Halloween’s 13 Scariest Clients

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We’re blessed with reasonable, appreciative clients for 364 days of the year but October 31st is different. Halloween is time for the undead to rise up and bombard us with woeful website requests. Fortunately, we can recognize the warning signs and exorcise the demons!

Spooky trees with cliché halloween text: "Halloween's thirteen scariest clients."
Thanks to Philip Male via Flickr for the background image.

1. The “How Much” Horror

The client wants a final quote now. They don’t have firm requirements and can’t commit to a schedule but still expect you to provide a fixed price for their project. You could also be haunted by the Secret Spirit who won’t discuss their revolutionary idea because you could steal it — but they still want a quote.

These clients are rarely technical and require considerable assistance. The amount of education they require is inversely proportional to the time it takes them to ask “how much for my website?”. Be wary to adjust costs accordingly or consider offering a consultancy service to help them determine their needs.

2. The Evil Anecdote Apparition

This client has an awful website. Their last designer was useless and you’ll both laugh at the stories of incompetence.

Before long, you realize the Apparition has numerous evil anecdotes about every one of their suppliers. Are they all terrible or is the client quick to find fault with everyone and everything. The solution? Keep them informed and ensure you can deliver what you promise when you promise it. Factor in a healthy dose of contingency time and budget.

3. The Favor Fiend

“You should create our website for free — we’re doing you a favor!” This translates to: “We have no money. We have no expertise. We’d like you to take all the risks with no guarantee of any reward.”

Perhaps they’re the next Twitter but it’s a one-in-a-million gamble. Before embarking on this sort of nonsense, ask yourself one question: do you have a better idea that you could develop and keep 100% of the income?

4. The Haunted Haggler

“We can’t pay your rates! We want a discount!” The haggler will never give in. They’ll keep squeezing no matter how low your quote goes.

Don’t give in: haggling cheapens your expertise, saps your time and reduces your motivation. Walk away — it will make them want you even more, and it is empowering to say “no” every now and then.

5. The Preposterous Phantom

“We want to be #1 in Google for ‘bananas’ and more popular than Facebook. You must deliver by next week.”

I’ve been visited by a few Phantoms. They can be technically minded and have a reasonable budget but they won’t listen to pragmatic advice or be swayed from their ludicrous expectations. Do the work by all means, but word your contract carefully. Your technical implementation won’t be the reason their business fails to succeed.

6. The Second-Guessing Ghoul

This client continually berates your recommendations owing to hearsay from a friend or relative who’s “an expert in this web stuff”. You’ll soon discover that the Ghoul used FrontPage a decade ago and have out-dated ideas involving splash screens and keyword stuffing.

It’s difficult to deal with second-hand knowledge. You could suggest the Ghoul brings their “expert” to all meetings and defers decisions to them. Alternatively, you could decide the client doesn’t trust your judgment and walk.

7. The Commitment Critter

You’ve attended numerous meetings. You’ve provided a detailed schedule and quotation. You’re happy. Your client is happy. Then… all goes quiet. Your calls are ignored and no deposit is made. You move on.

The Critter mysteriously reappears six months later. They’re ready to proceed and want you to start tomorrow — as if you’ve been waiting for their call. It’s a reminder to always add finite terms in your proposals and contracts, e.g. this estimate and schedule is valid for 28 days. Reserve the right to re-negotiate when project delays are beyond your control.

8. The Middle Manager Mutant

The Mutant’s job is to find problems and baffle you with jargon to warrant that any solutionizing is on-brand. The more issues they find, the better they look.

A major benefit of freelancing is you need never concern yourself with office politics. But it still exists and some employees can benefit from destabilizing a project. My advice: be professional and don’t get sucked in. If any person causes delays, document the schedule slippage and reasons on a document all stakeholders can access.

9. The Backseat Bogeyman

The Bogeyman knows your job better than you. They could create a better website — if they had the time. And tools. And skills. And inclination.

The best way to keep this client happy is to keep them informed and ask their advice on regular occasions. Some freelancers may give them lots of “important” questions to keep them busy … vital decisions such as the home page photo, keywords meta tags or hamburger icon color.

10. The Disappearing Demon

The Demon disappears for weeks on end shortly after the project commences. You hear strange noises but nothing substantial. Decisions aren’t made and the schedule slips further. Then all hell breaks loose as they suddenly reappear and question why their site isn’t ready.

Ideally, you should have a single contact who is able to give you a definitive decision for all questions. If they’re not able to do that, request another staff member who can. That can be impractical in smaller companies so ensure your contract covers such eventualities, e.g.

  • the billing schedule will continue regardless of any delays imposed by the client, and/or
  • where no decision is forthcoming within a reasonable time, the developer will choose a suitable option. Change requests will be subject to additional payments.

11. The Time Vampire

The Time Vampire can be worse than the Disappearing Demon. The Vampire sucks all life out of your day with incessant calls and meeting requests. They often work with the Amnesiac Aberration who forgets what you agreed and needs to discuss everything again several weeks later.

The solution: consider agile development and payment. Daily stand-up meetings are scheduled and the client is free to make any demands on your time; their project will simply continue for longer.

12. The Zigzagging Zombie

The Zombie makes bizarre, unsubstantiated demands and changes direction incessantly. They know exactly what they want… when they see it. The project will never end because they can never be 100% satisfied.

Fortunately, the Zombie is easy to identify at the start. Avoid charging a fixed price and opt for pay-per-hour or agile payment options.

13. The Non-Paying Poltergeist

The Poltergeist makes noise and causes mess only to go spookily quiet when payment is due.

The solution is simple: always demand a healthy deposit with regular scheduled payments or up-front fees. This is especially true for new clients or those with a poor credit history. If they don’t pay, stop all work and update the schedule accordingly. It’s cheaper and easier to prevent payment problems than it is to chase clients through the courts.

Have you been haunted by a strange apparition? Did you run or stand and struggle with the specter?!

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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