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

A friend referred me to another “friend” of his who was looking to make a music video. I was...

3 February 2017 - 3:20pm

A friend referred me to another “friend” of his who was looking to make a music video. I was contacted by the client, he gave me very little information on the project and asked for my email. I gave him my email and a link to my portfolio so he could see my previous work. 

I didn’t hear from him again for six months, when he contacted me for another job. 

Client: I’m making a film. Would you do the camera work?

Me: I’m certainly interested. But I do need more information before I agree to anything.

Client: This should answer any questions you have.

He then sent me a broken link. 

 For the past few weeks I have been trying to get more information, or at least meet the cast and crew. Today he sent me a link to be added to his (unfunded) Indiegogo campaign for the project. 

Client: I’ll send you the money later tonight. Hopefully.Me: …? 

3 February 2017 - 1:40pm

Client: I’ll send you the money later tonight. Hopefully.

Me: …? 

About 15 years ago I was contracted to design a business card for a client. The front of the...

2 February 2017 - 3:20pm

About 15 years ago I was contracted to design a business card for a client. The front of the card was to be a full-sized image of him holding his briefcase. These were the early days of digital cameras and the picture he sent was not great quality. I asked for another photo but he said to go ahead with what I had so I created the card to his specs.

Client: Hey, the card looks great but I have a question. Is there a reason why my eyes are closed?

Me: Yes. There is.

Client: Oh really? Why is that now?

Me: Because when you took the picture, your eyes were closed.

 He hung up on me and never called me again. 


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

Client: I need some retouches on this design.Me: No problem! What did you need changed? Client:...

2 February 2017 - 1:40pm

Client: I need some retouches on this design.

Me: No problem! What did you need changed? 

Client: Just change the packaging and the colors and the text and the font and the layout.

Me: That’s not retouching, that’s a full redesign.

Client: Yeah, but “retouching” is a fancier word and this way you won’t charge me more.

Me: ….

Client: Okay, fine. I need a new design.

Charging clients and dealing with a client's deadbeat best friend

2 February 2017 - 11:01am

A freelancer wonders what to do after his best client’s best friend refuses to pay his invoice; Bryce offers advice for charging clients. 

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 should I charge my client?

The basic answer is, “if you want to earn X this year, you need to be making Y for every hour you work.”

  • My rule of thumb: Take what you want to earn in a year and drop the zeroes. If you want to earn $45,000 this year, you need to be earning, at least, $45 for every hour you spend on your business.
  • The logic behind this rule of thumb: There are about 2,000 billable hours in a year (40 hours a week x 50 weeks in a year – we’re losing two weeks for holidays). You cut those billable hours in half, because at least 25% of your time will go into business upkeep, and the other 25% will go into taxes, insurance, and retirement (which adds up to 50% of your time – half). Thus, take what you want to earn in a year (e.g. $60,000) and divide it by the 1000 billable hours (e.g. $60/hour). Remember, these are ballpark estimates, not fine-tuned figures.

Besides hourly, there are numerous ways to charge a client:

  • Daily
    • Can begin charging for value (not time) and you get to focus on one thing at a time
    • You can’t be flexible with your day; this billing rate doesn’t work with every situation
  • Weekly
    • More flexibility to charge for value and not time; it is very results orientated.
    • Weekly rates are more applicable to consultants and results-based work; the time investment for some weeks can wildly exceed a typical 40-hour workweek
  • Monthly
    • A monthly rate offers regular income that bolsters a long-term relationship with clients
    • It’s similar to being a full-time employee, with the pros and cons associated with that. Typically, you’ll have to charge more than a full-timer would and it can be difficult to communicate to a client why that is.
  • Per deliverable
    • This style of billing is directly tied to a product or result; your rate and time commitment are completely irrelevant.
    • Scope changes and negotiation are commonplace
  • Per project
    • Your billing purely by value; there’s less need for oversight and micromanagement regarding your day-to-day activities
    • However, there’s an immense amount of planning involved; if you miss something, you eat the cost.

You should know your hourly rate even if you do not intend to charge by the hour. Your hourly rate informs all other forms of billing, typically as a bare minimum you need to be making.

Experience will teach you how you like to work, and how you like to work will influence the ideal way for you to bill your clients. Despite weekly billing having a higher potential income attached to it, monthly billing works better for my clients and me.

Feedback from the Inferno: My best client’s best friend stiffed me – now what?

(This segment originally premiered over at The Freelancers Union.)

My biggest client referred his best friend to me. That friend stiffed me on my invoice. What can I do without ruining the 15+ year relationship I have with my client?

In a nutshell, my best and biggest client referred me to his close friend for some IT work. It came as an emergency. I did my best, and I got my client’s friend up and running again.

Over two visits, the friend accumulated $1600 worth of time within a few days. Both of his checks bounced. His business went bankrupt, and he claimed creditors to be relieved from, but I wasn’t one of them. I got his word he would pay me and that he appreciated the work I did for him.

Time went by. Nothing happened. I asked my client about his situation and from what I saw, my client was also one of the people his friend borrowed from. I’m unsure if he was someone he was relieved from.
When I asked my client if I should pursue it, he said I should drop it that I would probably never get the money back.

That $1600 isn’t chump change. With the economy like it is, I could sure use it. I don’t want to alienate my client, but it burns my ass that his friend got off, especially since he’s rich and lives in an exclusive neighborhood, nice cars, has another business which is flourishing, etc.

Additional context: the freelancer who wrote in has been in IT since 1994, and he started his business in 2004. There are no contracts involved in most of his work, as most of his clients have long and personal relationships with him – often spanning over a decade.

– A freelancer with a burnt butt

Honestly, it seems like you’ve already reached the conclusion on this: it’s frustrating, but that money is likely gone. A lot of time has passed, and there was no contract in place. It’s certainly possible there’s a route you can take to regain that lost $1,600, but I don’t see a way that’s worth that amount of money – almost all of them will cost you in much more damaging ways.

I respect the crap out of the style of work you offer – close relationships, time-honed offerings, constant support – but it’s a style where a contract-free experience should only be offered to proven and qualified clients. As you stated (this was in a separate email), it’s the newer clients that take advantage of your stalwart offering.

I’d suggest taking a look at how you qualify these new clients and if there’s a way to offer an expedited contract or down payment.

Here’s how I deal with this: I have a simply-worded and short contract template that I use for clients I’m unsure about. I fill in the blanks with the client, and that ensures we’re both on the same page regarding it (e.g. what results do they expect? what services do they need? who’s my main contact? who’s in charge of payment?).

My first meeting or two with the client is spent gaining an understanding of their issue, offering my solution, and engaging them for the work. My third meeting is a 5-45-minute engagement where we fill in those contract blanks and ensure we understand each other. I’m protected, my client is protected, and we’re both clear what I’ll be doing with them. Plus, that contract-creating experience is my built-in client-qualification system.

I also suggest you check out the Freelance Isn’t Free act. I think you’ll be interested in supporting it.

Otherwise, I wish you the best with your future clients. I know a principled business (with such a remarkable pedigree) will do just fine in the long run, so my final piece of advice is this: don’t sweat the crappy experiences. They seem to be few and far in-between.

– 

Questions? Episode ideas?

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

Clients From Hell on iTunes | Soundcloud
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Download here!

One of my first freelance jobs as a game developer turned out to be a really great lesson in what...

1 February 2017 - 3:20pm

One of my first freelance jobs as a game developer turned out to be a really great lesson in what red flags to look out for.

Client: Oh, no we don’t have any art direction for this game, so just do whatever you think is best!

One week of full-time work later:

Client: …but not that!!

I am an architect by trade, and also do a lot of graphic design freelance.Client: Could you please...

1 February 2017 - 1:40pm

I am an architect by trade, and also do a lot of graphic design freelance.

Client: Could you please make me a sign for the local sports arena to promote my business?

Me: Sure no problem, I will base it on the monochrome design we did on your company cars.

Client: Perfect.

I submit the design for approval.

Client: This is great but could you please make my logo a mirror foil like on the cars instead of white?

Me: I could, but if we do that you wouldn’t be able to see the graphics because the ceiling of the arena is black. The mirror foil will reflect the ceiling and look black against the black background of the sign.

Client: I would like the design of my promotional material to be consistent, please make the graphics in a silver foil on the sign.

Me: I really have to advise against that, how about a silver metallic foil instead?

Client: I really want the mirror foil. Please just do what I ask!

The sign is delivered and mounted. A few days later:

Client: (furious). What have you done? The sign looks like a black rectangle on the wall, the graphics are almost invisible!

Me:

Client: I’m not paying for this!

Me: Well you already have, so….

Client: ….

Me: ….

Client: *click*

He called back a few days later, and ordered a sign with black background and white graphics. He paid up front.


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

Anyone know the original artist of this? Reverse search turned...

31 January 2017 - 3:20pm


Anyone know the original artist of this? Reverse search turned up nothing :(

Client: I’m looking for a one-page website.Me: Okay, your budget is just about enough for...

31 January 2017 - 1:40pm

Client: I’m looking for a one-page website.

Me: Okay, your budget is just about enough for that.

Client: Great! I also need three additional pages on it.

Client: I need a pie chart for a Prezi with these percentages.Me: Got it!Client: Leave some space in...

30 January 2017 - 3:20pm

Client: I need a pie chart for a Prezi with these percentages.

Me: Got it!

Client: Leave some space in the chart, though - we might need to add some categories later. 

Me: …You don’t understand how a pie chart works, do you? 

"Oh look, each pantone color has its own hashtag, how trendy is that!"

30 January 2017 - 1:40pm
“Oh look, each pantone color has its own hashtag, how trendy is that!”

- A client who doesn’t understand hex codes.    

Questions to ask a client and navigating a client's love triangle

30 January 2017 - 11:00am

This week, Bryce addresses the questions to ask a prospect before offering advice to a freelancer caught in a client’s love triangle. 

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: What questions should I ask a client?

When you first meet a client, you need to:

  • Determine if the prospect is a good fit
  • Diagnose their problem
  • Decide if this will be a mutually beneficial relationship

Don’t overwhelm your prospect with 1,001 questions in the initial email, but do ask them sooner than later.

From there, you need to determine:

  • Budget: Can the client afford your services?
  • Authority: Does this person have the authority to make buying decisions?
  • Need: Does the client have a genuine need for your services?
  • Timeline: Does the timeline work for you and your client?

I always try to figure out the negative consequences of not having a solution and the positive implications of having a solution to frame all future conversations.

Regardless, here are some general questions to ask a prospect or client:

  • For what reasons are you looking to hire a new freelancer now?
  • What triggered your decision to hire a freelancer?
  • What’s made this so urgent or important?
  • What experiences, good and bad, have you had with other freelancers? What do you want to be different this time around?
  • What results do you expect to see from the work we do together?
  • What are your company’s goals?
  • What’s your most important priority? What’s your most urgent priority? If they’re not the same, ask: What will it take to focus on the most important priority? How can the urgent priority get downgraded? What’s your company’s biggest marketing challenge?
  • What’s keeping you from overcoming or meeting that challenge?
  • What internal resources do you have to apply to this challenge?
  • How well are your competitors doing?
  • What are your competitors doing that you’re not and wish you were?
  • What do you want to be the best at? What do you want your company or department to be renowned for?
  • What are you willing to stake your reputation on?
  • What’s the average lifetime value of a customer?
  • What’s your customer acquisition cost?
  • What’s your current marketing return on investment?
  • What’s your process for choosing a consultant or agency? Have you used this process before? What worked or didn’t work? What will you do to get a different result?
  • Who’s involved in making the decision? Who signs the contract?
  • If you don’t hire a freelancer or consultant, how will you meet this challenge? What will you do?
  • How will you know we’ve been successful?
  • If we don’t address this issue, what will it cost your company?
  • If we deliver on agreed upon goals, what’s that worth to your company?
  • What problems do you see down the road that could obstruct or constrain our working together?
  • What makes you lose sleep at night? Or what do you need so you can sleep at night?

You may have field-specific questions that you find your regularly asking clients. Based on those repeat findings, you should create an onboarding questionnaire that you go through with clients when they first engage you.

Feedback from the Inferno: How do I deal with my client’s controlling boyfriend?

(This segment originally premiered over at The Freelancers Union.)

My client’s boyfriend insists on attending all of our meetings, business or otherwise.

For context, I’m a male, and my client is a female. We know each other from school, but we recently reconnected when she found out I started freelancing, and she wanted me to build her budding businesses’ website.

My client has insisted that this isn’t a big deal – the boyfriend should be treated as another source of feedback – but the dynamic makes me uncomfortable. I told her that she doesn’t have to worry about me trying anything, but she says that’s not really the issue. She insists that the boyfriend has “her best interests” in mind and just not to worry about it because she “really wants to work with me on this.”
What should I do?

– A third-wheel freelancer

I had to email this submitter back to glean a bit of additional context.

To summarize: the client and her boyfriend have both cheated on one another, and the boyfriend is not there for his business expertise; the client and the submitter hooked up once “while drunk at school”; by school, the submitter means he and his client attended university together.

One thing that immediately set off warning signs for me is that you’re having meetings with this client that fall under the umbrella of “otherwise.”

Working with friends is something that I probably wouldn’t recommend. Working with a former hookup is something I would almost always discourage. Working with a serial cheater (that you have a history with!) while she’s in a troubled relationship (with a controlling boyfriend!) sounds like the motive the detective will give when he finds your dead body.

Point being: none of this sounds like a good idea.

Even if you weren’t involved with this client on the pretense of this being a client-freelancer relationship – and I’m not convinced you wouldn’t be, as you failed to mention you had sex with this client in the past in your initial email – I would still encourage you to get as far away as possible.

It sounds like this client needs to separate their personal and professional life. And I think the same could be said about you.

– 

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: 300+ Timeless Design Elements for $27 — 67% off!

29 January 2017 - 3:20pm

This week’s deal is a bundle of bundles! Get five separate bundles of design elements for one price for 67% off at $27!

This bundle from Offset contains five bundles: the Ultimate Textures Bundle, Retro Effects Bundle, Circular Image Masks, Dirty Halftone Font, and Country Stamps. Together, they’re over 300 design separate design elements that will make your designs stand apart. Have a look at the amazing effects you can create  — if you’re anything like me, they’ll have your imagination spinning with possibilities! 

This bundle is already a steal at its suggested price of $81, but for a limited time you can save $54  — 67% — and get all these elements that you’ll use again and again for only $27. That’s incredible value.

Check out the deal here!

I’m a web developer. For a while I was working an employee for a company. I had a good contract,...

29 January 2017 - 1:40pm

I’m a web developer. For a while I was working an employee for a company. I had a good contract, decent payment a fixed job location and fixed working hours.

One of our clients made an agreement with my boss where one of his web developers would support them onsite. They were about 100 miles away from our office.Now, I knew contract negotiations were coming up, so I volunteered in hopes of getting a pay raise.

This was a mistake.

I agreed to commute for a week, but it took four. My job was to support their IT department in integrating the system into theirs, but I basically had to do everything for their underqualified developers.

Every week I would think I was finished, and every Friday I would be told by the client that I needed to come in the next week again (which was technically illegal – employment law here states you need four days notice). Over that time I racked up 50 hours of overtime, plus the added travel time.  

Eventually I finished the job, and then contract negotiations arrived. I prepared a list of my qualifications:

Me: I solely maintain and administrate this company’s project management software. I’ve trained several new employees.  People like me, and I’ve volunteered around the office, increasing the overall employee satisfaction. Also, I took on an onerous and unpopular job helping an offsite client for a month, doing work that helped save our company’s reputation. I think all my extra work makes me an excellent candidate for a negotiable pay raise.

HR: We’re really grateful for what you did for this company. I’m sorry, but because we’re reorganizing the whole company we can’t be considerate of individuals for now.

Me: That “reorganization” was scheduled to have ended three months ago. When do you expect to open negotiations again?

HR: Not for another six months.

Me: This meeting was scheduled a month ago, and I was informed that it was a contract negotiation. Don’t all the things I do for this company count for something?

HR: Well, nobody forced you to do that stuff.

I quit immediately. Five other people left the same day.

The moral? Never do more than your contract requires you to do, except you negotiate a reward beforehand.


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

Client: I’ve never worked with anyone who has completely avoided emails like you have. I don’t know...

28 January 2017 - 3:20pm

Client: I’ve never worked with anyone who has completely avoided emails like you have. I don’t know if decided that my project was too hard, too small or what, but you’ve shown incredibly bad manners and a lack of professionalism. I’ve found someone else to work with and her portfolio is very good. I hope in the future you have the decency to respond and let people know they might be best going elsewhere.

Ouch.

Of course, this was the first email I got from this person.

I was involved in large project. It involved making three web integrated web apps for five different...

28 January 2017 - 1:40pm

I was involved in large project. It involved making three web integrated web apps for five different companies. One company managed the AD integration, another did the phone system components… there was a lot going on.  

Nine months in when the project was looking ready to fail, the lead client wrote the following email – an elegant piece of inspirational genius:

Client: This is simple stuff, why can’t you just make it all work?

Later on he wrote less pleasant emails, but they’re too obscene for me to post here.

Me: IT Helpdesk, how can I help you?Client: Hi. I’m calling because there’s a strange thing on my...

27 January 2017 - 3:20pm

Me: IT Helpdesk, how can I help you?

Client: Hi. I’m calling because there’s a strange thing on my screen.

Me: Strange  What do you mean? Is there a display problem? An error message?

Client: Yes, there’s an error message saying “Windows blah blah blah” see what I mean?

Me: Errr… not really. Ok, I’ll try to have remote access to your computer. Can you give me the inventory number which is on the yellow sticker?

Client: You mean the serial number? 

Me: No, the Inventory Number. It’s on the yellow sticker stating “Inventory Number.”

Client: Well, it’s 1-A234…

Me: No, no, no. That’s the serial number. So that’s on the grey sticker that says “Serial Number” sticker. I need you to read me what’s on the yellow sticker. 

Client: Do you want the serial number or the inventory number, then?

Me: …The inventory number. 

Client: Oh, you should have said so at the beginning!


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

"Do you think you could so something a little more feminine, like cotton candy?"

27 January 2017 - 1:40pm
“Do you think you could so something a little more feminine, like cotton candy?”

- Someone who thinks high fructose is feminine I guess. 

Client: Hey, I can’t send you this photo through Facebook Messenger. Me: Well, it doesn’t have to be...

26 January 2017 - 3:20pm

Client: Hey, I can’t send you this photo through Facebook Messenger.

Me: Well, it doesn’t have to be a high resolution for how I’m using it. If you shrink the photo it’ll still work great, and then it’s easy to send.

Client: I already took the photo, how am I supposed to take a smaller photo?

Me: …Why don’t I just come over and get it.

"I’m not paying you. You just typed a word."

26 January 2017 - 1:40pm
“I’m not paying you. You just typed a word.”

- A client who’d just received a logo.