Clients from Hell

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Horror stories from freelancers
Updated: 2 hours 49 min ago

Less black.

8 November 2020 - 3:06pm

Client points out one man in a stock photo I’m editing for him and says: 

Client: I know our service has to appeal to all kinds of people, but this one fellow… can you make him look less black? So he looks more ‘tech-savvy-urban-social-media-influencer’ black and less ‘wandered-out-of-the-jungle-only-talks-in-click-language’ black.


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That’s how the light gets in

8 November 2020 - 2:00pm

Client: Can you fix my laptop remotely?

Me: Maybe. What’s the problem?

Client: Hang on, let me send a screenshot.

Me: I don’t see anything wrong.

Client: It didn’t work. There’s a huge crack in the screen that should have showed up.


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Literally entitled

7 November 2020 - 4:00pm

Me: Why did you cancel my check a week later after you paid me??

Client: I don’t think you actually worked on it when you said you did. I’m going to need proof.

Me: That is illegal. You can’t do that.

Client: You are entitled. You think you can get something for nothing.

Me: Yes, I am legally entitled to the check you gave me with no complaints a week ago.

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Challenge yourself!

7 November 2020 - 3:00pm

Me: This isn’t really in my wheelhouse.

Client: Come on! Challenge yourself.

So I did, and did good work.

Little did I know that when I asked to be paid, the client would ALSO challenge me. 

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Nope! :-)

7 November 2020 - 2:31pm

Client: Here are the vector files!

I can teach you what you already know

6 November 2020 - 4:00pm

A client sent me an email asking for a vector portrait and provided a ton of photos. A few days later he emailed:

Client: Unfortunately, I can’t make payment, but I will send you the 13 gift e-books via Google Drive about various Essential Techniques in designing.

Good thing I didn’t bother in the first place.

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I wont pay for the rework, and if you don’t do it, I’ll pay someone else

6 November 2020 - 3:00pm

I’ve done an Animation for a client that was designing an online course for another client.

Client: *list of 25 absurd changes in the Animation*

Me: But why? 90% of this was done exactly as the script says.

Client: Because my client won’t pay for it unless he likes it.

Me: So I’ll have to charge for this because I’ve done exactly as in YOUR script.

Client: If my client doesn’t like it, he won’t pay me and I won’t pay you. So change everything for free or I’ll have to pay someone else to do it and take it from your payment.

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Did you even hear the words that came out of your mouth?

6 November 2020 - 2:21pm

One client specified I should have an internal email account on THEIR email server. Sign up – check. confirm email – check, receive tons of spam email to my account – check. This triggers my “dodgy client” alarm so I set up weekly billing with no progress files sent until payment is received. Scream, howl, threaten and then read the contract and fall silent – check.

Three months later, the project is 90% complete and suddenly my internal email account t isn’t working –  Password not recognized. I double-checked that I’m using the right password, and then phoned the client to fix it. 

What I said doesn’t matter, so I’m just including the client’s side. 

Client: Yeah, The server is down.

Client: No, we don’t know when it will be back up.

Client: No, you can’t send us email from another account.

Client: No, we’re not working to fix it. If it doesn’t work for you, it has to be YOUR fault.

Do you even hear the words coming out of your mouth? Forget this, you’re fired.

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Podcast for Pennies

5 November 2020 - 4:00pm

A client recommended me to someone he knew so I really wanted this to work out.  Plus it was right after all my other clients went cold due to COVID kicking off.  It was an email correspondence.

Me:  Thanks so much for the opportunity, I hear you’re looking to do something with video interviews or video podcasts, I’d love to hear more.

Client: This is going to be a great opportunity for you!  We’re looking for someone to come into our studio and film 3, maybe 4 people talking.  We’ll need you to light it, run audio, and film it (at least 3 cameras).  Each one is 3-4 hours long and when we’re done you have to edit the audio and video so we can release it them weekly.

Me: Wow, that sounds like an interesting opportunity and a lot of work.  Have you given any thought to the budget?

Client: Well that’s the thing we’re trying to be super aggressive on budget… we’ve got $500 per episode.  We’re going to do a ton though, I want to do 40 or 50 the first year!

So I’d have to bring 3 cameras, wireless mics, lighting for 3 people (6 lights probably).  Set it up myself (no money for an assistant), run 3 cameras and audio solo (see no money above), then break it all down and edit 4 hours together cohesively… for $500… hard pass.

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Those will be some quick cuts.

5 November 2020 - 3:02pm

Client: We’re looking for about a two-minute video, mostly just a slide show with effects a la Ken Burns. The photos are numbered in the order we want them to appear.

She then shared a folder of 387 photos. Some quick napkin math means we’d have to show more than 3 photos every second.

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Three Strikes

5 November 2020 - 2:14pm

This one is a little different. I have a small machine shop at home on the side and I take in small jobs that big shops won’t touch – making parts for model trains, for example.

One day at my other job, a coworker approached me about making a part for him. He had a tortured drawing of what he wanted.

Me: I know you’re working on a motorcycle – is that what this part is for?

Client: Yes.

Me: I’m sorry, I can’t do this then.

Client: (belligerent) Well why not?

Me: If the part fails, it could lead to injury or death and this wasn’t designed by a qualified engineer. I could be held liable.

Client: I wouldn’t blame you!

Me: Your insurance company might not be so generous.

He agreed and the idea was dropped. Or so I thought.

Two days later, he brought me a sort-of cleaned up drawing (done on SketchUp) and told me an engineer signed off on it. The drawing lacked basic engineering information, a draftsman’s name, and an engineer’s stamp and signature. Once again, I turned the job down.

A day after that, he brought in the same drawing.

Me: Really?

Client: It’s for something else. Not a motorcycle.

I thanked him for insulting my intelligence and ask him to never mention this again. Thankfully, he was fired for something else a few weeks later.

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penny wise, pound foolish

4 November 2020 - 4:00pm

This is a computer repair client I’ll never forget.

A number of years ago, a friend of mine was starting up a Computer Shop (still going strong over 20 years later!) and I had some spare time between jobs, so I offered to help out for a couple of cups of coffee a day.

One morning I had a gentleman walk in and ask for a quote for a specific machine – he has all the details and I put it into a quote and give him the price.

Client: No way! that’s a rip-off! I can get it $50 cheaper at <other store> down in Sydney!

As my mate was starting out, there was very little ‘fat’ in the pricing, less than $50 in this case, so I told him “no, sorry, we can’t match that price” and he stormed out, muttering about ‘rip-off merchants’.

And that’s OK – even back then, people could buy components online or at a ‘computer market’ (once a  month), and build their own, saving the fee for putting it all together, or travel to the big-smoke where there is more competition.

A couple of months go by, and a semi-familiar face comes in struggling with a computer case, sets it on the bench.

Client: I need this fixed under warranty!

I looked at the case, and was pretty sure we have never sold that brand or style, but I wasn’t there full time so I checked his name in the system. The only ‘hit’ was Mr “I can buy it cheaper.”

Me: I’m sorry, we didn’t sell you this, so we can’t fix it.

Client: You fix computers here‽

Me: Yes. Our starting price is…

Client: No! It has to be under warranty. It’s less than three months old! Under Australian Law you have to fix it!

Me: You didn’t buy this from us, we have no ob…

Client: It’s under warranty! You have to fix it!

Me: I’m sorry, we don’t. You have to take it back to the store you bought it from in Sydney and get them to fix it.

Client: But I live near here! It will cost me too much to drive down there, leave it, and drive back to pick it up. You have to fix it!

Me: Well, I’m afraid you should have thought of that before spending your money there and not here.

And with that, he flounced out (as best one can with a computer in their arms) yelling “I’ll never shop here again!”

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Design Firm Owner Clueless About the Internet

4 November 2020 - 3:00pm

I joined a design firm in 1995, just when most design/ad agencies were starting to design and sell websites. I suggested to the owner that we start getting the software (or hire a coder) to help us get ready for what was obviously going to be the next big wave, a multi-billion-dollar industry that she’d be a total fool to ignore.

Her response?

Client: No, I don’t want to be a part of that. After all, we don’t do animation here.

I left the firm three months later and started my own business, building websites along with designing tons of print collateral and other media vehicles for clients. I retired 2 years ago and sold the firm for a very tidy profit.

The original design firm? She went belly up two years after I left. Last time I checked, she was doing clothing alterations out of her garage and trying to get a t-shirt business going.


When’s a time someone didn’t take your advice and then lived to regret it?

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Management 101: hire an expert, then ignore them

4 November 2020 - 2:00pm

A client hired me as a UX specialist for a company project. A meeting was set up for me and the graphic designer to work together, but the client who hired me also attended. I couldn’t really discuss any of the design with his graphic designer as every time we started explaining our side to each other, the client would interject:

Client: I think what they’re ACTUALLY saying is [X].

Me: Okay…

At one point, he said we were both “A” personalities and shook his head knowingly. 

Worse still, after that he wouldn’t let me speak directly with the designer, insisting on relaying any tweaks I was asking for himself because I’m “a lot to handle.” Flash forward – the client (who has NO background in design, graphic or interface – he’s a chemist) basically puts together the website with the in-house designer WITHOUT my input. No UX, no UI, not even a proper call to action button.

Looking back, I realize he sabotaged the project so that he could show his worth managing the project, proceeding to elect himself the official Project Leader from that point forward. 

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Sure, we must have reprogrammed your keyboard

3 November 2020 - 4:00pm

I used to do tech support for an online CRM tool. The client was having trouble selecting multiple options in a list.

Me: You can hold Shift to select multiple items next to each other or Ctrl to select multiple items out of order.

Client: That isn’t working. Your program must have changed my keyboard functions somehow.

Yeah, that’s how that works bud.

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Client ghosts me for a year – then blames me for it

3 November 2020 - 3:00pm

This just happened and I need to let off steam.

I work online as a freelance artist making digital paintings. Last year I had a client say she wanted a portrait, and I gave her my details to pay. After she pays, I asked her for what she wants and to send me some details and some references – but she never replied. 

I wait for a while, then I wait some more. Still, she never replies to my messages. I follow up periodically, checking in, seeing if she has anything for me, but nothing. A whole YEAR goes by, and by this point I have forgotten – I didn’t know whether to automatically refund her, or just reach out again. I’ve had 100+ clients and no one has ever done this, and I’m confused.

She reached out tonight, on a Sunday, very incensed and angry.

Client: I paid for a portrait, and you never did ANYTHING.

Me: I tried many times to reach out to you for input, direction, anything. Here are screenshots of my attempts. I can’t make the painting without your input – did you want me to magic something out of thin air? If you still want it, then I can start now, but I will still need some direction. 

Client: No! You charged for a service that wasn’t given!

This may not be the worst client story ever but I am so damn annoyed that a client would act like this is my fault, even though I was fully communicating, and she left me unread for a YEAR. 

Life happens, we get busy, but I just do not understand her horrible attitude and general nastiness, not to mention trying to blame me for everything.

I know COVID is making people nasty but damn.

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Inlaw turns Outlaw and Ghosts Me

3 November 2020 - 2:00pm

My sister-in-law purchased two large paintings of mine, both custom jobs. She was very pleased with both paintings. About 6 months later, she decided that she wanted another painting of her favorite place on one of the U.S. great lakes, a beach scene with chairs, trees, sand and water.

Since she was in the family and had been fine to work with in the past, I decided – stupidly – to break my own rule and not create a regular contract with a deposit to get started.  After she sent some photos, I did some research on my own as well. I spent a few hours, created a digital “rough” of the painting and sent it to her, which is my standard way of working on custom paintings. She loved what I had presented and was very excited, but suggested some small changes and additions, which were no problem at the digital stage.  I spent about two more hours, making the changes and neatening up the scene, as I figured the next step would be actually projecting it and painting it on a large canvas. I sent it to her for final “rough” approval.

Then… nothing. Crickets.

I wrote to her again the next day, no response. I waited, figuring she might be busy and tried again after a few days. Again, nothing, no phone call, no email, nothing. And I never heard from her again. Keep in mind, this is my sister-in-law. She and her siblings rarely talk, so there wasn’t many opportunities to talk, but the next time she actually DID call several months later, I simply said “Hold please” and handed the phone off to her sibling. I really have not talked to her since.

Because I didn’t have a contract and received zero deposit, she simply got away with ghosting me and not paying me for my time. There’s been no acknowledgement of her lack of response or dropping the project or any apology for her odd behavior. It’s like it never happened, except I did hours of work without pay.

I’m dying for her to ask me for anything again. She’s going to get quite an earful.

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Designing for a New World

2 November 2020 - 4:00pm

As one of the first TV Productions to start up in my city after the pandemic shutdown, I was brought in a few weeks before the actual production started to create all the signage needed to keep our crew safe and informed.

Weeks of work later, my signs were up throughout the studio lot. I was then asked to hand the art over the the Production Office so they could continue making signs as needed. I happily agreed but told them that they were all drawn in Illustrator.

Client: Can you save these as Word?

Me: Oh. Wow…Sure.

I recreated as many multi-use signs as possible in Word – with fonts more widely available – but I wish I’d known the plan before hand because recreating a look in Word is… painful with all the head-desking.

Then I found out that they’d shared the art to other productions to use, meaning that shows around the city were using signs with logos that did not represent their brand at all.

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What Resolution Though?

2 November 2020 - 3:00pm

Actual exchange I had with a client today over e-mail. 

Me: Unfortunately all of the photos supplied are much too low resolution for print and we can’t use them. They need to be unreduced files, 300dpi at 8”x8”, and would generally be over 1MB size each.

Client: What resolution do you need?

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Why I quit my first internship

2 November 2020 - 2:00pm

In college my first internship was at a small start-up ad agency working as an unpaid designer. On my first day, the president told me that they had to fire the previous intern because she wasn’t doing a good job (thanks, no pressure).

Two weeks later, the president tells me they are bringing on a senior designer.

Client: The new designer doesn’t have an Adobe Suite license. Can you give us your student ID so we can get it for them?.

Me: Uhhh…

Client: The previous intern did it for us. 

I quit the next day. Why would I want to work for free at an agency committing fraud?? 

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