Clients from Hell

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Horror stories from freelancers
Updated: 27 min 46 sec ago

Can I speak to your boss, little girl?

22 February 2021 - 3:00pm

I’m a woman who knows that the pay gap persists in freelance design, so my business has a non-gendered name that doesn’t include my personal details. Normally this is fine, but occasionally it really throws people. This happened a year ago, before, you know, everything.

Me: Hi, Walter? I’m with [my business], pleased to meet you.

Client: Oh! I thought your boss was going to meet me.

Me: I am the boss.

And, in truth, the only employee.

Client: Oh, right, yes, well…

Experience has taught me that at this point, the client is grappling with either recognizing their own prejudice or just getting mad at me for “deceiving” them (when of course, I haven’t said anything about my gender to this point – they just assumed). I just push forward asking questions about their pain points and they calm down, but jeez I wish I didn’t have to. 

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Not-so-bright and early

22 February 2021 - 2:00pm

Client: Good morning!

Me: Uh… good morning? What’s the matter? Why are you calling so early?

Client: Oh, is it early? Sorry, I recently read a self-help book for entrepreneurs and it recommended getting up at 5 to get a start on the day. You can get a lot done when nobody else is up!

Me: Yeah, but I’m not up and you’re calling me.

Client: Well I need your help with something. 

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All the contracts you need to protect yourself for just $12!

21 February 2021 - 4:00pm

This week’s deal is a bundle of contracts specifically designed to protect you, the freelancer from, well, clients from hell. 

Some clients want to screw you over. Contracts stop them from doing that. 

Either you’re thinking about starting to freelance, or you’ve been doing it for a while and have already been ripped off by a client from hell. You know how expensive it is to hire a lawyer. With these contracts, you don’t have to. This bundle features multiple contracts that set in stone terms like payment, confidentiality, copyright and more. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or just got stiffed one times too many, buy these contracts and rest assured that you’re legally protected from bad clients.

Normally these contracts would sell separately for $149 and still be a good deal compared to hiring a lawyer – but this week they’re only $12. Protect yourself and your business for the cost of lunch out.

Check out the deal here. 



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Free advice

21 February 2021 - 3:00pm

Client: So, I’m not able to pay you, but I can give you a free copy of my book at how to succeed in your independent business.

Me: If you can’t pay me, are you really succeeding?

Client: Do you want the book or not?

I didn’t. 

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Yeah, no

21 February 2021 - 2:00pm

Every year for the past three years I have picked up a 6 week contract with a training organization to develop their marketing materials for the year. They pay really well and have been quite good to work for.

This year I came in and saw there was a new GM. No biggie – he seemed pretty normal. I spent my first day being “on boarded” as I do every year. The GM’s deputy presented the code of conduct and the agreement to sign. I had a hunch that I had best have a read through just in case.

Sure enough, a new section appeared in this years edition: Prohibited Business Relations. Essentially it provided a list of every LGBTIQ+ affirming business in a 30-mile radius and stated that if we engaged with any of these businesses either privately or on behalf of the company, we would be dismissed. Amongst the businesses listed was my brother’s salon and my cousin’s tattoo parlour.

I declined to sign and ended my relationship with them there and then. 

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Motivational Boss

20 February 2021 - 4:00pm

An entrepreneurial “guru” paid me to manage his academy Instagram page that he would use to attract people to his talks. He had a phrase that he kept repeating to me:

Client: Don’t tell me you can’t do it, tell me how I can do it so it can be done.

Sounds cool, but he usually used this for things like writing more than the allowed limit, trying to change the quality of a blurry image or having a million followers through his personal Instagram account in one day.

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Copywriting: Words by the pound

20 February 2021 - 3:00pm

Client: We only want 20-word client testimonials, not 100. Please revise your quote to reflect this change.

Me: No. The prep time involved is the same and it’s tougher to write a 20-word high impact testimonial than a longer one.

Client: But it’s fewer words! 

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You can’t say ANYTHING (false) anymore (and not be corrected)

20 February 2021 - 2:00pm

I started a call with a client, but they were clearly FUMING.

Me: Is everything okay?

Client: (clearly angry) Yeah, I’m fine, it’s just… I hate Twitter.

It turns out he’d gotten into a bit of a Twitter feud in the last two hours. I looked it up – he posted something that was wrong, and someone (a woman) corrected him without malice or condescension. Then he SNAPPED at her and invoked the fury of the Twitter mob.

Client: I swear, it’s like you can’t say anything anymore!

Some context: his revisions have all been angry, condescending, and presented as if I should know better. He has never once tried to spare my feelings when making requests. And the moment someone told him he was wrong on the internet, he lost his every-loving sh**.

I think I’ll be sunsetting this one sooner rather than later.

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Happiness is not a Photoshop effect

19 February 2021 - 3:00pm

This was from a few years ago. I can only imagine the state of things now.

Client: All of the seniors in these photos look sad. Can you make them look happy?

Me: These are photos of the actual seniors in your care home. That’s how happy they are.

Client: Can you give them smiles or something? 

Can YOU?

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Feels like design

19 February 2021 - 2:00pm

Client: The site looks good when I’m sitting at the computer, but when I stood two meters away and looked at it again, it was really hard to follow. 

Me: Do people need to read the site from two meters away?

Client: No, but I feel like that’s a design principle.

It isn’t, but if you FEEL that way.

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F*ck off

18 February 2021 - 4:00pm

I’m a photographer and a woman just contacted me over Instagram about doing a job in the afternoon tomorrow. Anyone that contacts you about a job that’s to take place the very next day and doesn’t acknowledge the fact is suspect. They should say something like “I realize this is super last minute”; translation: “I know this is my fault, but I’m asking for your help. 

I gave her my rate and explained my COVID precautions.

Client: Okay – well I’ll give you [$rate – $50] because to be honest I’ve worked with many photographers and that’s what I feel comfortable with. I’ll give you a call if I need you.

As with anything in life, it’s all about the approach. Generally when people preface a number less than what I’ve quoted but are polite, I’m inclined to work with them. They should say something like “I realize this is lower than what you’ve offered but my budget for this isn’t super high and I really apologize but would you be able to do this for $x?” Translation: I’m begging you, please, just this one favor.

This person ignored all of that and acted like they were throwing me a bone. 

Me: Actually, my rate is non-negotiable and includes a $75 travel fee.

Translation: f*ck off. 


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Not for you, pal

18 February 2021 - 3:00pm

Me: I just wanted to confirm that you’ve reviewed the site and it’s ready to push live.

Client: I haven’t reviewed it, but go ahead.

Me: Are you sure? I want to make sure you’re happy with everything first.

Client: It’s fine – you’ve got a refund policy though, right?

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It was five minutes ten minutes ago

18 February 2021 - 2:00pm

 I was waiting in a Zoom lobby for a meeting with a client. Five minutes past our scheduled time I got a message:

Client: Sorry! I’m just running a little late. I’ll just be two minutes.

Me: No problem! I get it. When you’re ready.

Ten minutes later: 

Client: Sorry! Sorry. Just a minute.

Another fifteen minutes: 

Client: Gosh, sorry, this meeting is taking so long to wrap up. Two minutes!

Half an hour later: 

Client: Ahh! Sorry. Five minutes.

Literally an hour and 43 minutes past our meeting time: 

Client: Done! Are you still there?

Aren’t they going to be surprised when I charge them an hour and three quarters for that. 

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Don’t Work With Co-Workers

17 February 2021 - 4:00pm

This story takes place sometime around 2007, after I had graduated college, but before being a full-time designer. This interaction soured me on working with clients so badly that I have not returned to freelance work.

Just after college graduation I was working as a security guard and picking up freelance graphic design contracts. One of my fellow co-workers asked me for my services in designing a logo, letterhead, and business card designs for his start-up company.

Being fresh out of college I only quoted a $300 fee. After a week of design ideas and lots of back and forth we agreed on five design concepts that he would show to his business partners. I fleshed these designs out a bit more and packaged everything into a very nice, very professional, very expensive, acrylic portfolio folder that I was given as a gift from a family member for graduating college.

The following day, when I arrived at my security job, my fellow co-worker called in sick. And the day after. And the day after that… and for the remainder of the week. He then quit. Taking my portfolio folder and all of my design work with him.

After not being able to contact my now former co-worker for well over a month I was resigned to the idea that I was not going to see my work, and my portfolio, again. So, I moved on, using online forums to search for clients.

One of those online clients was looking for a designer to take some of their sketches and convert them into vector designs for use online and for printing. I reached out thinking it would be an easy gig and got an email back containing what they were looking for and images of all of my sketches that I made for my former co-worker.

I had watermarked all of my images when I presented them to said former co-worker; even pencilling in a watermark on my original sketch work. They were looking to have someone remove the watermarks and digitize the work. I emailed from my freelancer account and set up a meeting.

We agreed to meet at a local coffee shop. I made sure to sit in my car until my former co-worker went inside first. I followed behind and sat down at his table right as he was pulling out his chair. He was not happy to see me. Nor I him.

Long story short, after some choice words in a public space, I was able to get my portfolio back. I was never paid. I am so happy that we now live in a more integrated digital age where I don’t have to give out physical portfolios.

What’s the most absurd length a client has gone to not pay you?

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Most inhuman thing a client said to me

17 February 2021 - 3:00pm

I took paid family leave to take care of my father who was dying from cancer. He passed, and the day of his burial my mother was hospitalized with what turned out to be a terminal illness. It took a few weeks for the doctors to confirm that my mother would not recover. 

While my mother was in the hospital but I didn’t know yet she was terminal, I was in touch with my office. In early January, I communicated that I would be back in the office no later than Feb 28.  By the end of January, I knew she was going to pass on, so I told my client I might take more time.

In mid-February, I started getting company emails from the client. They said they CC=ed me so I could “hit the ground running on the 28th.”

My mom passed in early March, and I was out until mid-April taking care of everything. 

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I mean, it’s just polite.

17 February 2021 - 2:00pm

One time, I showed up to a client’s business for a preliminary meeting. I’d had a crazy morning and picked up a cup of coffee en route to keep my energy up. I wasn’t quite finished when I arrived, so I brought the cup into the office thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Client: Is that a coffee?

Me: Yes, sorry! If you’d like I can just put it down while we’re meeting.

Client: …You could have asked if I wanted one.

This was the first time we’d met. I didn’t know her at all

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Bald man asks me to make him “not look bald”

16 February 2021 - 4:00pm

I was doing corporate headshots with lights and backdrop set up. The CEO approached me with a request.

Client: Don’t make me look bald.

I chuckled thinking he was joking because he only had a tiny bit of hair around his forehead. He didn’t laugh.

Client: What can you do to address this?

Ultimately we decided to crop tightly to the eyes so 2/3 of everyone’s faces were used.

Client: Is this just going to look like I’m trying to cover up the fact that I’m bald?

I can’t cover up the cover up, unfortunately.

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Lots of experience

16 February 2021 - 3:00pm

I was working with a client who had, and I quote, “decades of experience working with designers” and “loved to keep up with new technology.” 

Me: Would you mind sending me PNGs rather than JPGs? I could use the transparent background.

Client: What’s a PNG? I’ve never heard of it. Is that a Photoshop thing or something?

Yeah, you’re really up to date. 

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I took a class once

16 February 2021 - 2:00pm

A couple of years back, I was engaged by a non-profit to do a complete rebrand; new logo, updated digital presence, etc. 

The direction I was given was more abstract than concrete, wanting a desire to convey a feeling, with no real idea of what the logo should LOOK like. It’s a familiar story, but one I’ve been accustomed to during my freelancing days.

Based on what I was given, I came up with 5 distinct designs, each with a corresponding color palette that I felt best conveyed their feel. It’s important to note, each design was very different from each other, largely due to no one at the non-profit actually knowing what they wanted.

I then get an email from the director, who included a forwarded message from one of their junior staff about what they thought about the variety:

Client: I recently took a class on branding and marketing for non-profits, business and campaigns, and wanted to take the time to share you with a couple of things I learned… The logos you sent over have a wide array of colors, some of which contradict each other.

By all means. Tell me my job.

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Undecided and in a rush

15 February 2021 - 4:00pm

I’m an art student trying to become a muralist.

I recently got my first opportunity, painting a mural on the wall of a doggy daycare. The client presented six ideas to me, and after talking we settled on one. I did some sketches, she agreed, and we signed a contract.

Me: Oh, one thing: it will probably be difficult to paint if there are dogs in the room while I’m doing it. It will distract me, and they might get into the paint which would be bad for everybody.

Client: No problem. 

First two days, two dogs were there. I tried to work, but one actually kept humping my leg and the other growled and barked at me every time I tried to reach up to paint.

Worse still, after three days she changed her concept and asked that I paint clothes on the dogs in the mural. She also said “I need this done in five days” when we’d agreed on seven.

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