Clients from Hell
Not my client from hell, but somebody’s. I overheard the following on a public bus. The young woman behind me made a long and loud phone call, thus the one-sided conversation.
Client: Hey, I have a job for you!
Client: I need a flyer with our team and some of our opponents on it, it needs to show that there’s an important match in three weeks.
Client: We have 800 photos on our website. Just choose the best ones of our players and any of our opponents.
Client: I’m sure they are fine with it, it’s free advertising for them. But make them look weak. Our team needs to look powerful and dynamic. And the match has to look exciting! You are the designer, you’ll know what to do.
Client: As your reward you can also be on the flyer! You can look as important as the players!
Client: It doesn’t matter that you don’t wear a jersey, you are the designer! You can edit the flyer in a way that your clothes don’t show and you’ll look like part of the team.
Client: I don’t understand, what do you mean?
Client: I can pay you with a massage. *suggestively, suddenly not as loud* I can massage your neck, your back, your legs. We’ll see.
Client: Pay you money?
Client: …Yes, I do like my salary. But that’s completely different!
Client: Yes, I understand. But this is an opportunity, you should be happy! This is the perfect chance for you to be creative! Carte blanche, you can fill the whole space without any restrictions. I’m absolutely certain everyone will agree with whatever you design!
Client: …Why are you so mean?
She exited the bus, still on the phone, by then a bit more desperate. I truly hope the person on the other side hung up on her soon after.
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Me: Here is our roadmap for your SEO campaign. It includes milestones, deliverables, and desired outcomes.
Client: It’s just not detailed enough, I need detail, a few dot points won’t do.
Me: Well the roadmap does show all of the process and milestones along with descriptions for each step.
Client: Simple dot-points won’t do. I need you to copy what my last SEO specialist did.
Client then sent an excel sheet with short descriptions of each task. It was basically all dot points, except it included steps like this:
Step 1: Put username into WordPress.
Step 2: Put password into WordPress.
Client: You see? I understood what she was doing because I had a level of detail you aren’t providing me.
I then go and write a thousand words off the top of my head about each step in the process, how we do it and what it means for her and the campaign.
Client: Thanks, that is better but still not the level detail a person like me needs. Can you take (old SEO manager)’s list and just outline what is included with you and what isn’t?
Me: Sure I can do that, but honestly there is a lot of detail in there that are not necessary and realistically don’t have any benefit to the campaign or your business. It’s adding time to my task list, and honestly, to yours.
Client: Oh, I’m not going to read it. I just want that level of detail in the future in case I do.
Me: Going forward, I would like to have all rates documented formally on a contract so that the terms are clear. Fees are 50% upfront and 50% upon completion of the project. All of this will be outlined in the contract that I will provide.
Client: If you require a signature on a contract that would be a problem as I have been working on the honor system very successfully for many years. I have done hundreds of thousands of dollars of business without contracts, and if my experience if you need a contract with someone you probably should NOT work them because they won’t be trustworthy.
Client: It’s a matter of principles more than anything for me.
…I’ve been waiting for payment from this client for 3 months.Classic “I say I’m one thing, but I’m actually the other.” Ever had a client delude you?
I’m a marketer and I also have a finance business with a partner. He referred me to a client who wants to do Facebook ads for his business and get leads.
Me: Based on what you’ve told me, I would recommend Google MyBusiness, a website made for conversions, and Google Ads.
Client: No… I want Facebook ads with phrases that will lure people into buying my product.
Me: That might work for lower-cost products, but you’re selling a $5K item.
Client: This is what I want.
I reluctantly accepted and created him a business name and logo with multiple examples. I studied his competitors and made an ad campaign that worked for his request and my professional acumen. I sent everything to him for review and told him that once he approved, we would be ready to launch.
The next day:
Client: Hey, I finally decided to cancel the project. Sorry.
Me: That’s fine. Here is the bill for the services, for which you can pay 60% now and 40% when we launch the ads. I’ll give you this leeway because I want to launch the ads and we can probably do it successfully.
Client: I don’t want to pay for this! You took images off Google and found text which won’t work and I don’t want to do the project anymore.
I pushed back but quickly gave up when I realized it was worth more to me not to talk to him anymore.
…Except my business partner who referred him to me kept him on as a client for that business. He came into the office one day to talk to my partner. He saw me and looked quite angry. I overheard him talking to my partner:
Client: You shouldn’t work with that guy. He’s a total scammer. He did a bunch of work for me and got mad when I didn’t pay him.
No, you didn’t read that wrong.
Moral of the story: never, ever ignore the red flags. Even when it’s your partner who refers you a client.
I have been working on a children’s book with an author who is not a very good writer. It’s about a kid who loves his toothbrush.
Client: Could you make the toothbrush floppy or strange for a kid to like?
Me: I’m pretty sure it’d be strange for any kid to really like a toothbrush.
Client: I want it to be floppy.
I was illustrating a picture book for a client.
Me: So when you say “nail” here, do you mean nail as in “hammer and nail” orr nails as in “fingernails”?
Client: Either or but let’s try the nail.
I was confused, but I drew hardware nails.
Client: Great work, but actually I want fingernails.
Frustrated, I redid it with fingernails.
Client: Actually, I preferred the other nails.
You know I actually have to draw these every time you can’t make up your mind, right?
Me: We estimate the project to take about 5-6 months at best
Client: I don’t think I can pay for that much development time, can it be done in two, max three?
Me: You’re already asking me to be the lead developer on the frontend and backend, working with students with no experience. The project is very complicated, I’m not sure if it’s possible.
Client: That reminds me, we also have no project managers available for this project. Could you take that on as well?
Client: To discuss this packaging design, could you meet me at my place at 5 PM?
Me: Well, since that’s rush hour it would take me 4 hours round trip to get there and back, and that’s without the meeting. My policy is to only do on-site meetings after the contract is signed.
Client: Okay, how about my office at 2 PM?
Me: That’s still a bit of a drive for me, but… fine.
It took over an hour of driving to get to his office. When I arrived, he sat me down:
Client: Okay, here’s the deal. I’m talking to another designer as well. I will pay $100 to whichever of you can come up with the best design.
Me: I charge more than $100 for the discovery phase-
Client: Hold on, I have to take this.
He then cut the conversation off and booked a flight with his family on speaker… I thought I was in a dream.
The meeting lasted 10 min tops (including booking a flight) I never followed up.
I really should have sent him a bill.WTF!?!? Has this ever happened to you?
I was brought in to create a website for a small company, after being referred by a graphic designer friend of mine.
The owner of the business explained that he wanted the website to be just like the brochure that my friend had just designed, with a soft and gentle appearance, very calm and subdued.
After producing the site, we met at their office to go over any last-minute snagging. His daughter, who worked with him, was now present for the first time. She seemed exasperated.
Client’s daughter: This is no good. It’s just like the brochure, too calm and subdued – it needs to have much more excitement and pizazz, we want the site to pop!
Me: You just described, word for word, the brief I was given.
Client’s daughter: Well the brief was wrong. Change it.
I work in marketing for a number of hospitals across the US. Here are some of my favorite client edits:
Client: Please note that the words ‘sick’ and ‘ill’ are prohibited per our hospital brand guidelines. If necessary you may refer to “Patients being treated for complex medical conditions.”
Client: Please don’t say patients with cancer are “sick.” That sounds awfully negative.
And my favorite:
Client: Please don’t say the patient “fought cancer.” It makes it sound like we think cancer is cool or badass.
I’m a freelance designer just getting to where I’ve got a solid reputation and steady work. One of my earliest clients came to me recently looking for a new design. I was somewhat hesitant, as I’ve had some… issues with this client’s idea of “revisions” before, but they purchased a sample graphic I had listed on my site, so I figured it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
They paid for the basic edits that would make it unique to their brand, asked for one extra thing that I was happy to throw in as a “ah, this is an established working relationship” thing, and I sent off the proof.
Then they wanted more. Another round of revisions turned into two, turned into three, turned into twelve — all with instructions like “Can we turn this element another 45°, take out these two elements, change the font, change the font color, change the background color, move this element sixteen pixels to the side…” and so forth. This is pretty much the standard playbook for this client, but for a pre-crafted design that they got at a steep discount… I’d had enough.
Me: Hey, I can’t do any more edits to this project. The idea of buying one of my sample designs is that you get it as-is; at this rate, we’re looking at basically a custom design here, and you’re only paying a fraction of my normal rates. I’m going to be charging you for all of these extra changes, per the contract that you signed.
Client: That’s really unrealistically expensive, but okay. Go ahead and charge me for the edits. Also I want to use this as the basis for an entire series of 7-10 products, just changing the color, and text, and all the elements each time. So I’ll just pay for the edits for each product, not for a new design.
Me: I am actually already invoicing you for the changes. I’m saying that I am not doing any more edits. And I’m sorry, but if you want to do a collection those will each be individually-contracted custom designs. You can’t buy a pre-made design for a fraction of the usual price and expect to get multiple projects out of it.
Client: (after several days of radio silence) Your last email hurt me dreadfully. I’m sorry if I’ve misunderstood, but I thought that our friendship meant enough to you that you’d be willing to do these things for me. After all, we’ve worked together for a long time, and I really like your work. I’m very hurt and upset that you are just suddenly telling me all these things instead of letting me know a long time ago.
I was absolutely sideswiped by the weirdly emotional email because we WEREN’T friends. Still, the 700+ word message had all sorts of manipulative, guilt-tripping language in it about our deep friendship, how hurt the client was, how I really should make it clear that a sample design can’t be drastically altered or used in multiple projects without extra costs… I finally got a colleague to help me compose a reply that was basically:
Me: I’m sorry you were hurt, but this is a business relationship. You’re right: clearly my contract needs to spell things out in even more painful detail, even for things that are considered industry standard. Here’s your invoice.
And then I fired them. They paid, and I sent off the files that they’ll never use and I can also never use. All’s well that ends well, but my contract is now a million times more overly specific than it needs to be. Ironically, the same client is the reason I have a contract to begin with, since when I was first starting I didn’t know any better and had a similar situation with the very first project I did for this client. Someday I’ll learn, I swear.
I doubt the client will though. They’re a pretty well-known small business, but the lack of professionalism is slowly driving them out of business as fewer and fewer folks will work with them.
A while back, I was contracted by a regular client to help him set up his new restaurant (website, social media, logo, etc…). I also agreed as a favor to help him navigate Mailchimp and set him up with an account so that he could send out newsletters to his guests. One day I receive an email titled “Database Imports” containing an Excel file.
Me: What’s this for?
Client: These are subscribers to be added to our new Mailchimp account.
Me: Oh, great! How did you collect them?
Client: Friends, family and a few regular customers from my other restaurants.
Me: Cool ok, it’ll be nice to start with a few subscribers. Let me take a loo-
Me: …There are 66,256 names on this list.
Client: Yes so what?
Me: You got 66,256 people to agree to sign up?…
Client: Of course I didn’t. They signed up to newsletters from my other businesses. Same thing.
Me: No it’s not. This is illegal.
Client: You worry too much. Do it.
Client: Just do it. I have 30 years’ experience in this biz and that’s how it’s done.
Fast forward a few months and the introduction of GDPR…
Client: WE URGENTLY NEED TO REVISE ALL OUR MAILING LISTS. I TRUST YOU HAVE A WAY OF SEPARATING THE ONES WHO SIGNED UP FROM THE ONES WE ADDED?
I actually saw this coming and set up different lists, just in case so it would be a breeze to delete the offending entries. But I’m still debating if I shouldn’t dish out some poetic justice and tell him he needs to start from scratch because I hate the way he handles his customer private information.Got a story about a client getting his just desserts?
Client: Please make this form full width.
Me: Done. Is this better?
Client: Yes, thank you. Can you also add another field to the form?
Me: Done. Anything else?
Client: Can you make this form look like this other form?
He was asking me to change the form I’d just edited back to match what it was originally.
Me: Okay, done.
Client: Perfect thank you. Oh and can you make the button a little more pink? To stand out.
Me: But the button is the same pink used all over your site?
Client: I want this one to be a different pink.
Me: (Ignores client and doesn’t make the change) OK, that’s done for you.
Client: That’s perfect.
Client: I need a private website.
Me: What do you mean by private website? Do you mean something like portfolio site?
Client: Not a personal website, I need just a private website.
Me: What do you mean? You mean a site which can only be accessed by you or a limited audience?
Client: No, website can be viewed by anyone. But it should be private.
I took a side gig as a contract delivery driver picking up medical lab samples for a client. This guy had his hand in lots of pies. He was a bail bondsman, a process server, a delivery courier himself, plus who knows what else. I ran a route M-F with a fairly strict time frame due to the freshness of the lab samples. This story involves me leaving when he couldn’t pay me.
Client: Hey, my account was hacked and they wiped me out.
Me: Sorry to hear that. You are still able to pay me for the work I’ve performed in the last week, right?
Client: About that, I can and I will, but it will be next week.
Me: So long as it’s by next week.
Me: Have you got my payment from last week yet?
Client: About that, the bank still has not fixed everything. But I’ll pay you later on this week.
I was starting to get suspicious.
Two weeks of non-payment goes by, I contact the client again.
Me: It’s has been two weeks and I need to be paid. I want to continue our business relationship, but if I am not paid by Friday, then I will have to cease work.
The job was VERY time-sensitive.
Client: Please, I will pay you by Friday.
Me: OK, but if I am not paid by Friday, I will not continue work the following Monday.
I had not been paid at that point, and ceased work.
Client: Why aren’t you doing on the job?
Me: You know exactly why.
Client: I don’t have the money!
Me: Sure, but now I don’t have the money. The more I work for you, the more you’re making your problem my problem.
He eventually paid, but it took way more than it should have to get him there.
A client asked me to code a WordPress theme they’d commissioned from a designer. They had a budget, deadline, and even a work process so I thought we were good to go.
We were not.
Feedback round 1:
Client: This is not what we expected you would deliver. It’s missing the content.
They hadn’t added the content, which is why it was missing.
Feedback round 2:
Client: Can you make design changes directly in the code?
Me: That’s not a great idea. Let’s just deal with the design first and then I can start coding it.
Client: Just do it anyway.
I followed orders. It broke things, and the designer quit immediately thereafter.
I don’t know how many rounds of feedback he’d had.
Feedback round 3: the client sent me a two-page document plus 30 screenshots from all across the site with mentions of “errors” of about 2-3 pixels between elements.
This was a 3-week project. It took over 2 months.
Client: Our website does not seem genuine. There are too many stock photos. It’s very important that they be our real personal photos.
Me: OK, if you can send me some photos I’d be happy to replace them.
Client: I have never been the type to take pictures.