Working with Shitty Clients Ep. 1: — When Clients threaten you…

One of the difficult things as a designer — whether you’re a freelancer or a paid 9–5 who does side gigs to get by — is saying “no” to client who come to you with projects with good bucks behind it.

You start making imaginary plans, building your castles in the skies — that Mac Pro will finally be yours, you’re gonna change your wardrobe and stop looking like a hobo-hippie, you see yourself paying off those sneaky bills that often pop-up when you’re not looking. Then you take on the project and somewhere down the line, issues arise. Plans don’t go accordingly. Blames begin to fly, deadlines get missed. Then at the height of threat, the unthinkable happens: the Client threatens you with whatever is available to him.

Way back then, as a much younger designer with a huge ego who believed too much in his ‘talent’ while trying to find his place in the world, i took on a website gig from a client. One of the joys of freelancing is that you get to dodge a lot of physical meetings so this transaction happened over phone calls and emails. I gave him a timeline, got the first bit of payment and began working on the site. But as time went by, I took on other gigs and left his undone. For months. I dodged many calls, sent lots of apologetic emails until one day, the client sent me message that would change the way I dealt with clients forever.

“If you don’t finish my work, I’m going to have you arrested”

Now, this is someone I haven’t met before, so it’s easy to assume that the odds of that happening were pretty slim. But never underestimate a client’s willingness to screw you over. They are rather efficient creatures when pressed.

More recently, a client who needed a website was referred to me by a well respected creative and good friend of mine. Along the line, after a price had been agreed upon, there was some miscommunication — which i took responsibility for — and i ended up delivering a UI prototype to a client who was expecting fully sliced HTML/CSS/JS files. When this came to fore, i tried to resolve this by trying to hire a front-end dev to quickly remedy the situation, which i discussed with the client. Then the client proceeded to tell me “I’ve found someone who can do the project for me, so i need you to return the money i’ve paid you so we can go our separate ways”. Naturally, i called bullshit and told him politely that since i’m already invested in the project, returning the money is completely out of the question. He threatened to deal with me…I told him he’s welcome to try. Didn’t hear from him again.

Don’t get me wrong, Clients can be really nice. Like that one time I worked on a brief and the only interaction I with the client was five skype calls and 4 emails. It’s total bliss when they know what they want and are able to communicate this to you. But they can be really feisty when they don’t get what they want….more especially when they’ve paid for it.

Here are some tips, drawn from my experience, on how to handle fire breathing clients from hell.

  1. ) Know your clients
    Do some homework on your customer. Study them, know their personality and determine if you can work with them. There’s nothing more annoying then a bad client-designer matchup. If it doesn’t click, don’t be afraid to say “no” and move on. The cash you missed out on isn’t worth your peace of mind.
  2. ) Deliver on time.
    That’s pretty much the reason for hiring you. So, skip all the ugliness and give them what they want. If it’s going to take longer, let them know before hand.
  3. ) Cover all your bases.
     — Scope out the project and document it. Agree on it with the client.
     — Write out expected deliverables and document it. Agree on it with the client.
     — Set milestones, meet them and document them. Agree on them with the client and have them sign off on it.
     — Let the client know the price and the payment schedule and document it. Agree on it with the client.
    It’s a little overboard but then the shit-nado starts and hits the fan, you want to show up with all the evidence that sets you in good light.
  4. ) Communication is key.
    Call them. Take their calls. Reply their messages. These people are trusting you, a complete stranger, to get good work done. They need assurances that you’re not gonna cut and run. 
    Ask questions and Listen to them at all times. Listen to know what they want, to know what they’re saying, what they’re not saying and what they mean. It’s key to uncovering what they really want.
  5. ) Always be considerate & Go the extra mile.
    One of the things that help you score points with clients is when you go out of your way and do things that makes life (or in this context, the project) a little easier for them. The little perks and efforts that you do here and there go a long way in making happy(-ier) clients and happy clients are returning clients.
  6. ) When things get bad, move to remedy the situation.
    Remember those plans that didn’t quite pan out? A good way to calm a threatening client is to suggest solutions to fix the situations. Calmly explain these solutions to the client while reassuring them that their work will get done.
  7. ) In the event of a crazy client from hell, Lawyer up! 
    Eventually, there’s always that one client who wants to exert dominance over your destiny. The “know-it-all-do-it-all” kind of people. They often come around every 4–5 good client cycle. 
    The moment you encounter them, run. If they’re nice at first but unveil their inner character much later during development, take moves to redress the issue. If they begin to get violent, report to the relevant authorities. And if somehow, there’s an IP violation, don’t hesitate to report to Intellectual Property bodies…and also, sue.

Do share your client stories in the responses section and how you’ve dealt with bad clients who have threatened you. Have a great day

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