I'd been working with a nightmare client for months, and I was trying to sunset them. Then COVID-19 happened.
Client: Now you can stay home and focus on my websites!
Everything seemed perfect. A client I’d worked with before recommended me to her, she gave detailed descriptions of what she wanted the illustrations to portray, she suggested payment in advance because it was December and that would be better for her taxes and bookkeeping. I was more than happy to agree, expecting further details after the holidays.
January came and I’d gotten no information or any contact from her at all. She hadn’t even given me a deadline. I got worried and contacted her and we scheduled a meeting for the very next day.
Client: Did you bring anything with you to show your progress so far?
Me: I have nothing with me, no. I need you to give me further details to start.
Client: I’m not used to working with graphic artists. I don’t know these things.
Me: What sizes should I make the illustrations? Are they being printed? Who is printing it and what files do they need?
She really had no clue about anything. I got her to agree to print the illustrations through a printing company on A3 size paper.
Client: Great! I have to show these next week on Friday. Could you get them to me by Wednesday?
It was Thursday the week before. I was forced to work all weekend, and on the Monday I found out the printing company needed the finished files no later than Tuesday morning. I stayed up until 3 AM working to get everything finished.
On Sunday I received a single sentence email from the client thanking me for my “fantastic work”. I sent her a reply advising her to communicate more with the people she works with in the future to avoid misunderstandings and stress.
She never responded.
One client called my personal phone at 11:50 PM. He had searched for the number from an online phonebook, because I wasn't answering my work phone.
Client: We decided that we want our web page to live at 9 AM tomorrow.
Me: …Our first design meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday. You haven’t given me any direction or content yet. That’s impossible.
Client: Just put some pictures about our facilities and tell people how the process works.
Me: You own a car wash center. I’ve never been in your place, I don’t even know the address. And the other thing, I’ve never washed a car. I can’t do that.
Client: We’re losing customers if we don’t have web pages, so you have to so something.
Me: (frustrated): How about I send you temporary pages with some text, some photos and we replace them later with the actual page?
Client: Sounds good, let’s do that!
I put up a basic HTML site with a single text block: “I don’t work with people who call my personal phone at night.”
I was illustrating a picture book for a client.
Me: So when you say “nail” here, do you mean nail as in "hammer and nail" orr nails as in "fingernails"?
Client: Either or but let’s try the nail.
I was confused, but I drew hardware nails.
Client: Great work, but actually I want fingernails.
Frustrated, I redid it with fingernails.
Client: Actually, I preferred the other nails.
You know I actually have to draw these every time you can't make up your mind, right?
I was brought in to create a website for a small company, after being referred by a graphic designer friend of mine.
The owner of the business explained that he wanted the website to be just like the brochure that my friend had just designed, with a soft and gentle appearance, very calm and subdued.
After producing the site, we met at their office to go over any last-minute snagging. His daughter, who worked with him, was now present for the first time. She seemed exasperated.
Client's daughter: This is no good. It's just like the brochure, too calm and subdued – it needs to have much more excitement and pizazz, we want the site to pop!
Me: You just described, word for word, the brief I was given.
Client's daughter: Well the brief was wrong. Change it.
I'm a freelance designer just getting to where I've got a solid reputation and steady work. One of my earliest clients came to me recently looking for a new design. I was somewhat hesitant, as I've had some... issues with this client's idea of "revisions" before, but they purchased a sample graphic I had listed on my site, so I figured it wouldn't be too much of a hassle.
They paid for the basic edits that would make it unique to their brand, asked for one extra thing that I was happy to throw in as a "ah, this is an established working relationship" thing, and I sent off the proof.
Then they wanted more. Another round of revisions turned into two, turned into three, turned into twelve -- all with instructions like "Can we turn this element another 45°, take out these two elements, change the font, change the font color, change the background color, move this element sixteen pixels to the side..." and so forth. This is pretty much the standard playbook for this client, but for a pre-crafted design that they got at a steep discount... I'd had enough.
Me: Hey, I can't do any more edits to this project. The idea of buying one of my sample designs is that you get it as-is; at this rate, we're looking at basically a custom design here, and you're only paying a fraction of my normal rates. I'm going to be charging you for all of these extra changes, per the contract that you signed.
Client: That's really unrealistically expensive, but okay. Go ahead and charge me for the edits. Also I want to use this as the basis for an entire series of 7-10 products, just changing the color, and text, and all the elements each time. So I'll just pay for the edits for each product, not for a new design.
Me: I am actually already invoicing you for the changes. I'm saying that I am not doing any more edits. And I'm sorry, but if you want to do a collection those will each be individually-contracted custom designs. You can't buy a pre-made design for a fraction of the usual price and expect to get multiple projects out of it.
Client: (after several days of radio silence) Your last email hurt me dreadfully. I'm sorry if I've misunderstood, but I thought that our friendship meant enough to you that you'd be willing to do these things for me. After all, we've worked together for a long time, and I really like your work. I'm very hurt and upset that you are just suddenly telling me all these things instead of letting me know a long time ago.
I was absolutely sideswiped by the weirdly emotional email because we WEREN'T friends. Still, the 700+ word message had all sorts of manipulative, guilt-tripping language in it about our deep friendship, how hurt the client was, how I really should make it clear that a sample design can't be drastically altered or used in multiple projects without extra costs... I finally got a colleague to help me compose a reply that was basically:
Me: I'm sorry you were hurt, but this is a business relationship. You're right: clearly my contract needs to spell things out in even more painful detail, even for things that are considered industry standard. Here's your invoice.
And then I fired them. They paid, and I sent off the files that they'll never use and I can also never use. All's well that ends well, but my contract is now a million times more overly specific than it needs to be. Ironically, the same client is the reason I have a contract to begin with, since when I was first starting I didn't know any better and had a similar situation with the very first project I did for this client. Someday I'll learn, I swear.
I doubt the client will though. They're a pretty well-known small business, but the lack of professionalism is slowly driving them out of business as fewer and fewer folks will work with them.
I sent the client my project proposal, which included a three-week timeframe. She signed off on it.
I sent her the contract which specified the three-week timeframe. She signed it.
Three days in:
Client: Why isn't this finished yet?
Me: Please note the three-week timeframe you OKed.
Client: Is there any way you can get it done by tomorrow?
That's gonna be a no.
Last Friday, one of our clients suddenly realized that Valentine’s Day was just around the corner (i.e. the following Wednesday). So they sent us a request asking for a couple of romantic pictures featuring their product, and a video to promote on Instagram.
Client: Hey, is it possible for you to create those assets right away? If so, please send me a cost estimate first.
Me: Sure, we cannot tell you exactly how long this will take, but we’d say 6-8 hours, max. But of course, we will only charge you the actual time it took.
The "6-8 hour" estimate was based on two staff, a photographer and a motion designer, each putting in 3-4 hours.
Client: 8 hours? That’s too much. Can’t you do it less? Otherwise, we will have to do this job in house.
In their case, "in house” means “taking pictures on their cellphones”. I have no idea how they'd make a video as well.
Client: Moreover, I already sent you the concept, so all you have to do is execute my ideas.
The “concept” was a very rough description of three pics. Oh, and they mentioned that they would “need a video, too”. Other than that… nothing.
Me: ...Okay, we can do 4 hours. But you should know that the assets could turn out to look pretty rushed if our primary objective is to keep it short and simple…
Client: 4 hours it is. Perfect. In order to save time, you can also send me pictures of your photography setup before you start shooting. That way we can avoid having too many feedback loops afterwards J
So we did our best, photographer and motion graphics worked parallel, and we sent them a pretty nice result 3 hours later - about 2x 2.5 hours of actual work, but we would only charge 4 hours as promised.
Client: Hmmm… I’m not totally sold on this. Can you make another video? There must be some time left from those 4 hours we bought, right?
Are you serious?
Our company CEO has a business partner who often comes into the office and demands we do small, but frequent projects for him. None of these jobs are properly scheduled in, and we often have little or no warning to plan around them.
The team and I have full schedules, and somehow have to squeeze his demands in around our scheduled/paid work. It’s very disruptive, but we make time for him as our CEO considers this work top priority.
One project involved the setup of a small 5-page website. Despite our busy workload and with a degree of compromise, we got it done. When we finally hand it over for him to populate (via the CMS), we get the following response:
Client: Don’t you know I have a busy schedule? I don’t have time to populate this site!