Client Madness Part 2: More Freelance Horror Stories
In March, I published Client Madness Part 1, a collection of stories from different freelancers about a particularly horrifying experience they had with a client. I thought I might have trouble finding enough stories to fill all that screen space, but surprisingly, I received more responses than I knew what to do with.
It turns out that almost every freelancer has a horror story of their own, so to honor their struggle (and e-shame their monstrous clients), may I present Client Madness Part 2, the SCREAMQUEL!
Trade: Freelance graphic designer
In the fall of 2015, I was contacted by a restaurant owner from my hometown to rebrand her business. My aunt and uncle have been loyal customers of hers for years, and I happened to go to high school and college with her niece.
It’s always a risk when working with a personal connection. Sometimes it results in fabulous teamwork. Other times–as it did in this case–it results in unrealistic expectations.
As a freelance designer, I have struggled with the money conversation. I don’t ever want to be greedy or money-hungry, but I also have a life to sustain. So as I do with all branding clients, I sent the owner an estimate sheet that broke down the project into its components: Logo, print media, site, photography, etc. Immediately, I was told that I was overpriced (meanwhile, I had clients telling me that I was underpriced). Because of the personal connections we shared–and this was my mistake–I agreed to create the lady’s logo for $350 (originally estimated at $600). She agreed to the rest of the pricing.
It pains me that the origin of our disagreements revolved around money, but I soon understood that ageism was another factor at play.
When I was home for Thanksgiving, I agreed to come into her shop to photograph her salads for her new website. On the eve of–and this was 1.5 months into the project–I asked her to pay me 50 percent for the logo and site work, and 100 percent for the photography while we would be together.
Her response shocked me. She thought I was going to do the photography for free (and called me a liar), and refused to pay the 50 percent until everything was completed. I told her to look at the estimate sheet, which clearly states photography as a separate expense. She agreed that she misread the estimate.
When I told her that 50 percent upfront is a standard practice for businesses, she told me that I am young and need to “prove myself” to be considered a true business. I have been a designer for several years, and although I am the age of her niece, I have been an artist my entire life. This continued into a long argument via text message, in which statements such as, “Being Shayna’s aunt doesn’t count for much” and “I honestly think this would have been a lasting relationship” were thrown towards me.
I was torn in two directions: guilt and anger. One side of me did not want to cause tension between her and my family or myself and her niece. The other side of me was all Millennial-fired-up. My friends assured me that if I were older, I would not be treated to this way. I therefore held my ground, and labeled her an ageist.
There is certainly more to the story, but it ended two months later with me providing a logo that had gone through 15 rounds of revisions and was still not “complete” for the agreed-on price of $350. We did not continue with the rest of the branding.
My takeaway was two-fold: Set clear expectations from the first conversation, and do not budge on price or beliefs unless you are absolutely certain that you will be valued and appreciated.
Maria Marilyn Madrid
Trade: Freelance web copywriter & SEO/social media specialist
Although there are several stories worth sharing, a standout was one of my very first clients I met online through Freelancer.com. Being new to freelancing in general, I didn’t know about red flags for possible freelance scams. Some of the signs include the fact that the client doesn’t have a verified payment profile and did not set up milestones after he hired me. It happened during the glory days of BMR (Build My Rank), a network of countless sites designed to accept short posts with backlinks for SEO purposes.
His project was enormous and involved the need for 10,000 or more words within two weeks. Being new, I wasn’t fast enough yet for research and writing, so I obviously didn’t finish the task on time. I asked for an extension and he agreed. After I finally completed everything, his tone suddenly changed. He declined to pay because I submitted the posts late and they were no longer accepted past deadline. He never responded anymore after that.
I wrote about him all over forums and review sites to warn others about his scam. I also discovered that he actually published the posts I submitted (they were accepted after all). I then contacted the sites linked to those posts. One responded and mentioned that the guy was also a freelancer who wrote for them. Google searches bearing his name led to search results of pages bearing numerous complaints from other unsuspecting victims. It looks like those are either no longer active or have since been removed.
Lesson learned the hard way: Read about red flags of possible client scams before applying.
Trade: Freelance marketing and three-time best selling author
I freelance on Fiverr and have a pretty spotless record there. But about two years ago I had an absolutely insane client. I was supposed to create a WordPress website for him, and things started off on a pretty positive note. But he quickly started being a little bit jumbled and confusing about his requirements.
I would email him with questions, he would answer inconclusively, and after a long wait, and the back and forth was just wasting too much of my time. Also, when he did answer, he was often going on tangents, and the communication was very unfocused. I realized that I needed to put an end to this, and he got angry after I told him I couldn’t work with him anymore. He was ultimately very angry that he had to start all over in his search for help with his website. I can understand that. But I had to stop working with him because he had so many red flags in the beginning and clients like that usually end up costing.
I realized that I just had to give him his refund and distance myself from him, but the way things work on Fiverr is that the buyer has to agree to take the refund.
This person refused to take a refund and started ordering me to build his site, and screaming at me and insulting me for wasting his time.
I contacted Fiverr support but surprisingly they didn’t 100 percent help me distance myself from him, and said that he has some rights too, and that he was within their terms of service.
I ended up having to deliver something to this client, and of course, he gave me a one star review.
Between him and Fiverr’s unwillingness to help me, this ended up wasting a disproportionate amount of my time. Plus no one should work if they are being yelled at.
To this date, in over two years on Fiverr, 1000+ customers and 500+ positive reviews, only three people have left negative reviews, and that insane person was one of them.
By the way, I did try to vent a little bit, and said something to the effect that he was crazy. And his parting shot was something similar to: It takes one to know one. So I left it at that.
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Trade: Longtime technologist who later moved into technology writing
My husband and I had a computer consulting business in rural Maine in the 80s and early 90s, and we occasionally took work in the Boston area. In 1989, the broker we worked with found us a gig that seemed to be a perfect fit. We’d be working for a (then-major) microcomputer company, building software to support the quality assurance efforts on the part of an upcoming microcomputer. The project was in three phases: Identify the need and write the project plan (1 month); create a visual prototype (1 month); write the actual software (8 months).
Obviously, this was a big project. Once the project budget was approved, the broker and the client negotiated the contract. Ordinarily, that’s relatively simple, but they included a bunch of weird clauses we had to strike out, such as one that basically came out to, “If we don’t like what you did, you’ll work for free until we like it.”
We spent four weeks wrestling over it, but finally everything was done and signed. We cleared our schedules, rented an apartment in the Boston area, and invested in some expensive hardware to support the work we’d do (such as a then-$1200 monitor).
Things were great for two solid weeks, maybe three. We showed the prototype to the client just about every day. She kept exclaiming how much she loved it, and how well it met the project goals. We got along great with the other engineers. It was lots of fun.
The, when we showed the client the prototype-in-progress on the final Monday morning, she said, “No, it’s not intuitive.”
Huh? It was “intuitive” on Friday! Okay, “show me what you think is intuitive.” She didn’t have an answer. It was, needless to say, a frustrating week. By Friday we were totally confused — and we didn’t have a prototype for which they’d sign off. The contract language said, “If we don’t agree on the prototype, both parties may walk away” — which is what we did.
It was a huge blow to us, since we had told all our other clients to go away for 6+ months and we needed to start building the business from scratch … all on a single month’s income, after spending money on hardware.
But fate was kind. Two years later, while working on another consulting gig at a different company, my husband met one of the other engineers with whom we’d worked with in Boston, and found out what had REALLY gone down: The software we were supposed to build was going to support a new hardware project, and the hardware was canceled. Since the contract never specified what happened in that case — the client assumed we’d insist on being paid for the entire nine months of work. Their only legal “out” was to not-agree on the prototype.
This taught me to pay far more attention to what it says in the contract! And, in particular, what it takes for either side to walk away.
To this day, however, I’d like to have a doll to stick pins in, and to put that client’s name on it.