The Client from Hell

Recently I had the most profoundly vile experience of my life with a certain client. Let’s call him the NCfH (Nightmare Client from Hell).

He was rude, he was ignorant (and proud of it! He emailed me telling me he did not want to be “over-educated”; I thought there was little chance of that ever happening!); he was inconsistent, he changed the brief continuously and regularly without telling me; he was argumentative (he once phoned me and threatened me with physical violence by proxy!) and he was just completely unreasonable.

I have never had a client like this before.

I stuck with it a very great deal longer than I should have because a) I had accepted his deposit and was thus honour bound to do the work (even though I had done a LOT more work than I contracted for, because he changed his mind every few days) and b) because he was a recommendation from a personal friend/another client and I wanted to keep things sweet there.

I’m not going to go into all the revolting details of just how bad a nightmare this client was; but suffice to say the relationship ended when he informed me that he’d appointed another company to get their site up in a week (this was two weeks ago, the site’s still not up) and that he no longer wanted me to work on the project. I breathed the BIGGEST sigh of relief I ever have, wrote off the money he owed me and emailed him ALL my work, including my original design work etc etc, with a request that he never contact me again. Suffice to say, he did, shortly thereafter with more threats – this time of legal action. (WTF?!)

I set my email address to no longer accept his emails.

I’ve had disagreements with clients before – once or twice; and they certainly never resulted in me losing the client … but this was just 8 months of complete insanity.  Only after this  nightmare was over did I realise the damage he had done:

  • I had constant headaches
  • I was tired all the time
  • Every time I got email from him I cringed even before I read it; and I spent all day dreading the fact that he might email me
  • I lost confidence in my abilities as a designer
  • I stopped enjoying my work as much as I usually do
  • I started to have to fight procrastination
  • I spent hours and hours more on every single other client’s job, second-guessing myself and getting despondent

The morning after I got rid of this person’s ability to email me, I was woken by a phonecall from my newest client, thanking me for the job I’d done on his logo (Thanks Ric!).

I bounced out of bed, checked facebook to find a client of mine had written this on my wall:

Hey Meryl. You’re doing a FAB job for us man! SHOT :-))

(Thanks Linz!) Then I cringed out of habit as I opened my email and instead was pleasantly surprised as I got mail from another client in connection with the PowerPoint template I’d designed for her, saying:

“I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been doing my presentation for over a year now… and last night, for the first time I felt like I really had the WOW factor! I have always had a good response to my presentation… but last night was just something else! I was overwhelmed by the feedback about the professionalism and my awesome presentation… thanks to you of course!! I even had two ladies come up to me and ask if they could get involved as a business opportunity… So, thanks again!! I also felt more confident than I have ever felt before!! ”

No, no Zelna, thank YOU 🙂

A day later, I got a message from another client, recommending me to a client of hers:

“Further to our discussion, please find the contact details of Meryl Rosenberg of pixelmagic.  Meryl is in the process of revamping my website and I can’t tell you difference it has made.  Meryl has been going for just over 10 years now and all her business comes for referrals – I don’t think that there is anything that she can’t do with a website!

Wow – thanks Nikki! 🙂 That’s when I realised I really do have the greatest clients, and that I really do still  love what I do.

So here’s a bit of (20/20 hindsight) advice to anyone in the same position as I found myself in:

1. Trust your instincts
You know they’re going to be the client from hell by the first meeting; or the second phone call; or the third email. No matter how much money they offer you, it’s just not worth it. You will end up doing three times the amount of work and spending too much time for too little compensation (and peace of mind!) on the job. Just walk away.

2. It’s not you, it’s them.
Ask yourself a few questions; and get feedback from your peers.  Fortunately, my developer was in agreement with me about NCfH so I had some confirmation there.   I’ve just discovered Bob Sutton’s Asshole Client from Hell Exam (ACHE) – I wish I’d found that months ago.

3. Nuisance tax
I believe heavily in nuisance taxes. I have an incredibly organised client. She always has the info I need in the time frame I need it. She calls me to discuss what she’s going to be sending me just before she sends it. She’s pleasant to work with, and her bills are always lower than they should be (Thanks Stef! ;)) but she’s just such a pleasure to work with that I really don’t mind.
Conversely, I have another client that is always in a rush – usually because she’s ignored the advice I gave her about the project two weeks ago. Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine … BUT I like her, she’s fun to work with despite that. So I usually add a grand or so to the invoice, marked as “NT” . (One day she’s going to ask me what it stands for ;))

4. Appreciate your good clients
I try to make a point of telling my clients when they’re great to work with, and explaining what it is that I enjoy about working with them. I try to do that as often as is appropriate, and I make a point of remembering their birthdays, and sending them all cards for Christmas.

5. Cut your losses
I should have just said “I’m sorry, I don’t want to work with you any more” and dealt with whatever consequences that brought. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been brave or smart enough to do that! 🙂

I tend to expect the best of everyone, and was therefore overly shocked and completely unprepared for the NCfH … but in the main, I really do have the best clients in the world.

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