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A collection of anonymously contributed client horror stories from designers.
Updated: 38 weeks 2 days ago

I print photos. This client brought in and scanned an 4X6, and blew it up to 8X10. She paid and...

21 February 2017 - 3:20pm

I print photos. This client brought in and scanned an 4X6, and blew it up to 8X10. She paid and then left the store. Two minutes later, she came back.

Client: This picture cut off my husband’s arm! Are you kidding me?

Me: Well, 8X10 is a narrower dimension than 4X6.

Client: What?

Me: Well, 8X10 is bigger than 4X6, but in proportion it’s thinner. The edges are going to be cut off.

Client: So you’re just not going to fix it.

Me: Well, we can make the photo smaller so it fits on the print, but it will have blank space above and below it.

Client: What? I don’t want blank space.

Me: You can either have blank space, or accept that the cropping will change with the dimensions. Like when you see a movie in widescreen as opposed to standard. I’m afraid I can’t change that.

Client: [scoffs] Fine. I’ll just give my husband a photo where he has half an arm.

The cropping didn’t even look that bad, but as she started to leave she turned around suddenly and ran back to my counter.

Client: You know what? That doesn’t even make sense. 4x6 and 8x10 are both all even numbers. You just divide them all and they’re the same.

Me: No… that’s not actually how math works.

Client: I don’t understand why this is so hard for you. You’ll never stay in business if you keep doing this.

She ended up keeping the half-armed “monstrosity.” The place I work is still in business.


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

I was designing graphics for a TV show. The network edict was “clean and modern.” I was pretty proud...

21 February 2017 - 1:40pm

I was designing graphics for a TV show. The network edict was “clean and modern.” I was pretty proud of the style I had created. The person in charge of the show at my company came in.

Client: I have a great idea to add to our graphics! I saw it on Housewives of Beverly Hills.

She proceeds to pull out her phone and show me some sparkly graphical abomination.

Me: Um… I’m not sure the sparkly aesthetic would go with our clean and modern styling.

Client: Do you know how much I’m paid? My ideas are good!

A close friend referred me to one of his acquaintances, and told me that this acquaintance owned a...

20 February 2017 - 3:20pm

A close friend referred me to one of his acquaintances, and told me that this acquaintance owned a business and would like some kind of work done. He asked me if I’d look into it.

Me: Hi! I hear you might need some work done on your website, and I thought I would check to see exactly what you were looking for?

Client: Hi, yes, I would like to use your services.

Me:  Great! What’s the site you’re looking to update?

He sends me his website, and it was worse than I could have imagined. It would have been a perfect example of terrible web design in the early 90s. The Hawaiian version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” played the second that the site loaded and the website consisted of dozens of pages (most with links that went nowhere), each containing the same things: gaudy clashing colors, some .gif or background that flashed, TONS of text with columns of unrelated images, and a hierarchy of links that can only be described as a “choose your own adventure” link system.

Me:  Okay, great. Do you need something on your website changed? Or maybe you want a new website?

Client: My website works, but it’s a little outdated. Can you give me an estimate?

Me: Honestly, it would be faster and easier to build a new website than to update what you have. Before I give you an estimate, why don’t you let me know exactly what you need?

I sent him a brief survey asking if he needed a web store, if he needed to educate customers about his services, what demographic he was trying to reach, etc.

Client: I don’t understand.

Me: I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. What don’ you understand?

Client: Yes, I want everything, what is currently on my website, including the store. We should talk in-person. I can book you for two months from now.

I took another look at his site. It didn’t have a store. At this point, I didn’t know if I was insane or if he was.

Me: Okay, well, my best estimate for what you need is X dollars for a basic site, and XX dollars for a site with a webstore. Would that work for you?

Client: Great. My budget for the site is [150 less than my lowest estimate]. Could you send me some samples of your work?

Me:  I’m sorry, but there seems to be some confusion. Your budget is less than my estimate. If you’re happy with my estimate, I’d be glad to work with you, but your budget is lower than what I’d do the work for. Unless we can reach an agreement on this, I won’t work with you.

Client: Great. So you’ll do the web store for [my lowest estimate, sans webstore]?

Me: No.


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

Client: Can you do this project for me?Me: Absolutely. How would you like it to look?The client then...

20 February 2017 - 1:40pm

Client: Can you do this project for me?

Me: Absolutely. How would you like it to look?

The client then gives a completely general, abstract description that gives no clear expectations.

I deliver the work. 

Client: It’s okay, but I thought you’d know I wanted [insert laundry list of must-haves that were never mentioned].

Being alone and the life-changing ability to say no

20 February 2017 - 11:02am

Dealing with the isolation that comes with freelancing and the magnificent, life-changing power of saying no. 

Do you have a question of your own? Shoot us an email

Want to support the show? Leave us a review on iTunes!

Freelance FAQ: How do you deal with isolation when working from home?

It sucks. It really does. Getting over that hump takes a lot of work – useful, doable work – but work.

  • Have an immediate support system of friends you can spend non-work time with
  • Stop work immediately at a designated time (Kai’s is 4:30pm)
  • Only start work at a certain time (Kai’s is 9:30am)
  • Have 2-4 hobbies you’ve cultivated (I like road biking, hiking, weight lifting, and reading) so you can switch to something non-work if you have energy and it’s the evening
  • Track how you’re feeling. Even just in a journal or a journal app like Day1, track how you’re feeling with the isolation and working from home. Mostly negatives? Mostly positives?
  • If the isolation causes you issues – it very well may – then look into coworking spaces or sharing an office with an individual or a team to give you that social interaction.

Freelance FAQ: How do you say no?

  • Practice.
  • Realize that you saying no is not a rejection of the client’s idea, but you saying ‘there is a better way to do this.’
  • Be comfortable with the uncomfortableness of saying no. It gets easier over time.
  • Read ‘non-violent communication, a language of life.’
  • Realize that if you don’t say no, you’ll be doing a lot of extra work without compensation; you owe it to yourself to say no.

And if a client pushes back? Either they have a legitimate reason and information you don’t have (good!) or they’re incorrect and a bad client who you should fire.

– 

Questions? Episode ideas?

Talk to Clients From Hell or Bryce Bladon on Twitter. Or shoot us an email

Clients From Hell on iTunes | Soundcloud
Subscribe on iTunes | Android | RS


Download here!

DEAL: Universal design toolkit of 900+ elements – $7.50 (93% off)!

19 February 2017 - 3:20pm

This week’s deal is an incredible 93% savings on a HUMONGOUS collection of design elements. Normally sold for $115, you can save $107.50 and buy them all for only $7.50. 

The elements in this bundle are great for making warm and bright designs that your clients will love. Delivered in several formats for Illustrator and Photoshop, you’ll get brush strokes, vectors, patterns, textures and more that will help you create fun and unified designs. Ranging in style from Memphis to abstract, from Baroque to New wave, this collection has something for you

For a limited time, you can save 93% on this collection and pay only $7.50. That’s $115 worth of value for the price of two coffees!

> Check out the deal here!

A client came to me with a completed, and printed, design that he wasn’t happy with from another...

19 February 2017 - 1:40pm

A client came to me with a completed, and printed, design that he wasn’t happy with from another designer. 

Client: There’s too much white. I want less white.

Me: Okay, sure. Do you want me to fill it in with something?

Client: No, don’t add anything.

Me: Well, the only other thing I could do to get rid of the white is to cut it off.

Client: NO! I don’t want it cut off and I don’t want it covered up. I JUST WANT LESS WHITE.

I’ve been working with the client for years across multiple design and development projects. They...

18 February 2017 - 3:20pm

I’ve been working with the client for years across multiple design and development projects. They appreciate my work but always try to haggle with me over price. 

Me: I’m currently pitching a project to another client - would you mind if I used you as a reference?

Client: Sure. Knock 20% off the web estimate and I’ll tell them you guys are the second coming of Christ.

Client: I can’t pay you today. It’s the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, and it doesn’t seem...

18 February 2017 - 1:40pm

Client: I can’t pay you today. It’s the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, and it doesn’t seem appropriate.

They’ve had the invoice for over a month.

Client: Can I see what the site looks like yet?Me: You haven’t said what you wanted, or given me any...

17 February 2017 - 3:20pm

Client: Can I see what the site looks like yet?

Me: You haven’t said what you wanted, or given me any content yet.

Client: So no?

Me: Correct.

Client: We want to thoroughly document these processes so everyone can understand how to use the new...

17 February 2017 - 1:40pm

Client: We want to thoroughly document these processes so everyone can understand how to use the new online systems.

Me: That makes a lot of sense. I’ll send you an MS Word template so your team can work on the supplying content more quickly.

Client: We were thinking it would make more sense to use Adobe Captivate. It’s a really cool program and it’s got a lot of features we could use for our material. 

Me: I use Captivate quite frequently, and yes, it’s a great tool. However, we’ve established that we’re documenting basic processes, correct?

Client: Yes, but Word doesn’t provide the functionality we need. We want to put PDFs of this up on our internal website.

Me: Just so I understand what you’re requesting, let me repeat all of this back to you. Your team would like to create non-interactive, text-based lists in Captivate, publish the end result as a PDF, then upload those PDFs to a website. Is that correct?

Client: (Losing confidence in the plan) Yes…do you pay for Captivate licenses that we can use?

Me: Unfortunately not, that will have to be something your company will need to handle. If you’d like, I can show you how much they cost, and give you an estimate for the amount of people on your team who will need access.

Client: Well, why don’t we just use Word?

Me: That seems to be the most economical option. When do you want them?


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

Client: Hello, I have written a children’s book with an ecological focus and would love for you to...

16 February 2017 - 3:20pm

Client: Hello, I have written a children’s book with an ecological focus and would love for you to illustrate it.

Me: Neat, what is your schedule and how much have you budgeted for the illustrations?

Client: Well I’d like to have it printed in two months, but I can’t pay you unless the book sells. The grant I applied for the book only covered the writing. But the subject matter is important to you, isn’t it? Think of it as activism!

Client: I put these documents in the fax machine, but they didn’t come back out.Me: That’s the paper...

16 February 2017 - 1:40pm

Client: I put these documents in the fax machine, but they didn’t come back out.

Me: That’s the paper shredder.

Client: Oh! Can you set it to reverse? Those papers are very important.

I am a freelance character designer and concept artist. I did three character designs pro bono for a...

15 February 2017 - 3:20pm

I am a freelance character designer and concept artist. I did three character designs pro bono for a client, and they asked me to be the official character designer for their project.

Me: As much as I appreciate this opportunity, I’ll can’t accept it if I’m not being paid. It takes up a significant amount of time that I could be spending on paid work. If you want to set up a payment plan, I’d love to keep working with you.

Client: Oh, I don’t really have any money, but I really want you as the official artist and I don’t want to lose you. How about I give you more time between each design?

Me: Giving me more time to do the work doesn’t help at all. I really would need to insist on some kind of payment. 

Client: But I just don’t have money! You’re so good, why can’t you just keep making designs? I really don’t want to lose your artistic abilities!

Me: I’m sorry, you obviously don’t value my abilities as much as you say you do or else you’d be willing to pay for them.

I cut off all contact with this client, and almost a year later, they are still trying to contact me for work. I guess it’s nice to be wanted, but I’d rather be paid.

I just got an email, forwarded from out from our university’s art department no less, for...

15 February 2017 - 1:40pm

I just got an email, forwarded from out from our university’s art department no less, for “"Students in need of experience opportunities.” 

Client: Students in need of hours or experience opportunities; we are looking for photographers to cover an upcoming event. We can offer photo credit in any future marketing, and are happy to send copies for your portfolios, as well as admission tickets to the event. We have photographers on site for the event, but are lacking a creative eye to capture more candid moments, and better documentation of the overall experience.

If I’m reading that right, they’re not only bringing in students alongside a hired photographer (which I’m sure they’re thrilled about), but don’t think the photographer is even worth their salt. 

Suffice to say I declined, and I’m still wondering what the hell they’re thinking. 

I make costumes, props, and custom wigs for commission. I was working with a client who kept asking...

14 February 2017 - 3:20pm

I make costumes, props, and custom wigs for commission. I was working with a client who kept asking for change after change, all for free. Eventually I just did them because I wanted the project to be done.

When the costume was finished I asked how she wanted it shipped. She said USPS and I asked if she wanted signature confirmation to which she refused to pay for. I sent it flat rate priority it arrived to her, as told by the tracking info. 
A week later and I get a message:

Client: I never got the package.

I checked the tracking and it said it was delivered a few days before. 

Me: Tracking is showing that it arrived. Did you ask your postman? 

Client: No. 

Me: Well, ask your postman see if he recalls it. 

Client: Send me the original receipt for the shipping.

Me: I can’t do that, I need it for my tax records. Can I send you a copy?

Client: Well I’ve had 2 other packages go missing too so I need it. The original, not a copy. 

After some back and fourth I offered to file a missing package claim and checked in my own PO box (the return address) to make sure it wasn’t there (it wasn’t). I filed the claim and about a week later I got a letter in the mail that stated that it was denied because all of their information indicated it arrived at its destination.

I sent this information along to the client who was outraged.

Client: You have to file for an appeal. You have to go to your post office and fill out the form. You have to get this done today. 

Me: I will do that on Monday. It’s Saturday and the post office has already closed.

Client: No, today.

More back and fourth I went on Monday and filed for an appeal. 

Me: I filed the appeal. Maybe ask ask your local law enforcement if others in your neighborhood have reported missing/stolen packages?

Client: No I’m not asking that. Why would someone steal costumes?

Me: Because they don’t know what’s in the box and would steal it just in case it’s valuable? 

Client: Don’t be ridiculous. Have you heard from the post office yet?

Today I got another letter that stated my appeal was denied because according to the post man working that route that day he delivered the package. Again I sent this info to the client, I scanned all the documents for her records as well as mine.  

Client: You have to check your PO box. Now. It must be there. 

Me: It’s not. Look, it’s out of my hands. The post office says it’s been delivered, the postman himself swears he delivered it, and my contract states that once it’s been delivered to its destination its out of my hands and I claim no more responsibility.

She’s been sending me countless emails ever since. I have not, and will not provide a refund, though I did suggest that maybe she should invest in a PO Box.


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

I am a freelance editor. I typically work through freelance websites like oDesk. I had a prospective...

14 February 2017 - 1:40pm

I am a freelance editor. I typically work through freelance websites like oDesk. I had a prospective client who wanted his novel manuscript edited, but he didn’t provide much detail in the job post. The following ensued when he messaged me. 

Client: This isn’t even a first draft; it’s a “pre-draft”, so I need someone who can organize and then edit. The book is pretty raw, so I want to talk to you on Skype so I can explain better. I’ve written in a few different styles and I want you to read them all and help me choose what’s best. I also want you to give me your detailed opinions on the characters, plot, and whether the book could “make it”. 

Me: And what’s your budget for this project

Client: $200. 

Me: I’ve got to be honest, what you’re asking for the size of the work and the scope of the editing is going to run you at least $400. 

Client does not respond for 18 days

Client: How about $100 to do 60% of the work?

Me: You mean $100 to do 60% of the work I already said I wouldn’t do for $200?

Client: Yeah.

Me: I think your math is off, buddy. 


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

Unique snowflakes and specializing with a niche

14 February 2017 - 11:00am

How do you specialize with a niche? Why do you specialize with a niche? A third question!?

This and more on this episode of the Clients From Hell podcast. 

Do you have a question of your own? Shoot us an email

Want to support the show? Leave us a review on iTunes!

How do I find my niche?

This question was originally submitted for the ‘Feedback from the Inferno’ segment. However, it’s a common question, so we’ve elevated it to the Freelancer FAQ segment. 

I don’t have much experience freelancing and I’m confused how to sell my services – what makes me unique?

I’m an illustrator, I started freelancing straight out of university, and I’ve only had a handful of jobs in roughly two years – I think this is because I spent a lot of time not knowing what I wanted to do or even how to do it but I’m starting to find a bit more focus now. I’ve started pushing myself towards children’s illustration with the hopes of getting work in publishing, greetings cards, stationary – maybe even the games industry.

My issue is this – I have no idea what my niche is. I used to think narrowing my field was good enough, but I was just listening to your “how to find work as a freelancer” podcast, and you mentioned the need to tell a client why they need you, and why you can do the work in a unique way.

The thing is, I don’t know how I can complete the work in a way that another illustrator couldn’t also do. I don’t have an impressive client list under my belt, and I don’t have a particularly unique workflow or style. I simply don’t know what I could say to a client that would make me stand out.

- A no-niche freelancer

Everyone feels this way at a certain point – in life and in freelancing. Do not stress about being unsure about your uniqueness quite yet. You may not even have the practical experience necessary to really know yourself and what you’re about.

I think it would be worthwhile for you to try and get some practical experience at an agency. It offers on-the-job experience; it can refine your skills, and it can teach you a lot about dealing with clients. It can also tell you a lot about yourself, what you value, and what separates you from the pack.

But, if you already have a day job, or if freelancing as an illustrator is your exclusive interest, that’s fine too.

The first thing you should focus on is what Neil Gaiman identified as the three reasons someone will work with a freelancer. The best part is, you only need to deliver on two of them:

  • Quality work
  • Delivered promptly
  • Pleasant to work with

After you manage two out of three on that, then you can start to hone in on that niche.

The more work you do, the more you’ll appreciate what kind of work you enjoy – and what kind you despise. The more work you do, the more you’ll come to appreciate what makes you, as a professional, unique and compelling. It doesn’t just happen. It’s a long, slow, and heavily involved process that can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention.

I’m almost certain that the handful of clients you’ve had has resulted in an informative experience, if not a niche-defining one.

There are a few suggestions for finding that specific niche:

  • Reach out to potential clients and ask them questions (e.g. why did you hire that freelancer, how did you find them, what problems were you having, what results did you expect, etc.)
  • Do not try to pitch these clients while you’re researching
  • Time, effort, work, and a whole lot of reflection on your experiences
  • Go to a job board or freelancer site (e.g. upwork, fiverr) and look at what the highest paid freelancers claim as their unique selling proposition (USP)
  • Reach out to successful illustrators and ask them about their journey to where they are now. (e.g. what kind of clients did you end up focusing on? What made your offering compelling? What was the most common client pain point? Etc.)
  • Figure out what you’re good at. Ask your friends; give them an anonymous google doc to fill out if you want a lot of honest answers.

I’ll be honest: my niche has changed multiple time over the course of my career. It will almost certainly change again. I learned that I’m a flexible resource that completes work quickly, and I’m excellent at providing creative content. However, I’m not a huge fan of actually “selling” my work, nor did I always feel I had the chops to provide strategic consulting.

Having worked with clients of a few shapes, sizes, and industries, I figured I’d aim at smaller agencies that had issues with their copy (I looked at their website, job postings, etc.). A client taught me that most agencies of a certain size don’t have a staff writer (this is a pain point); they make due with somewhat-unreliable freelancers (another pain point) for this work.

I reached out directly to the CEO or head of hiring, showcased I did my research, and (POLITELY) brought these issues to their attention. I closed the letter by asking if I could chat with them for five minutes to get some advice regarding their industry. Almost every one said yes. People like being approached as experts, especially if you start by offering a little value first.

After taking these meetings, I ask my questions (see that point about researching your clients?). I close the meeting by thanking them for their time, and I state that, if they ever need help creating content, I was hungry for practical experience in the industry, and I’d even charge less than my usual rate. I also addressed those aforementioned pain points (e.g. I can come in a couple of times a week for in-person briefings and on-the-fly edits; I can commit x hours a week, so you’re always guaranteed a reliable resource, etc.)

Full disclosure: I don’t actually have a usual rate. I figured out what I wanted to make an hour and said it was half my usual rate.

TL;DR:

  • Get experience with as many clients as you can.
  • Reach out to clients and ask after their industry and why they hire freelancers
  • Research successful freelancers in your field The end goal: Figure out the client’s challenges, the solutions others offer, and what defines you as an individual.
  • You don’t need to re-invent the wheel with your offering; you just need to give it your own compelling spin.

– 

Questions? Episode ideas?

Talk to Clients From Hell or Bryce Bladon on Twitter. Or shoot us an email

Clients From Hell on iTunes | Soundcloud
Subscribe on iTunes | Android | RS


Download here!

I was asked to work on a “passion project” (free) fan film about a DC Comic Character. When I asked...

13 February 2017 - 3:20pm

I was asked to work on a “passion project” (free) fan film about a DC Comic Character. When I asked if that was legal, they assured me that it was as long as they didn’t make any money off of it.  The lead actor would be one of the Professors from the local community college. Since I wasn’t working on anything at the time, I agreed. 

I thought it would be fun.

We shot the entire film and had a good time. It came time for me to start on the Visual Effects. They were very cool about me working on them when I could since I was not getting paid.

I worked on them for a few days when I got a call to work on a paid film. I gladly accepted and left to work on this film for a few weeks.

I then get an email from the lead actor of the DC Passion Project.

Client: Hey, I was wondering if I could get any of those visual effects shots you’ve been working on for my acting reel.

Me: Hi there. The only shots I have done are ones that you’re not in yet. I haven’t gotten to yours yet since I am working a few weeks on a paid gig. I’ll get to them when I return, though.

Client: How could you be so unprofessional! That’s exactly the kind of excuse I would expect from a student! These are the big leagues! Get it together!

Me: I told you, I’m working on a paid gig. I’m not getting paid for your project and the director told me I could take my time on the shots. Plus, I’ve never been one of your students and never will be so don’t talk to me like I am. It’s very unprofessional for an actor to demand products from the artists. Why do you need Eefects shots for your acting reel anyways? You can’t even see your face in the shots.

Client: When you make a million dollar paycheck, THEN you can tell me what to do! You’re burning a big bridge here!

Me: If you’re making a million dollar paycheck, why are you teaching at a Community College and acting in Student films for free? I can’t just drop paid work to work on your demo reel.

I then received many emails full of cussing and swearing and threats.

I went to the director and told him about his actor’s behavior. The director said he’d talk to him. I told the director that I wouldn’t be finishing the project because of the actor.

The next day the Actor sent me more emails cussing and calling me a tattle-tale and I would never work in the industry again. He’d make sure of it. He then blocked me on Facebook. The project also received a Cease and Desist from DC Comics shortly after I quit.

To this day, I’ve worked on very high budget films and have moved on to huge companies. He’s still teaching at a community college, acting in Student Films.


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

I’m a Visual Effects Artist for movies and TV shows. I’ve been in the business for over 10 years and...

13 February 2017 - 1:40pm

I’m a Visual Effects Artist for movies and TV shows. I’ve been in the business for over 10 years and have worked on countless projects, large budget and low budget alike. 

An old professor emailed me about a shot he needed worked on. He sent a full-resolution video and was very clear about what he needed done, which was great. 

Me: Thanks! What’s the budget like on this film? I can negotiate a fair price for the shot.

Client: We have about $300 in our budget for Visual Effects.

Me: I can do that. I’ll work this shot up tonight and have you a proof tomorrow.

I work on the shot all night, doing a complex particle animation and composited everything into the shot. I rendered out a low-res and watermarked proof of the video and sent it back the next day.

Client: It looks great! Can you send me the full resolution shot with no watermark?

Me: I will as soon as I get payment from you. I can meet you somewhere for it.

Client: Well, we spent the Visual Effects budget last night on another department. So there’s no money left.

Me: Well, I’m sorry then I can’t deliver the final shot.

Client: But this movie will be big! You’ll get exposure! Don’t you want it on your demo reel? Everyone will see this movie.

Me: Sorry, I’ve already got exposure. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

He eventually got an animation student to do the shot for free but it was terribly done. Also, what kind of professor asks former students to work for free?


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?