Put an End to Client Abuse of Web Designers & Developers

I’m putting together my next SitePoint article and would like your feedback. What are some ways you feel prospects and clients mistreat you, both during the consultation sales stage and afterwards?

For example, my top pet-peeve was clients who endlessly delayed sending me content.

During the sales process, it was clients who expected me to produce a detailed proposal without ever promising when (or if) they’d get back to me.

What about you? I’ll pick the top answers and give you credit (and a link, if you like) in the article.


Well, mistreat sounds a bit harsh, many of the early stage items are caused by the supplier not being systematic or having processes. Most of these issues also lead to problems down the track if the project goes ahead.

Here are some issues I’ve experienced and solutions:

  • Buyer vague, but shops around –> likely no actual need to solve problem, checks if its cheap enough to do it anyway. Solution: ask for more information, FUD
  • Buyer just wants a quote to beat down competitor (there was an article: “if the budget is approved - run!”
  • Buyer wants quote broken down, then picks cheapest parts, causing extra work - Solution: every quote modification needs to be requoted as a whole, part costs are indicative only, Estimate pricing
  • Buyer wants quote, provided, wants quote for something else, provided, can’t decide which one to do - Solution: establish if they actually have a need
  • Buyer has real need (for themselves, but not matching their boss, organisation), but can’ actually sign off. Solution: don’t deal with people that can’t sign cheques.
  • Buyer has breakdown of system, needs urgent help, wants to sign contract later, deposit later, then after breakdown fixed extends scope. Solution: always use contract, deposit, use Paypal.
  • Buyer swaps team at start of project, brings in his cheap, unskilled family etc. Solution: Have contract clause for termination when team changed
  • Buyer doesn’t want to complete project, drags out by sending new requests, not answering. Solution: have termination clause for failure to answer request within 30 days (we have full payment for this behaviour with no deliverables!)

Hope this helps,


The 2 biggest issues I experience are:

  • Scope creep: I quote on something, sign agreement, and then they start asking for little things here and there. Some people honestly think it’s not a big deal, and when explained that it will take time and effort to do, will agree to pay more, but others I’m beginning to think agree to smaller jobs, hoping that they can later piggy back other features on the existing contract/quote.
  • Unresponsive clients: I get it that people are busy, and can’t answer emails as fast as one would like, but just yesterday I had to fire a client, that after a month still hadn’t sent me his logo, and login info to his hosting.

I agree; many of the items you’ve listed simply happen because we didn’t manage exceptions properly. But this one…

…I’d definitely classify as mistreatment and a client’s attempt to take advantage of you.

Thanks for the input.

Both are good points. As JD mentioned, these can happen when we don’t have a process in place. But when clients clearly understand what’s expected of both parties, and still delay or push for free changes … well, the word “mistreat” comes to mind.

The notion of ‘client abuse’ kind of turns me off. I agree with the above post that puts the responsibility on the vendor. If you are going to be in the web services business, you have to expect clients to be clients and learn to handle the speed bumps and avoid the pitfalls.

There are lame clients, and lame web professionals. It would be just as easy to write a book about how web developers screw their clients, and maybe even easier :slight_smile:

I am not much for the ‘victim’ perspective of the proposed article. Could it not be just as useful but simply offer tips/ways to avoid the most common scenarios? If you think of clients as potential abusers, it’s hard to imagine how you can be a great vendor that will be truly successful. Clients are are partners in business, and they have a whole range of ethic, experience, skill, and kindness as do we developers.

You’re right; many things listed here are not “abuse,” just mismanaged expectations and mis-communication. For example, I wouldn’t classify a client who doesn’t know what his budget is as abusive. Most of these reasonable but perhaps uninformed people are not abusive and may become “partners in business.”

However, a client who won’t meet with you in a private office and, instead, sits you down in a crowded showroom with his employees constantly interrupting you is abusive, or at the very least, disrespectful. That’s the type of behavior I’ll be addressing.

Regarding the ‘victim’ perspective. I’m not a fan of being a one, nor do I plan on advocating it (just the opposite, in fact). But keep in mind that an attention-grabbing headline needs to have a certain element of hyperbole.

Inefficient, yes. Annoying, yes. Unprofessional, probably. Disrespectful, maybe.

Abusive? No :slight_smile:

Fair enough :slight_smile:

Just about all of the problems & solutions mentioned so far have to do with whether you do a good job of establishing the relationship up front. However, occasionally, you do get a client that’s just… difficult. Maybe a good theme for an article would be how to detect problem clients before signing a contract!

Brilliant Post!!! Put an End to Client Abuse!

Okay, one of my worse experience is when I had a client continuously asking for changes outside the proposal. I let most of the changes slip and did as they pleased. Unfortunately the demands did not stop there, once the design was approved they loved it, a week-later they hated it and made me do more changes.

These requests got worse, in the end the approved design to the final product looked completely different as the client just kept ‘picking’ on the design until they were FINALLY happy with it. During this process they demanded several onsite meetings.

To add insult to injury when I went to get paid the client did not want to pay the full amount upon delivery. There reasoning for this is so that they could have support, as they put it. Similar to buying a car and holding 1,000 or so EU so that they’d service it for free. Kind of funny if you think about it.

Anyhow, 30-days after payment the client still kept sending emails to what they believed they wanted, most of which was additional work. This is where the penny dropped. I sent an email to put the clients on a support package or else I’d be unable to support them. They did not agree but expected support none-the-less.

In the end I did not follow any of their requests up as additional payment for those requests in their mind was out of the question. Anything that could have gone wrong DID go wrong.

As to your original question, how to stop client abuse? From the shocking experience I had above I’ve changed the way I work.

I now charge an hourly rate for support. So however many changes the client wants they get, as they will only inflate the price. As they know this the’d be careful before abusing the system. Support is provided with a 12-month package or hourly chunks. This is now made clear in the beginning. I include free 3-hour support usable in the first 30-days. I never reply to emails instantly, as this can fuel client demands. Instead I reply to them once or twice a day. I now only produce websites on my host, don’t deal with 3rd party hosts unless the client is willing to pay for my time which will take longer as I would not fully know their host. All prices are estimated, no more fixed prices as this is just asking to be exploited.

I have to agree with @jdog, it’s all about having proper procedures in place. If you’re new to handling clients then things are bound to get tricky. You need to know how to handle them and know what to do when things get tricky. Everybody loves freebies and if you’re not direct on what the client will get for what price, you’re making a problem before it happens. Don’t bend the rules and don’t allow yourselves to be fooled.

I do like the article name, but maybe you should focus a big part of the article on proper procedures in handling clients, giving scenarios to what you would do. I think that people won’t know how to spot problem clients even if you tell them you’d have a problem. Maybe you have to give them scenarios to fully appreciate how a problem could escalate and what to do when things just get to a point were you can’t do anything with them any more, how would you ‘terminate’ a client.

That would be a brilliant read.

Hope this helps.

We can quibble over terms, but the bottom line is, I don’t want to be treat like that. Do you?

Your correct. I’m looking for scenarios when clients push the envelope beyond just being uniformed or having unrealistic expectations, and into the realm of disrespect and mistreatment. For example, I’ve heard of companies who allow clients to scream and yell at their employees.

I feel such an article coming on.

This is a prime example of allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of. To address Sagewing’s earlier point about the victim perspective, I believe each of us is responsible for how we allow others to treat us. Playing the victim is futile. If we look back and examine what we could have done different, we’ll learn how to get different outcome in the future. Hindsight is 50/50, but only if you bother to turn around and take a good look.

Okay, stop with the mind-reading.

I’ve found out that the bigger the clients are the more they are inclined to shout and go down the corporate bllsht root, overlooking any human sentiment to what’s being done, often costing them.

As you say, clients delaying content delivery is a major issue and definately a pet-peeve but there are other things that annoy me.

  • Issues with payments, either because they’re delayed or because they don’t pay at all.

  • Changes of mind while designing/developing. But, of course, assuming the extra cost is something else!

  • Never satisfied unless they get a clone of that site they love. No matter how hard you try to make them understand that they have to try to be better than their competitors, and that cloning a site breaches copyright and even could hurt their images (lack of originality, being less rememberable and easily confused with that brand)… They say “yes, I understand what you say” but then keep on poiting at unexisting flaws because what they really want is the other site.

  • Changes in time frames. Furthermore when they’ve taken ages in providing the contect. All of the sudden, they’re in a hurry to get the site up and running

  • Unrealistic expentations - Most of the time, they really expect you to give them the content themselves! Writing articles, or providing the pictures (normally, they don’t want to assume the extra cost). What the contrac says is independent of what they expect.
    Also, some of my customers expect me to fix their computer when I’m talking about their website. They assume that if you are a programmer, you have to kow everything about computers and that includes fixing them.

Hey John,

Awesome approach to creating a great article.

---- On Sales ->

I’m weird. I don’t think clients are evil in general, in that they are out to take advantage of us.
BUT that “feeling” of being taken does exist and I think it’s a combo of how the web designer behaves
and how the client behaves.

So … the client, one who isn’t very knowledgeable, but wants to know everything can be a big pain
for the web designer who is very talented and very giving with his/her time. This is trouble in the making.

What happens, and has happened to me, is that as a client starts asking about how you do things, what technology
you use, what do you do for hosting, organizing content, etc. You start telling them answers that they can actually
use/apply either themselves or with their current designer (who is limited) or perhaps hire someone cheaper when
they hear of you big ticket (and of coures they got some gem info out of you).

The problem in this situation is how you handle your answers, how you usher them to a contract, and get them
to sign before giving away info, answers, comps, ideas.

So, to answer your question about abuse.

The abuser is the know-it-all client who digs and pries into your brain and time.

AND, to stop the abuse is to have a process for answering questions,
(giving just enough), you asking lots of questions (about their big goals so they stop fussing over the little stuff
that well, they just don’t need to know), and well being ready to say NO to a prospect cause it’s going down that ugly path.

(In my guide, Web Design Clients Galore, I discuss dodging tire-kickers and bottom-feeders, and give insights for keeping
clients moving along the sales process into a paid contract, it’s conveniently here :wink: http://www.WebDesignClientsGalore.com).

---- On Fulfillment

Let me just add to your point (someone’s point above) about getting content.

On AWESOME thing about me narrowing my web design to a specialty : Professional Coaches (executive coaches, life coaches, etc), is
that I know what content I need from them, I’ve amassed guides to help them get the content done well and timely.

BUT regardless of how niched you are in your web design biz, i’m a BIG on giving clients due dates to get me stuff. I ask them, “Can you take 1 hour
to draft the content for the services page and send that to me by end of day Tuesday?” (given today is say Friday). Give them short deadlines
and chalk it up to getting this done fast. Also, tell them to “DRAFT” it so it’s not as big a deal and tell them to just spend an hour, or half hour, or 20 minutes,
whatever, makes no difference. The key is to get them to do something!

Then if they struggle, ask them, “By which day can you get me the [insert whatever content here]?” .

Looking forward to this article John.

Hi everybody else ( no time to read deeply riight now!).



Waiting for client content is indeed a nightmarish experience. Even if they provide content they’d probably changed it 3/4 times before delivery. Many cases they’d probably expect you to change the content within the original price, as they assume this to be a 2-click process.

I now work with Lorum Ipsum text, even on delivery. I design the website with this text from a rough site map given of things they’d like to say, from here on out I replace the text with there content, if provided. If not the site is delivered to them on a staging environment whereby they can publish the site once they’ve done their changes, in either case payment needs to be fulfilled. If payment is expected on delivery the clients will hold off delivery as long as possible. It’s funny how clients get very bothered with the word LIVE. The website comes with a basic training manual, from here on out support on the CMS needs to be charged and stated on an hourly rate. Understand the client will always assume something in their favour, so any room for misunderstandings will be misunderstood.

I know my process sounds a little OTT, but we have to make money from what we do if this is our source of income. The trouble with web design is that EVERYTHING is possible, the only thing is involves is TIME, and time costs money. If you give clients room to mess you around they will, and assuming everybody loves to pay me cough cough they’d be sure to pay me more money for more time. Unfortunately people don’t like paying, and extra cost is something they’d never expect.

It’s almost like clients are looking for somebody to exploit. Many approach us like their buying clothes rather than looking at us as a service. We’re actually providing both a product (the website) and a service (the hosting and support). Considering our only source of income of the service part is from the service we provide them, we’d need to charged them for this. Imagine having 50+ clients on free support because they bought a website 5-or-so years ago. You’d quickly go out of business.

In order to have no problems you’d have to explain all this from the very beginning. What are the chances you’d get the job then?

The abuser is the know-it-all client who digs and pries into your brain and time.

Completely agreed! They dig into your brains to learn and do what you do for themselves.

It’s one thing to have a friend who you can help and evolve from and it’s another thing having a client who simply wants to leech your knowledge for free. One client expected me to teach them how to search engine optimize, imagine that! I think in many cases you have to lie in your answers. Tell them everything but the one thing they need to know in order to do the job themselves.

We’re not here to give answers to how we do our job. It’s like a going to a fish merchant and asking them for their fish supplier. Explaining every single little detail on what I do would take at least x3 longer, which leeches normally demand, expecting full-blown explanations for the smallest of details asking you to explain all the why’s, what if’s etc.

If they are paying for some kind of support (after website delivery) per-month then this could easily be worked in, but even then you’d have to have an hourly support rate and for how many hours it would cover worked into your package so that you’d prevent clients exploiting the system.

Emails are a legally binding, so we really have to be careful what we say http://uk.ask.com/question/are-emails-legally-binding.

There are so many angles this article could be covered, it should be an amazing read none-the-less.

I’ve also done the same. Surely, I’m not the only one who’s had the client ask (in spite of my explanation about the text):

“Why is all the text written in another language?”

This is such an important point you bring up. We should strive to be professional in all our communications. Read and re-read your email before pushing “send”—and not just for typos, but to make sure what you’re saying won’t be mis-interpreted (which is so easy to do with the written word).

I read about a restaurant owner who let one of his employees set up and manage a Twitter account for him. Apparently, someone tweeted that he’d gotten food poisoning. Instead of investigating, asking questions, or offering compensation, the employee proceeded to call the person a liar, and the ensuing argument went viral. All this happened over the weekend, unbeknownst to the owner, who didn’t find out until Monday when, alas, the damage to his reputation had already been done.

Needless to say, the restaurant owner now understands the implications of social media and has relieved the employee from Twitter duty.