Clients from Hell or How to deal with difficult clients

As a (freelance) designer or a developer you are dealing with different clients on a regular basis. Sometimes clients are amazing, they listen to your ideas and you actually have a good working relationship and everything is good.

But there are these times when clients are just making your life miserable and you bang your head on the wall for agreeing on a particular project.

Most of the times, the problems come from clients as they refuse to pay you or they do not know what they want and the project prolongs.

Especially, if are a freelancer these situations can be really painful and you will be losing time and money with clients who actually not respecting the work you are doing and do not value your time.


A friend of mine once told me: I would love to do become a freelancers and deal with clients but honestly I do not know how can I keep myself from killing some of them. The Internet is full with articles helping you to keep clients happy. Why we should keep clients happy? Yes, I do agree that without them we won’t have money for the rent, for the buckets of coffee we drink while we are doing their projects, for the good machines we buy to do our job… but does it mean that when they pay (which sometimes does not happen because they thought that when you are a freelancer means that you work for free???!) us we should stop thinking and do whatever they want even though it is the dumbest thing ever?!!


While researching for stories about client-designer/developer relationships I have bumped into the Clients from Hell website and honestly had a great laugh while reading.
Here are some the greatest stories:

Story 1 – Don’t call yourself a freelancer if you want to be paid…

“After sending two invoices for payment, I sent another and called the client when the receipt that they had received it came back.
 CLIENT: Why are you calling me?
 ME: You haven’t paid and this is the third invoice I’ve sent.
 CLIENT: It’s even more than the last one!
 ME: Yes. The contract you signed stated that I would add a late fee for payment.
 CLIENT: You mean I have to actually pay you? I thought you were joking!
 ME: What on earth made you think that?
 CLIENT: You’re a freelancer!
 ME: And…
 CLIENT: Well, you work for free! If you were supposed to be paid, you’d be called a paidlancer or something!”

Story 2 – The client is always right…

CLIENT: I’m not too sure about the blue…
 ME: Actually, that’s green.
 CLIENT: Who’s the client?
 ME: You.
 CLIENT: And what color is it?
 ME: …blue?
 CLIENT: Right. Now let me see what other shades of blue we have.
 We settled on pine-tree ”blue.”

Story 3 – Designer shouldn’t be partying….

At 3am, after finishing a website template for a client who had to have it “by 6am their time,” I sent an email letting her know that it was finished. The next day I get a call:
 CLIENT: I don’t appreciate you staying out all night when you should be working on my project.
 ME: I’m sorry? I was working all last night. As you can see, I sent you an e-mail -
 CLIENT: I see that. At 3am. Do you think it’s okay to party all night and then work without sleep at 3am? It’s very unprofessional and morally reprehensible.
 ME: What makes you think I was out partying?
 CLIENT: Why else would you be up at 3am?
 ME: You gave my 24 hours to do 18 hours of work. I had to stay up
 CLIENT: Don’t try to use math on me!

Story 4 – Designers do not deserve a vacation…

I was at the airport, ready to leave for vacation when I got a panicked phone call from a client. She stated that the video I sent her - part of a large marketing campaign - was missing the sound. After a lot of shouting and threats on her part, I agreed to go to her office try and fix it.
 After being escorted into her office, I played the video and double-checked her computer’s sound options. Then I unplugged her headphones. Then I billed her for my missed flight.

Story 5 – Designer should dedicate their life to a project…

CLIENT: We would like you to run this project. It will be cheaper that way.
 ME: Alone?
 CLIENT: Will that be a problem?
 ME: Sir, this is a two-year project, full-time, for at least three people. It spans two continents and hundreds of teams.
 CLIENT: That’s another thing – we would like you put in no more than four hours a week on this. We don’t want to rush.
 I did some math. That’s roughly 12,000 man-hours, split into four hours a week for a single person, which means the project will be complete in about 6,000 weeks, or in 120 years. Best of luck with that.

These five stories are just a small part of what is on the Clients from hell website. I am not aiming to ridicule the clients as I am pretty sure that from their point of view the things look different. I am not fooling myself that every creative is talented and does their work according to the deadlines.

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Everyone makes mistakes so do designers and the clients. What I am trying to do is to show designers’ point of view as I believe that clients isn’t always right.

While I was preparing this article I have found a video presentation from Mike Monteiro called “F*ck You. Pay me.” You might be aware of it and watched it already. It is a brilliant talk from Mike and his lawyer where they share some of their experience with working with the clients and share some ideas of what can you do when the client delays payment.

One golden rule which will help you is always to sign a contract, have one prepared and if your clients have one for you to sign, make sure that you read it. Read it thoroughly! Call a lawyer! Check it with fellow designers!  There is nobody on Earth that can help you when you do not have a contract that protects you, your work and values your time.

Unfortunately, there is no golden rule when it comes to stupid questions and requests, you just have to put up with them and laugh. But if the project that you are working on contradicts to your believes and creative views, there are two options: you work on the project, finish it and try to forget about it and never admit that it is your work or you just do not start working on it at all if you can afford it. Sometimes, I know that we do not have the option to decline as we pay bills as every other professional.

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What we can do it to try to convince clients that the direction is not good. You can show examples of other projects. And sometimes you just have to put up with it…. if really do not have a choice…


Feel free to share your stories in the comments below.

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