Last week I heard from an old friend of mine, a fellow independent designer here in Atlanta. She’s been in graphics about as long as I have, and has spent many years freelancing, in addition to working for me as a contractor or employee a couple of times.

She had a question about a new client and project she was working on, basically building ad campaigns on various topics. Good gig: regular, fairly easy work, you can be creative, and hopefully, the client pays well. The question was routine: how do I convert Mac InDesign files to Windows Publisher format? There’s no direct conversion program for that task (that I know of), so it has to be done by re-creating the file in a new format. Tedious…

The problem: she has no PC and no software, although she was thinking of purchasing the program and running it.

Of course, the answer to this question is obvious: outsource the task!

I use a vendor in India for this type of work. They’re a large firm, with people on staff that specialize in Publisher, but also know InDesign. Very handy folks, at a cost of $5 per page. I’ve tried building ads in Publisher, however, since I don’t normally use the program or a PC, I’m very slow, and it takes me a while. Which is a complete waste of my time, even if I enjoyed the routine of a production task from time to time, which I don’t! So, out to India it goes.

Which is what I suggested to my friend. It would be an expense associated with the project, and therefore, billable. But since she forgot to include that detail in her proposal, she’ll have to re-negotiate with the client, who very well could balk. Ouch!

We’ve all done that, regardless of the industry. It’s very easy to leave out language in the agreement about billing for expenses. You’re trying to get the gig, and don’t want anything to get in the way. So you just assume it will all work out.

Except, with some clients, it doesn’t. And then YOU pay.

Protect yourself with some good expense-recovery clauses. You can get samples almost anywhere, but for graphic designers, there are three great sources:

Check the last estimate or quote you got from a good printer. Chances are they attached their terms and conditions, and it may have a useful expenses clause you can adapt.

Secondly, purchase the “Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines,” which contains great, great information. Every design professional should have this book in their library.

Or, more expensively, if you have a lawyer, ask him (or her) draw up a simple agreement. The expense of the attorney time will repay itself many times over for you.

Remember, it’s the small stuff — the details — that can rob you of profit.