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A collection of anonymously contributed client horror stories from designers.
Updated: 21 weeks 4 days ago

Full time to freelance and dealing with a controlling boss

26 January 2017 - 12:00pm

This week, Bryce answers common (and not so common) questions about transitioning from a traditional full-time job to freelancing. 

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 I transition from the 9 to 5 to freelancing?

Before you make the full-time freelancing plunge…

Know your finances

  • Have 3-6 months of savings before you commit

Start moonlighting

  • Freedom to learn and experiment.

When you do start freelancing…

  1. Communicate with clients (but don’t create unnecessary work for them)
  2. Meet deadlines
  3. Always give your best work (if you can)

Research how freelance taxes work in your state

Look into insurance options

Create a schedule, system or process for work.

  • Occasionally re-evaluate what is and isn’t working. In particular, look for time investments that aren’t showing any returns

Always evaluate your work/life balance

Evaluate your income to expenses

Feedback from the Inferno: My boss won’t let me have a sidegig – what should I do?

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

I moonlight as a freelancer and I know my boss will have a problem with it if he ever finds out. What should I do?

I have done freelance writing here and there for almost 10 years. I enjoy doing it, and I want to really get serious about it.

Here’s my problem: I work full-time as an administrative assistant at a law firm, and my boss is not at all supportive of me doing anything that he thinks might take me away from my job. And let’s be honest, he has a point - I do intend to leave when I’ve got my freelancing off the ground. For now, I need the money, and it’s not a terrible gig, but it isn’t where my heart is.

I already have one client that I got by word of mouth, and I know I need to advertise my services to gain more clients – which is scary enough, as I am an introvert – but I’m scared to put myself out there lest my boss discovers what I’m up to and uses it against me.

I would love just to be honest with him, as I have with my office manager, but past experiences have already taught me that’s not an option; as examples, he fired another assistant partly because that assistant divulged that he was going to night school to become an EMT; he also was wary of me getting my CAP-OM certification until I described how it would benefit HIM.

I already dropped hints a long time ago that I really wanted to pursue writing, but that was dismissed and never referenced again.

Many others within the firm have ventures outside of the office, including my boss and all of the partners. But for them, the firm is an anchor. For me, it is a stepping stone.

My question is twofold: is there a way for me to advertise myself stealthily so that I can get clients without my current boss finding out? Or, in the event I just say screw it and put myself out there, how can I prepare to deal with the fallout?

I appreciate any help you can give - I am reaching out to you because I have heard you say to start freelancing part-time before jumping in with both feet, and I figured maybe you’d have some insight into a situation like mine.

I’m tired of holding back and missing out on clients and money because I’m afraid a simple Google search will cost me my job before I’m ready to leave.

– A moonlighter on a mission

First of all, this is easily one of the best-written emails I’ve ever received. You clearly have the chops to make it on your own as a freelance writer.

Second, your boss is an absolute douche.

With that out of the way…

Finding Work

There are tons of ways to market yourself without actually exposing yourself. In nearly a decade of freelancing, roughly 80% of my work came from clients I never actually met.

Word of mouth, job boards, local meetups – they’re all great ways to find work when you’re first starting out. For your first few jobs, simply letting the world know (via twitter, facebook, etc.) you’re available for work is a great way to secure some warm leads.

However, that last bit of advice tickles your main issue…

On being googled

I almost always suggest a freelancer use their name as their business, and I think this should still be the case for you. I understand the fear of Googling – and it’s a valid concern – but the idea of this boss owning your name online is utterly ridiculous. Plus, your freelance site doesn’t need to be salesy or revealing. Giselle’s illustration website is a great example of this.

To address this potential name issue, maybe you can focus on your first or last name to start. Remember, most of your potential clients will be directed to your website through you; very few clients will find you by googling “freelance writer” or whatever.

Preparing to go full-time (AKA dealing with the fallout)
Simply put, I recommend 3-6 months of savings for ALL your living expenses is set aside before you make the full-time freelancing leap.

I also recommend at least three positive client experiences before you make the plunge. Ideally, some of these clients will offer recurring work.

Other resources

Here are two articles I always recommend for this stuff:

– 

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 | RSS


Download here!

I’m a web developer. A client’s website was done, but she hadn’t told me when she wanted the site to...

25 January 2017 - 4:20pm

I’m a web developer. A client’s website was done, but she hadn’t told me when she wanted the site to go live.

Me: I haven’t heard from you in a while. Do you know when you want the site to go up?

Client: Hi! We still don’t know exactly, but it should be around the end of the month. I’ll get back to you with the exact date!

Me: Just to let you know, I’m getting married on the 1st, so I won’t be available on the last day of the month. Any time before that will work great for me.

Client: Congratulations! So I talked it over and we’d like it to go up on the evening of the 1st. Will that work?

Me: You mean my wedding night?

Client: Is that possible?


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

A client was going back through some of our earlier design mock-ups for him One caught his...

25 January 2017 - 2:40pm

A client was going back through some of our earlier design mock-ups for him One caught his attention. 

Client: This is interesting. The idea isn’t dead, exactly, but it’s like… the idea is in a boat, the boat has capsized, and it’s in the water. It’s not sinking, just treading water. Treading water in heavy clothes and, yes, it’sin danger of sinking - but it hasn’t sunk yet. 

He stared at it for another moment, looked up at me, smiled, and then changed the subject. 

It was a circular logo with the name of his business. I’m trying to decide if he’s the most incredible genius or just a huge idiot.

I’m leaning towards idiot.

I was presenting mock-ups for postcards that feature architectural standouts to a client. Client: Is...

24 January 2017 - 4:20pm

I was presenting mock-ups for postcards that feature architectural standouts to a client. 

Client: Is there a way to make the illustrations feel more like a place than an idea?

The mockups featured illustrations of actual places, using wikicommons photos as references. 

I still have no idea what they meant

I teach art to kids, and also do illustrations and sell original art. A father of one of my...

24 January 2017 - 2:40pm

I teach art to kids, and also do illustrations and sell original art. A father of one of my students, noticed some of my artwork one day when picking up his kid.

Client: Oh, you paint!

No sh*t, Sherlock. I teach your daughter painting. 

Me: (forcing a smile) Well, that’s why I’m here!

Client: Are any of these for sale?

Me: Yeah, these two here, They’re [X] apiece. 

Client: Hm. I’ll give you [1/10th of X] for both.

Me: Bye!

I work at a boutique public relations firm that represents a luxury apartment community with...

23 January 2017 - 4:20pm

I work at a boutique public relations firm that represents a luxury apartment community with millions of dollars worth of assets. We were planning their grand opening event, which was budgeted for nearly $7,000.

Client: I don’t want to pay for a photographer. Do you know anyone who could shoot the grand opening for free in exchange for us hiring him in the future?

Me: I know someone, but I don’t like asking people to do their job for free.

Client: Why? 

Me: I don’t feel comfortable doing that. You can ask him if you want. But I won’t.

Client: Okay, thanks. I’ll think about it.

The next day…

Client: I just hired someone else to do it. It was easier that way. 

Then why didn’t you just hire my reference?


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

Original direction: Make it different but the same - similar to older catalog design but freshened...

23 January 2017 - 2:40pm

Original direction: Make it different but the same - similar to older catalog design but freshened up.

Feedback criticism:  This catalog design feels like a fresh version of our current catalog, rather than a redesign. Make it more original. 

First clients and what to do when one touches you

23 January 2017 - 12:00pm

This week, Bryce answers common (and not so common) questions about freelancing. 

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: Where do I find my first clients?

Start with people you know.

  • Announce via social, email, etc. that you’re starting to freelance
  • Reach out to individuals you know that may have need of your services
    • Feel free to reach out for work, but also ask to pick their brain
      • e.g. does your business hire freelancers? What do they look for? Etc.

Reach out to nearby businesses, especially if you have a positive relationship or a connection to someone higher up

  • Local or nearby businesses have the benefit of face-to-face connection. You can succeed with an entirely remote client list, but when you’re just starting out, the flexibility of a local connection should not be underestimated.
  • Attend networking events
  • Reach out to hiring managers, creative directors, etc.
    • Feel free to reach out for work, but also ask to pick their brain
      • e.g. does your business hire freelancers? What do they look for? Etc.

Sign up for job boards and apply for jobs that you feel capable of tackling.

  • Job boards require a lot of experience and thoughtful positioning to be regular and profitable sources of work. However, when you’re just starting out, they’re an excellent source of low-commitment experience.
  • Try to find a unique position point. For example, there are very few freelancers boasting about their webinar experience – there were all of six on a job board with over 100,000 freelancers on it.
  • The more specific the job board is to your skillset (as a designer or developer), the better.

Pitch publications

  • An excellent source of portfolio pieces and income

 

Join online groups related to your craft or services.

Market yourself in directories.

Reach out to job listings for full or part-time work related to your service and see if there’s a way you can help until they hire their permanent fix.

  • I’ve actually had clients close job listings after working with me and then putting me on retainer.

Work for free

  • Set boundaries and expectations
  • Work for a testimonial, referral, and quality portfolio piece
  • Ensure you want to do more work of this type
  • Ensure you’re getting something of value out of this engagement; otherwise, you’re wasting your time.

Feedback from the Inferno: Where do I find my first clients?

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

I have a client that insists I do all my work at his office. He insists on this arrangement because he doesn’t really “trust web people.” He admits part of this is just not “getting it” – if I’m there, I can explain things, and he knows I’m honestly billing him for the time.

I really don’t like working at his office: it’s inconvenient to travel to and from there, I have to bring some of my equipment, and my client likes to breathe over my shoulder while I work.

The worst part about this over-my-shoulder work is that he’ll sometimes start to give me a massage. I’m not the only one he does this to, but it’s both literally and metaphorically uncomfortable.

How do I tell him to stop doing this without ruining the relationship?

– A real hands-on freelancer

The subject line of this email was “my clint likes to touch me - I do not.”

At first, I thought that was a lot of unsolicited information about a submitter’s uncomfortable relationship with a man named Clint, but boy did that stop being funny once I realized that was a spelling error.

I was unbelievably relieved to discover you’re both male and that this touching is seemingly non-sexual. It’s still 100% not okay that the client is doing this, but this dynamic could be far, far worse.

From what you wrote to me, it sounds like you have an out-of-touch-with-the-times client – both technologically and socially. And it sounds like you could do a better job of pushing back and making sure the working arrangement works for you.

Schedule a one-on-one meeting with your client to discuss how you work together. Decide beforehand where you draw the line. I suggest not working in that office altogether, but you can compromise on him simply respecting your personal space.

Do your research and prepare for this meeting. You should try and anticipate your client’s potential concerns, and you should have your reasons on standby.

For example, address why this client doesn’t trust “web people.” By now, you should have established a working relationship, so some trust should be there. If it’s simply a matter of hours, offer to use time-tracking software. If it’s due to a lack of understanding, ask if there’s a contact at the company who would better understand your deliverables – work that is mutually understood is much more likely to meet the client’s goals effectively.

Whatever happens, don’t back down from where ever you drew the line. If all you’re going to push back on is the touching – and I encourage you to have more ambition than that – speak to how it makes you feel and try not to accuse or embarrass the client. Do this one on one, and be straightforward; it’s not okay that he was in your personal space, but it sounds like no one ever tried to course correct him, and he’s ignorant about how inappropriate it is.

If you still don’t want to rock the boat, invest in Mad Max-style shoulder pads.

Jokes aside, if you feel genuinely uncomfortable or physically threatened, cut things off with this client. A big part of freelancing is doing your work, your way – and it seems like this arrangement doesn’t empower you on a personal or professional level.

And try to work on sticking up for yourself! It sounds like a lot of your complaints about this situation came from you rolling over whenever your client requests something.

– 

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: 800+ Illustrator Brushes Worth $195 - only $24!

22 January 2017 - 4:20pm

This week’s deal is an 88% off sale on 19 sets of vector brushes for Adobe Illustrator for only $24. Typically worth $195, this is an incredible savings of 88%!

Designed for Adobe Illustrator CS1-CC, these brushes give you incredible flexibility in making incredible, scalable images. Whether you’re looking for clean lines, realistic effects or grunge designs, these brushes open a world of possibilities for your vector illustrations. 

For a limited time, you can save $171 when you buy these brushes for only $24, a savings of 88%!

> Check out the deal here!

I do computer repair work in a 55+ community. One client calls me all the time for the littlest...

22 January 2017 - 2:40pm

I do computer repair work in a 55+ community. One client calls me all the time for the littlest things but I’m happy to help. Today he offered me this gem.

Client: Can you come over and help me with my keyboard and mouse? I need them to reach a little farther

Me: Sure, are they tangled on something? Ill be right over.

Client: I need them extended so I can use them at the counter while I cook.

Me: These are corded devices, they wont reach that far.

Client: Well can you make them wireless? I’ve got some scissors in that top drawer.

I was doing website and database work for a university. For the first year I was there, I was...

21 January 2017 - 4:20pm

I was doing website and database work for a university. For the first year I was there, I was responsible for uploading almost a quarter of all content. This included all publications and news items. Some of the faculty members were older and had a hard time understanding why everything couldn’t be exactly the way they wanted.

Client: (via email) I am missing these articles on my bio page. Please add them.

Me: (No problem, I uploaded them.

Faculty: The formatting is incorrect. Change the italics and bolding to match the APA style.

Me: That is the CSS, it’s not something I can control. We would have to change the whole site to alter that.

Me: FINE. But you need to change the video from [specific news item] to automatically play when the link is opened.

Me: That’s weird. Anything hosted on our server should play automatically already. Let me see what’s going on.

I looked into it - the link was for another university’s website. 

Me: I…can’t do that. I’m not able to alter videos on another university’s website.

Client: Well why the hell not? 


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

"We need to get photographs for our menu, but I really don’t want to use the photos we paid you to..."

21 January 2017 - 2:40pm
“We need to get photographs for our menu, but I really don’t want to use the photos we paid you to take - those are for internal use. Go onto Google and get some good pictures of food similar food to ours.”

- The Director of Marketing for a major hotel/restaurant chain

I’m an illustrator/designer, and over the years I’ve been doing more illustration work as I enjoy it...

20 January 2017 - 4:20pm

I’m an illustrator/designer, and over the years I’ve been doing more illustration work as I enjoy it more. I still occasionally design websites, though - mainly landing pages and microsites, although if the price is right I’ll build a Wordpress theme and even teach you how to use the CMS. I don’t offer maintenance or hosting services, because frankly I’d rather gargle glass.

A happy client referred me to a friend. I talked over their needs and based on their needs, I talked them down from a full wordpress site to a landing page for a much cheaper price. I sent over an estimate, as well as my terms and conditions that state that I reserve the right to ask for a 50% deposit from new clients and a 100% if the total is estimated at 300 € or less.

Client: You’re trying to rip me off! First, you don’t want to build me a site that I can maintain and update myself, probably speculating on a fat monthly retainer for maintenance services. Then you ask me to pay in advance. This is outrageous! You don’t trust me!

Me: Well, you don’t seem to trust me either, do you. I don’t do maintenance, ever. It’s a necessary evil, yes, but I’d rather swallow my own teeth than climb into Wordpress or MySQL. If you want a Wordpress site, fine. I’ll build you one. But you don’t need it for what you want and it will cost you triple what a simple landing page costs.

Client: I don’t know how you stay in business with that attitude. It sounds like you hate your work. 

Me: Honestly? That’s why I get paid in advance.

He got someone else to build and maintain him a Wordpress site, but happy ending - I’ve since illustrated and designed his company’s annual report and we both enjoy working together.


> Want to know if freelancing is for you?

Me: Hi, I’m just following up on your call. What did you…The client interrupts me...

20 January 2017 - 2:40pm

Me: Hi, I’m just following up on your call. What did you…

The client interrupts me sharply. 

Client: Look.  I’m DRIVING. I don’t like talking on the phone when I’m driving, DEAR. You’re just going to have to call me back when I’m done.

Me: OK. You have a fantastic day.

Protip: if you don’t want to answer the phone when you’re driving, DON’T PICK UP! 

Freelancing careers are built on great, qualified clients. This Tuesday, January 24 at 1 PM PDT,...

19 January 2017 - 4:20pm

Freelancing careers are built on great, qualified clients. This Tuesday, January 24 at 1 PM PDT, Clients From Hell is joining forces with John Corcoran of Webinar 1k to show you how to use webinars to build your reputation and generate leads for excellent clients. 

In just an hour and a half, you will learn: 

  • How to use webinars to generate leads and GREAT clients
  • How John used webinars to build a mailing list from 1000 subscribers to 28000 subscribers (a 28k increase!)
  • How to profit from webinars - even if you’ve never done one before!

Register now for absolutely free, and let us know what questions you’d like answered so we can shape this webinar for you! 

> How to get more clients (that don’t suck) using webinars!

"What is the resolution needed for a photo to be converted to a vector file?"

19 January 2017 - 2:40pm
“What is the resolution needed for a photo to be converted to a vector file?”

- A client, speaking with idiot confidence.

"Can you write a report predicting unforeseen field conditions?"

18 January 2017 - 4:20pm
“Can you write a report predicting unforeseen field conditions?”

A new client commissioned me to draw a series of maps. Because these are quite time consuming, I...

18 January 2017 - 2:40pm

A new client commissioned me to draw a series of maps. Because these are quite time consuming, I asked a lot of questions to make sure we were both on the same page with regards to content and style. After about a week of work i present him with the final product.

Client: This is great, but I need some changes to what areas the maps cover.

Me: Okay - that’s really a significant change. Since I did my best to make sure I was doing the work you needed beforehand, I’m going to need to charge you for changes. I’m happy to do them but they are outside the scope of our initial contract. 

He disappears for two months.

Me: (After months of chasing him down) All right, well if you’re not going to respond, I’m going to close this contract. You can either pay me to get the final version, or I will find another buyer

Client: No! I want it, I just need you to change one thing.

Me: Which is?

It’s been a month. He still hasn’t told me what that change is.

Got this email from my university today. They often forward us large lists of potential jobs, but I...

17 January 2017 - 4:20pm

Got this email from my university today. They often forward us large lists of potential jobs, but I received this one three times in one day. I figured it was worth sharing.

Client: Hello! My name is [redacted] and I am currently on the [redacted] International Experience: 2016 Career Exploration Program’s planning committee and our team is in dire need of a design intern.The program I just mentioned above is a summer career exploration program, hosted by the university and geared towards High School students. As a member of the planning committee I am in charge of many aspects of the program, including design, and our team needs additional help designing the program’s student handbook, orientation packet, and more. I need help finding an enthusiastic individual willing to join our International Experience Team. I know that it’s short notice, and I understand completely if you are unable to help, but I am just asking if you know of anyone or could set up a meeting with anyone who would be interested in an unpaid summer internship focusing on design.

TL;DR we need an entire project done in less than a week for free.

My company produced a high-end brand video for a client. They loved it, and it helped get them at...

17 January 2017 - 2:40pm

My company produced a high-end brand video for a client. They loved it, and it helped get them at least one client worth over a million dollars - and that’s just the one we know about. 

A year later, they asked for all the raw footage so that another company could use our work to make another video. Our contract clearly stated that the client only owned the finished video, not the parts. However, we didn’t complain - we asked them to provide us with a hard drive and pay us for the time it would take to get copy files from the archive (on LTO tape, in an archival vault across the country) and send them.

Their response? They threatened to sue us and slander our company’s name online unless we agreed to work for free. They also said they’d never work with us again, and took some nasty potshots at our company. This from a company who claims its core values include “treating people with respect.” 

I have a sneaking suspicion that if I do pull that LTO tape from archive, I will find that it has somehow been damaged or erased in storage. Not so coincidentally, I’ve decided one of our core values is never to work for bullies, and certainly never for free.