Clients from Hell
I was working on a freelance marketing project for a couple of property managers who had a lot of angry tenants coming in every week. The office wasn’t a pleasant place to be, with people getting in arguments and various accusations floating about constantly. There seemed to be an overwhelming workload with billing, showings and maintenance requests.
Client: I just wanted to let you know we’re moving out of town, so we’re leaving the management up to the team at the office.
The office has a small team of three (two part-time administrators and a Manager), with hundreds of properties being managed.
Me: Ok, thanks for letting me know.
After the clients leave town, I get an e-mail from them.
Client: We feel like we left out baby behind. Can you send us an e-mail from time to time to let us know how things are going at the office? Thanks.
I left the job shortly after.
As a freelance marketer who recently moved to a new town, I applied to a job that included marketing a newly renovated cheese tasting room and grill in the middle of a rural area about an hour away from the city. It was very inconvenient to get to – and there are a lot of nice restaurants and tasting rooms in town.
I visited the location, which, to my surprise, looked like a garage or warehouse that had some cheap ugly decor and not much atmosphere. There was nowhere to learn about the products and nothing to do besides buying some food, wandering around aimlessly, and then leaving. There was one person working there.
Client: We need you to market our cheese tasting room on social media. My brother’s wife just renovated this room.
I later found out she had no restaurant or interior / retail design experience.
Me: Ok… Has there been interest in this so far?
Client: No, no one has been coming in. That’s why we need you. We’re hoping you’ll make this work.
I was helping an elderly business owner with marketing.
He seemed nice at first.
Client: I hear so many complaints from customers, I am immune to it by now. I feel like a surgeon, and after a while, it just feels like business as usual.
Me: I’m sorry to hear that. It’s important to get their complaints resolved as soon as possible these days, as customers provide feedback online.
Client: I don’t have time to figure out their concerns. I am providing useful products and services. This is how I run my business.
Soon after, I walked away after seeing countless complaints come in daily that weren’t even close to resolved.
A year later, I read in the newspaper that shortly after I left, there was a class action lawsuit against him for failing to provide basic levels of safety in his products and services. I am glad I was not involved.
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I was chatting with a potential non-profit client about my website development training, which could be useful as part of my work with her.
Me: I completed online classes in website development and the user experience. I have taken classes in computer science and I know a number of programming languages.
Client: Why would you need to study that? What a waste of time. These days most websites are drag and drop.
I quickly feel myself wilting like a sad flower.
I was hired to work on a design project for a small business to update a very cluttered and outdated old e-mail newsletter (think: a newspaper smashed into a long jumbled e-mail).
Client: My Dad, who is in his 80’s, loves to work on these e-mail newsletters every month. I have finally convinced him we need to hire a designer to update the look. I might hand over the newly designed template back to him to update every month, or we might want you to do it.
I was hoping they wouldn’t give it back to the Dad, as the design could become cluttered and outdated again.
Me: I think we can make a lot of improvements to make the e-mail newsletter easier to read. We can break up the sections, simplify the content, and make the design look consistent with your brand.
We discuss some ideas. I perform research on layouts for inspiration, which I send to the client. She liked my research. I then sent her my design drafts. The designs look clean, appealing, modern, and easy to read.
Client: Oh, here are ten more images to place in the e-mail newsletter, 4 more sales promotions, three more articles, and three product descriptions.
Me: I would recommend linking back to that content on the website, on a blog for example, instead of placing it all on the e-mail newsletter. I think the e-mail design should be more of a brief scroll.
Client: I agree with you. However, we have to make my Dad happy with it, and that’s what he wants.
I realized the intended audience, in this case, is the Client’s Dad. The e-mail newsletter will become almost as cluttered as it was before.
I walked away from the project soon after.
I was freelancing in a marketing position for a business that was going through a lot of change as a result of management decisions that weren’t well thought out.
The business had recently expanded its product line under the whim of my the Director’s son, who was in his early 20’s and was my boss.
The products weren’t selling as fast as he had hoped. He had expanded his sales team by almost 40%. None of these decisions were made with my input.
Me: It seems like there’s a lot of work that we need to do to market this expanded product line.
I proceed to discuss my thoughts and ideas about ways to improve customer interest.
Client’s son: Well, I’ve only been here a year. What do you want me to do about it?
I guess, according to this logic, being a Manager means one can completely shrug off all responsibility.
I posted an ad on a local job board advertising my house cleaning services, as I was seeking some extra income as a side gig. A woman replied and said she was interested. I chatted with her briefly and learned she needs the whole three-story house cleaned, and she hasn’t had anyone clean it in a while.
I give her my hourly rate, which was the average rate in the area from people I had talked with.
Client: That much? That’s too much!
Me: Well, it’s very physical work, and I would need to recover afterward. It’s different from a desk job.
The client sullenly agrees.
When I arrive at the house in a nice part of town, I notice she barely has any cleaning supplies (even though she stated she had everything). I made the best with what she offered me.
Client: Here are some rags.
There are 4 rags. I had to use some scarce paper towels for the rest – not ideal.
I almost passed out from the amount of work that was needed. Some areas of the house hadn’t been cleaned in months from the looks of things.
At the end of nearly 4 hours, I was glad to be finished. The woman criticized some of my work – which I didn’t appreciate, especially since I went over various areas twice to ensure it was extra clean.
She then writes me a check.
I say thanks and leave, wanting to never return to that house.
I tried to cash the check soon after, and it bounced.
I had to text her various times to ask for payment – explaining the check bounced.
Client: Stop texting me!
Me: I will need to take the issue to small claims court if I don’t hear back from you in a week with payment.
Client: You didn’t even clean my house that well. I hired another housekeeper who did a much better job than you!
She finally re-sent me a check that went through.
Words of Wisdom: ask for cash at the end of a home improvement / cleaning job.
As an experienced e-mail campaign designer, I worked with a client (a sales professional) on an e-mail template to go out to his software & hardware business leads. We discussed his goals, the imagery, message, audience, and more.
I created various drafts for him to review, with high-tech imagery and modern stylish grey & navy blue colors that matched his website. The content was friendly, approachable, tech-savvy and informative.
Client: The designs look good. I’m just going to play around with them to make a few changes.
Since I was busy at the time, I decided he could do what he wanted with the templates I created.
Client: Check back in a day or two.
I checked back in a couple of days.
The client changed the font in various places to bright Christmas red, black, and bright 80’s neon green. It wasn’t the holidays.
He changed the modern sans serif font style to Times New Roman. He changed the text on various places of the e-mail to repeatedly say “BUY NOW” “GREAT DEAL” “CALL US TODAY” “LIMITED TIME ONLY.”
I talked with a potential client about improving SEO for a large business. The client worked with the company for a year, and I noticed his background did not include any website development, UX, or online content writing experience.
Client: We need someone to improve the SEO for this business. We have worked on the website, but we still have a long way to go. What would you do to improve the SEO?
At this point, I was starting to suspect he was trying to get free advice out of me. Still, I wanted the job.
Me: There are lots of factors that impact SEO. I would look at adding more quality website content, working on the imagery, improving page titles and meta descriptions, and improving the overall design and UX of the sites.
Client: I see. Yeah, we need to improve all those things.
He proceeded to ask me various other detailed questions about ways I would improve the website and SEO. My responses were detailed and helpful. I discussed everything from social media to the value of business listing sites.
Client: Well, we’ll let you know if we want to bring you on board. IF.
That “IF” was delivered in a snide tone.
That red flag made me look at the project more critically. It was much larger than one person could reasonably do by oneself, probably requiring a studio to take it on.
At the same time, the pay was average (at best) and did not reflect the scope of work. I sent him an e-mail the next day stating I wasn’t interested in the job.
That was three months ago. The job listing remains open, in a large city with lots of talent. I wonder why they had a hard time filling it…
I was working on communications projects for a business that was very reliant on local customers coming into their stores. In my work, I noticed a need for better local SEO, website design updates, and other ways they could improve their online presence in search so that more customers would come to their stores and inquire online. I have in-depth knowledge of those topics from years of working in digital marketing.
While those weren’t my specific tasks, I thought I would take some screenshots of local search results and provide some insight to the Manager so he could understand my thinking to help improve the online presence of the business.
Client: Thanks for those notes, however, we have some other people working on SEO and the website. I don’t really understand it, but we need to trust what they are doing.
This seemed odd to me. How could the website and SEO be so off track?
I continued to work on my projects and further provided suggestions to improve the website and search results.
The client starts to get defensive.
Client: It seems like you have a hard time getting along with people.
At this point, I am not feeling good about this working relationship. We soon after part ways.
A year later, I visit the client’s website and look at their local search results from time to time. The business still isn’t appearing on the first page for crucial local search terms, and the website user experience still hasn’t improved.
I get along great with clients who listen to useful suggestions, for the record.
I was getting started working with a well-known, respected business in marketing & sales projects. The business sells very expensive items.
I was learning as much about the business as possible. The Sales Manager must have been getting paid at least six figures, but he seemed a bit off to me.
In the short time I was there, the Manager sulked and spoke sarcastically to a number of staff members. He rarely left his office.
A customer arrived and wanted to speak to a salesperson about specific questions he had, but no one was available to help the customer besides the Sales Manager.
Me: There is a customer waiting to speak to a salesperson, but no one is available.
Sales Manager: Well, what questions does he have?
Me: Various questions. He said it’s important that he gets the right answers from someone experienced with the products.
Sales Manager: I can’t help him. I don’t know enough about those products to answer his questions. I haven’t answered customer questions about these products in years, and I hardly leave my office. You will have to find another Salesperson. Can you write down his questions in the meantime?
I was shocked that the Sales Manager openly admitted to being incompetent.
Client: I need you to work on the updates to our various websites for our businesses. We’re very busy, but just let us know what you did or if you need anything.
Me: Um ok, I’ll get started by analyzing the websites.
Client: Great, just make them look better and let us know if you have any questions.
I didn’t really like the rushed and dismissive approach of this client, but I proceeded to plan some updates. I discuss my recommendations for site copy and imagery updates with the clients after my research & analysis.
Client: Why would you want to update some of the banner imagery on the wedding product website to stock images of people at their weddings? That doesn’t make any sense, and it doesn’t relate to the products.
Me: It could inspire people, help people get in the mood to want to shop for their special day.
Client: You can just use pictures of me and my husband on our wedding day.
Note, the clients didn’t have the products in any of those photos, either.
I found an interesting opportunity on a job board posted by the owner of a website development company. He was seeking a talented freelancer to create a brand style guide for a client.
Client: The style guide is for a small University.
Me: That’s a big deal. Do you have the logos ready and other information I would need to create the style guide?
Client: I’ll need you to communicate with the freelance designer about the status of the logos. There are four logo drafts in progress. Look up the University online to learn more about them and their goals. You can also research some Style Guides that other Universities have created to get a feel for what they did.
Me: Hmm… Well, I think I would need more information from the people who you have worked with at the University to understand what they are seeking. This could also take a lot of research and planning. How much is in your budget for this Style Guide project?
There was little to no other information that the Client could provide me regarding this project. I passed – and I’m willing to bet the university failed.
I was hired for a Marketing role with a small start-up agency. In the interviews, the owners of this new agency mentioned they were still “figuring things out.” They seemed experienced, so I trusted them.
Clients: We can only pay you $15 per hour.
Me: Ok, since I am doing most of the work from home and I can still work as a freelancer in my spare time, this might work.
Over the course of a week, the clients proceed to dump the work they promised to 4 of their clients on to me. This includes research, strategic planning, calendars, Creative Briefs, and creative assets. I work hard to get it all done.
One of the owners discusses in a meeting how he plans to remove himself from most of the day to day tasks to focus more on Business Development (gaining more clients) as time goes on. I am starting to see a lot of Red Flags – the most notable being that it looked like I was the whole of their business.
The last straw was when they made another request.
Clients: We are going to need you to drive across town to meet with us once or twice a week.
Me: The amount it would cost for me in terms of gas and mileage for me to drive across town to discuss these projects with you isn’t worth it for me. I don’t think this is the job I am seeking at this time.
Clients: Well, we need you to be collaborative with us. We’ll work with you. Are you planning on working completely remotely then?
Me: …I’m planning on not working for you at all.
I was hired to work on a project for a large transportation company as a freelancer. The point of contact, the Director of Marketing, needed help with the social media presence of the company.
There was little to no strategy in place, which seemed odd to me, considering the company had worked with this Director of Marketing for a couple of years. The social media presence was very lacking.
I proceeded to build a plan, design the creative assets, and I created a monthly editorial calendar. I created a successful online presence for the company on various social media platforms over the course of several months.
Client (Director of Marketing): I am so proud of how well we are doing on this project! Thank you for all of your hard work. The owner of the business is very pleased.
While working with this Director, I also learned that she had outsourced the SEO portion of her job to an SEO freelancer.
This is about the time that I realize that the Director of Marketing had basically outsourced most of her job, by paying freelancers low hourly rates. I am glad “we” have been so successful on this project as she builds her career on our work.
This week’s deal is on an incredible collection of 635 different actions for Photoshop.
Nothing impresses clients quite like taking a basic image and adding a layer of drama and excitement with a Photoshop action. Turn a still photo into something that indicates incredible action, transform a landscape into a detailed pencil drawing and make a dynamic figure burst into sparks and motion – and that’s just three options of literally hundreds.
Normally all 635 of these actions would cost you $1065, but for the next few days, you get them all for just $9. If one client buys one image using one of these effects, you’ve made back your money. Do that a dozen times more and your investment is paying off big time.
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The client, who works in finance, wanted me to market his vacation home on Facebook. From my experience, I knew this wasn’t the only thing he needed to market his home. I proceeded to talk with him about the value of a quality website, updated photos and more.
He barely listened to me.
Client: Yeah, I don’t have time for that. I just need to make some money quick by marketing this vacation home on Facebook. Also, I need you to help me market this diner I just bought.
Client: Oh, by the way, my credit card is maxed out, since I am paying for the food for the restaurant out of pocket. I need to make more money off of my vacation rental and this diner. But don’t worry, I’ll still pay you.
Me: Ok. Well, this is a little concerning. By the way, the website for your restaurant needs a lot of work.
Client: I just had that created! I guess that’s what I get for being so cheap.