Clients from Hell
I was hired by a psychotherapy firm to create a website. Now, weeks later, they still don’t agree with each other on the colors, fonts, layout and animations we approved before. Eight versions later and we are still debating if the Facebook icon on the right or left properly conveys all society’s mental health political issues or something like that.
The whole process was so terrible that now I feel like I need therapy. Just not from these people.
It’s been a while since I’ve met any clients in person, but I’ve been remembering when I would. This happened a few years ago now, but I still think about it. Not the worst client I’ve had – not by a long shot – but memorable.
The client was running late for a meeting:
Client: If it’s okay, I’m going to stop for coffee.
Me: That’s fine.
Client: Do you want me to pick you up anything?
Me: You know, I’ll take a black coffee. Sure! Thanks, and see you soon.
She showed up in twenty minutes and gave me a coffee and a muffin the size of a boxing glove.
Client: This place has the best muffins, so I got you one.
Me: Oh, thanks!
How nice! How thoughtful! Until the end of the meeting when we talked budget:
Client: Okay, so figure out what you want to charge me and knock off $7.89.
Me: Oh, okay… why $7.89?
Client: That’s what I paid for your coffee and muffin.
Ah yes, the muffin I didn’t ask for.
This was indeed a red flag – the client would go on to do LOTS of things that SEEMED considerate but were not actually at all.
I work for a small agency that designs and builds budget home recording studios. Part of our value offer is that we do the design and costing, help them with the initial build and let them do the painting and finishing themselves to save some money through sweat equity.
Most jobs come from word of mouth and a new enquiry came in. Clearly the guy had lofty aims and my spider sense tingled when he mentioned they were getting external funding so they could get young people involved in music. I’m pretty experienced in this and was at one point a college teacher, and the way he was talking about this opportunity seemed… flimsy.
The red flags kept coming. He disagreed with virtually everything I said, rejecting all my ideas and setting aside things that NEEDED to be done. A badly designed space is not a big deal, but he also did this for safety concerns – a load of people in a soundproof space, with no windows means you need a proper fire alarm system. But apparently, nope, not needed.
He continued to reject every minimum requirement I laid down, from electrical conduits to ceiling height to room layout. I requested a properly detailed plan with real measurements, and he sent me a sketch done in Microsoft paint. At one point I asked for the specification of the floor slab. His response?
Client: Yes, there will be one.
After a week of this, the client asked me to produce a highly detailed cost breakdown for the job, even though he still hadn’t given me all the specifications. The most detailed breakdown I can give is ‘$0,’ because I’m not doing it.
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I was building a website with some payment options for a client who ran a cleaning service. She’s invested in making her car look like a lady bug, with big floppy eyelashes that stuck out from the headlights. It was pretty striking and people recognized her car around town.
Me: I was thinking I could design the site to look like your car.
Client: That’s a great idea! But how will you do the eyelashes?
Me: Well, I was thinking of just using the lady bug color scheme, but we can put eyes on it if you want?
Client: So can they stick out from the screen?
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I created a music video for a local musician. I thought the job was over when they contacted me with a complaint about the file.
Client: The file you sent me won’t play.
Me: It seems to be working for me. Do you need a different format?
Client: I don’t know! I sent it to the Radio station and they said it won’t work.
Me: You mean the original song?
Client: No! The music video you created!
Me: On the radio? Not the station’s website?
Client: Yes, the Radio! Can you send me a video they can play?
Client: That was the whole point! I told you this was going to be played on the radio!
Me: I thought you meant the song.
Client: What good is the song if they can’t see the story that goes with it?
I was hired to write and design a business plan for a client who invited me their office. When I arrived, I was blown away: shelves and shelves of book. Self-help books.
Client: Thanks for coming in – I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page. I really believe in this project, and I’d like you to reflect that passion.
Me: Yes, I mean, absolutely. That’s the job.
He stared at me for a moment, and then he said:
Client: I’d like you to read something.
He handed me a book. A book that he wrote. A book of business advice.
Me: Okay, you want me to use this as an example, or…?
Client: Just read that. Think on it.
I read the first chapter. His advice included “say yes to EVERYTHING.” It was at this moment I realized I needed to draw some strong boundaries.
Sure enough, a week or so after he gave me the book he asked me to do him a side job “on the house.” He was kind of intense when he asked it. I said no, and not long after he “went a different direction.” He paid me for my time, so there’s that.
Years later I met the woman who ghost-wrote that book. Apparently, at one point he asked her if she’d do it – ghost write – for “exposure.”
I was working with an older client putting together a pamphlet. They gave me zero input on design other than giving me a number of photos that were 100 kb or less that I begrudgingly put into a gallery wall. Otherwise, I gathered a number of free stock photos that vaguely suited their business. They matched thematically and looked good in the design.
Turns out, stock photos are catnip for boomers. Every revision I’ve made since (we’re now in round 4) has been moving these stock photos and replacing them with other sub-200 kb photos they discovered on an ancient hard drive.
Clothing designers come to me to engineer their ideas for mass production. This is one of the great visionaries I work with:
Client: The sample was too big so I took it to a tailor to slim down. Just follow the sample for the final draft.
Me: Ok, but when I compare your sample it is actually larger than the pattern it was built from. I think your fabric is growing and that’s a problem.
Client: You need to make it smaller otherwise the pattern is not useable. I can’t pay for this type of work.
Me: But the pattern is already smaller.
Client: I have invested so much money into this project and I am really expecting this to be as I need it. I need to start making money, this project needs to launch… (rant continues about money woes, other issues not related to my services and the hardship of being a startup)
Me: Umm ok. I’ll make it match the sample.
I ended up making it bigger and thoroughly documented this fiasco.
I had a client who was the total “from hell” package. Rude, demanding, unable or unwilling to understand basic concepts or explanations. But the worst thing? They referred to their employees as “minions.” But the worst worst things? They made office Minions memes about their employees.
I fired them awhile ago, but I still think about them way more often than I’d like.
This happened in the 1990s. The company decided to purchase an AS400 minicomputer and some very expensive databases to run on it. Before we could start, a conference room had to be converted to a raised floor datacenter. (We had been using a utility closet for our file servers.)
The local building inspector was unsure of his expertise, so he would have to borrow an inspector from the state. Then, IBM had to send a technician to install the AS400. Then, IT sys admin had to be trained or hired, software installed, backups set up, employees trained, custom reports completed. The consultants hired by the company said 2 years to complete. At the big meeting, the boss said 6 weeks and walked out of the room as the department managers started yelling and the IT group just sat with our mouths open.
In six months time, we had enough of the system up and running and one (1!) employee trained to do data entry. The boss watched her fill out a screen and said, “See! I knew you could do it.” Any respect I had for the boss disintegrated in that moment.
In one month shy of 2 years, the last custom report was completed and approved. Not bad.
A woman and her husband (who I have to say was dressed in a cowboy hat) came in the framing store I run.
Client: Can you cut this piece of art down? The mat around it is too big.
It was a signed and numbered work.
Me: While I could, I’d try to convince you not to. The artist intended it to look this way and it would detract from the value of the p-
Client: (interrupting) Nope. We’re done here.
She turned 180 and walked out. Her cowboy husband quickly followed.
I was asked to write some copy for an Instagram BIO
Me: here you go, what do you think of this?
Client: Could you make it longer?
Me: Sorry, Instagram limits you to 150 characters
Client: Couldn’t you make the box bigger?
Me: No, sorry
Client: Could you use this instead then
Gives me poorly written content that is over 150 characters
Me: Sorry, that is over 150 characters
Client: Could you remove the spaces?
I do art commissions, and one thing I’ve unfortunately noticed is that the more people compliment your work the less likely they are to pay your prices.
This is a verbatim exchange I just had over email minus signatures and stuff.
Client: I’ve been looking through profile sites a lot lately and you really caught my eye. What a delicate style! There’s a control there that most don’t have. I’m writing a book and in talks to have it published and I was hoping you would be so good as to grace my project with your amazing, masterful art in an original digital painting?
Me: I’d love to! My rate is between $300 and $500, depending on complexity, rights, etc.
Client: Are you sure? You’re good, but are you really good enough to ask for THAT much?
I’m at least good enough not to deal with this bulls***.
Me: That’ll be two hours.
One hour later:
Client: Here’s more content to integrate.
What he added basically doubled the job. He also requested that I attend to a few minor tasks immediately. I took it in stride, took twenty minutes to do the small stuff, and started incorporating it as quickly as I could.
An hour later:
Client: You done?
Me: Not quite yet!
Client: You said you’d be done, and I expect you to stick to your own deadlines. This is highly disappointing.
We just published a new issue of our magazine, which has been running for a few years and is well-established in our industry. After covering an event which we have covered many times previously, we had this message exchange.
Client: Hello, we didn’t know [photographer] was going to publish the photos in your magazine. Please show us what he sent you, at the time we didn’t fully understand that it would be published.
Me: What is the problem here? If you have a press photographer attending an event, then if course the photos will be submitted for publication. You can see the finished issue on our site.
Client: No, that’s not how it works, it doesn’t give him the right. We didn’t want to be featured in any magazines this year.
Me: Then please take it up with [photographer] as we cannot control what is submitted to us if we’re told it has been cleared for use.
Client: But having a press photographer at your event doesn’t give them the right to send pictures to a magazine!
Er, yes, yes it does. That’s exactly what it does. A much longer conversation ensued in which we had to remind them again and again that our policy puts liability on the photographer, and they should talk directly to him; ask them if they had a contract asking for non release of the images or giving them copyright over them, which they did not; explain copyright law and laws of consent; and finally ended with us politely letting them know we would be happy to add a note in customer files that their events were never to be published again. And now that’s one less nuisance for our team to deal with in the future!