piling on Extra Work?

I write a weekly column for a social media marketing firm through an agency. The assignment originally did not include images, and neither does my contract, but the client has been pressuring the agency (and therefore my editor has been pressuring me) to obtain images for each post. The indemnification clause in my contract makes me legally liable for any images I use, so I’m hesitant to just rip off photos I find online. I’ve repeatedly asked about using stock images but have received no response. Every once in a while, I’ll find usable free stock photos, but usually with free images, you get what you pay for. Since my client is being unreasonable, and my editor/agency won’t go to bat for me, what recourse do I have?

—Frustrated Freelancer

You are asking three questions here, two of which can be answered very quickly:

1. Indemnification clause or not, don’t use copyrighted images without getting permission. It looks like we’re both in agreement here.

2. There’s actually a lot of good stuff on Creative Commons, and a good chunk of the freelance writing world runs off the images they find on Flickr CC BY 2.0. Don’t assume all CC photos are bad. It might take a little time and brainstorming, but I find great CC images every day.

3. And now for the tricky part, handling scope creep. When a client piles on extra work without offering compensation, diffusing an awkward situation calls for a very delicate balance.

As you know, finding images takes time. I often spend 20 minutes searching Flickr for that one fantastic photo. That time deserves compensation; you can’t just absorb it as the cost of doing business.

If your contract does not state you are responsible for sourcing images, then legally, the issue should end there—but we both know it’s a bit more complicated than that. You want to keep your client, earn money, and build a reputation as a freelancer who’s always willing to go the extra mile.

I say it’s time to change that reputation.

You need to talk to the copy agency. The agency is your client, and the marketing firm is their client. It’s their responsibility to make the marketing firm happy, and they have a huge incentive to do so, as they’re no doubt making a profit every time you turn in your column.

Your first course of action should be to ask for compensation. Sometimes, simply asking for something reasonable can lead to an easy solution for everyone involved, as long as you don’t send that passive-aggressive email full of thinly veiled insults.

If that option doesn’t work, the copy agency will probably slip into corporate-speak and essentially tell you tough luck. This scenario epitomizes the power struggle of being a freelancer. On one hand, it’s possible the agency will take you off the project and assign a different writer who is happy to go the extra mile. Losing work hurts, but it can actually be a win in the long-run if it frees you up to find a client who respects your contract.

It’s also possible you don’t get fired but don’t get paid extra either. The client, who values your work and wants to keep the client happy, can always shift the image responsibilities to someone else.

If that happens, it means you have a new reputation. You are no longer the freelancer who is willing to do extra work at your own expense. Your contract is more than just a piece of paper. And your work is important enough that your client wants to make you happy just as much as you want to make your client happy.

Nicole Dieker wants to make her advice-seekers happy. Please send your freelance advice questions to

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