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Need help with a "difficult" customer
How would you handle this?

 11:45 am on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hi everyone, I'd appreciate any words of wisdom you may have on this situation:

I signed a client for a flat fee redesign project in late August (my first mistake!). It was supposed to be a very small project, however this client called every day to change his mind about one element or another while I was still designing his template for him to approve. He even went so far as to look up my home number and call me on a Sunday morning at home when I wasn't answering my business line. (Just to clarify--I wasn't answering because I didn't hear it, not because I was trying to avoid him).

As the project progressed, he would add "little" things to what he wanted done. Quite often within a day or two decide that he wanted a change that he just requested removed.

I'm a "nice" person and I try to go out of my way for my clients and give them a little extra then what we contracted for. But, this guy pushed me to the point where I had to put my foot down and I told him that after x, y, z were complete my contract would be fulfilled and that I would be charging an hourly rate for any work he requested beyond that. I even got him to sign a document to that effect with my hourly rate on it--so there were no surprises.

Well, here's where I need some advice. I sent him his bill for October which was almost $600 with the taxes. Today I received an email from him stating that he was "surprised" at the amount of the bill. Let me just add at this point that I use a timer software on my computer, and I round to the nearest 5 minute increment, and I sent him the print out from the software which showed the activity, the start time, and the time taken. Most of it was small 10 minute things--but they add up.

Now he wants me to train his son-in-law how to make updates to the pages so that he can cut costs. But, he wants me to do it in less than an hour at my regular rate.

I have several problems with this, the biggest one being that I would normally charge a much higher rate for software training and I would charge for the trainging time, prep time and travel time. Is that unreasonable? Generally the training I do is for various non-net related software programs, or business marketing. I'm not in the habit of training someone how to do my job so that they can put me out of business.

Part of me is thinking that this guy has been such a pain in the butt that I should just do the training at the regular rate and cut my losses. However, since I am still a new business and don't have much of an income yet, that would put a severe dent in my cash flow.

I'm considering several options:

1) Do the training as is and cut my losses
2) Refer him to some online html tutorials and tell him that he can contact me with questions and my regular fee would apply
3) Do the training, but at the rates I would normally charge for software training, prep and travel time
4) Try to offer him a monthly package (I could be asking for heaps of trouble with this one!)
5) Tell him that I don't train people so that they can put me out of business, and that if he wants his son-in-law to make the changes he can take courses in how to do it at the college (okay, this is the B**** in me, but he's really ticked me off!)

Has anyone ever had a similar situation? Any advice?

Thanks for the help!



 11:55 am on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Your experience is one of the many reasons I don't work with people.

Collect the $600 from him, if you haven't already, then politely tell him to get lost.


 12:13 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm beginning to think the same way! But, most of my clients are wonderful and I enjoy working with them.

You make a good point about the $600. I haven't received a payment yet. He wants me to do the training this Tuesday, so maybe he's trying to not pay and still get the training so that his site can carry on without interruption. Maybe I should tell him that I won't do anything until his cheque clears in my bank account. Hmmm....


 12:27 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

That last idea sounds like a good one to me, Sari. After you've been paid, you could find some little excuse maybe to give him a 'discount' on one or two of the things you do - something off the training fee, or something off the travel fee - maybe you don't need to prep so much - and as for time, an hour is an hour, a lot of this will depend on the son-in-law.


 2:04 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

mincklerstraat, I'm not sure I follow you. Why would I give him a discount on the training? What's your rationale?

Thanks for the clarification! :)


 3:33 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Don't even consider doing more work for him if your doubtful about getting paid for the work you've already done.

You can tell him you need to get paid before you can do the training just to get him to pay you. But don't do the training.

If he doesn't pay, tell him you will contact a credit agency and/or take him to small claims court. If he still doesn't pay, call a credit agency and take him to small claims court.


 3:49 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Don't even consider doing more work for him if your doubtful about getting paid for the work you've already done.

I couldn't agree more.

Collect what is due to you, refer him to some online tutorials and move on.


 4:21 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the input! I thought that maybe I was being too rigid by taking that tact. I'm a helper by nature, so I have a difficult time putting my foot down on these types of issues because I still want to help them.

Okay, so my game plan is to tell him we can discuss the issue once I receive payment. Then, once the payment clears at my bank tell him that I don't do training and refer him to some online tutorials.

How does that sound?


 5:16 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Instead of saying that you don't do trainings, as in, at all, maybe say that you're booked for some time to come due to some new business, but that if he contacts you in the future, you may be able to help then. Stringing him along to get him to pay then cutting him loose when he does seems kinda...harsh. I know, he's been an extreme pita, but why burn bridges when you don't have to? :)


 4:07 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'll throw in my two cents.

As a startup, offer great service, great support, a great product. Build your reputation. If he is mad and bad mouthing you, it costs more than the dollars on his project. Keep him happy if you can.

For the training, I guess it depends on what tools are used to update the site. If it's so easy that I can teach it in an hour, I'd like to know more about it. Platform, CMS, ...?

Once you've been paid the current amount, a nice way to handle the training is to tell the guy it's not an hour deal, and since you have concerns about his expectations, refer him to the massive amount of info online. If he really wants training, count all the time.

On the other hand, if it's a really easy update tool, the guy will brag that his son is doing the updates, and might refer people to you to build the site.

Ongoing costs are a real problem for many businesses. They avoid them like the pox.


 5:07 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I wouldn't do the training. The guy sounds like too much of a pain in the rear as it is. And if you do the training, you're going to be in a no-win situation. Here's why:

If you actually manage to teach his son enough in an hour to do the updates, the guy will think it's all easy-peasy and your original fee was way overpriced.

If you don't teach his son sufficiently in an hour, then he'll figure you haven't lived up to your end of the bargain.

AND if you teach his son what you can in an hour and then his son goes in and destroys the site, he'll blame you for that, too, for not teaching him right.

Where in any of these scenarios do you come out ahead?


 5:07 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm in a simillar situation at the moment. Client wanting a "quick cheap" site, needs it up "yesterday" . The first bit was 45 minutes and the bill was paid immediately. Since then we've had a million changes, flash animations etc etc and are still waiting for the real bill to be paid.

Now they want a whole lot more work done. We are stalling at the moment but I agree with some of the comments regarding keeping the client happy. There is a lot of potential damage in an unhappy client.

The main lesson I have learnt is to set and rigid contract down before you start, no matter how much of a hurry the client is in.


 8:51 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

And never take a client to small claims court. I've wound up winning a case that case that cost me double what I was suing for. The problem with small claims court is that the defendant can counter sue you for twice the amount you sue them for. If the judge agrees with both of you and rules in each others favor, you will be the one paying. It's much better to file a lean on their property at the county court house. It may take you years to collect but you will get your money in the end.

I have to agree with everyone with not burning your bridges. What I described above is my own drastic example and I would not want you or anyone else to go through it.


 9:20 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

3) Do the training, but at the rates I would normally charge for software training, prep and travel time

If he doesnt like your rates tell him to find someone else to train his monkey.


 11:08 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thanks everyone for your input! I don't mind keeping clients happy (that's what I enjoy doing), but I also need to keep myself happy. This guy was causing me so much stress even when I was on what was supposed to be a very small (ie. under $1000) contract that no matter what I did as an "extra" I don't think that he would be happy.

With that said, I decided not to do the training (for the reasons Sonjay pointed out, and more) and to cut myself off from this client as politely as I could.

I told him that training is not a service that I offered and referred him to several online tutorials that his son-in-law could read to make the revisions.

I then told him that I have other clients with firm deadlines on the go so I wouldn't be able to accept any further work from him at this time. And I thanked him for his business.

Thanks again for the help! :)


 6:53 pm on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

Sounds like you did the right thing.

But you also learned...
It's much better to file a lean on their property at the county court house.

hahaha, good thing it didn't go that far.


 7:06 pm on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)


Would you believe that this guy emailed me back after I tried to cut ties and stated that he "detected" some resentment in my email?

Even with saying that, he still wants me to do updates to his site later on! Oy! :o

I haven't written back yet as I'm too busy with my other clients, but boy was I surprised by this one!



 9:38 pm on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

yea, this happens alot. It's the primary reason I no longer do flat rate jobs. I just recently turned down a $1k job because I had worked with the guy b4 and I knew it would be a similar thing. A million changes, hours spent on really stupid things. When all is said and done you wind up barely making minimum wage.

for clients who wish to do their own updates I usually set up some sort of cms, but I charge them an arm and a leg. It may sound a little shady to some people, but hey I'm not in the business of putting myself out of work.

When someone asks me to teach them, I kindly inform them that it simply wouldn't be worth it for them. The hours it would take me to teach them properly would be so great that it would be cheaper for them to just pay me to do the updates myself. If you get some idiot who demands that you do it in less than an hour, just simply inform him that it's not possible to do. You are in now way obligated to be ordered around by this man. Stay professional and respectful, but don't let people walk all over you.


 11:50 pm on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

When you think about it, any flat rate job is a situation in which the customer is betting he can get more from you than he would under an hourly arrangement, and you are betting he can't.

Is this a formula for success?

I have stopped doing flat rate jobs. Instead, I tell them my minimum (only if they look like they will be well below it), and I show them a handful of sites I have done and tell them that "these sites ran about $#*$! to $xxxx; the more expensive ones wanted lots of changes ... " or something like that.



 1:46 am on Nov 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

To flat rate a job successfully is simply to describe (by contract) exactly what will be done, when, where, and at what price, with a method to allow for mutually agreed changes. For clarity it can help to note specific exclusions (perhaps with additional optional pricing attached).

The benefit is that there is no "getting more/less than you paid for" possible.

To quote a job solely by an hourly rate (unless it is very simple - less than a days work) implies an inability to define, describe, and estimate the project; a lack of professional and business ability. It is open to dispute: time required to do each task, etc.

Writing good proposals and subsequent contracts is where many tech contractors fail. It is skill that is very necessary to succeed in the longterm, especially when bidding for work from larger enterprises who pay their employees hourly and their contractors by invoice as per contract.

Regarding clients that want to be taught - I refer them to the closest community college and suggest an online search for tutorials. The only exception is if specific training for specific persons is included as part of a CMS installation contract.

Like all services if you are going to provide training you have to plan and price accordingly - it is not an afterthought.


 4:32 am on Nov 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

Sounds to me like he has taken advantage of your good nature.

First thing I'd do is make sure I got paid. Then I'd decide how I felt about the training. *If* you decide to go ahead and train them I'd be charging more not less. After all you're effectively putting yourself out of work.

Having said that after I got the money I'd tell him to go jump. From how you've described his behaviour he's either really stupid or seriously expoiting you.

Good luck whatever you do!


 10:39 pm on Dec 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

If you don't have it in your contract already, you should have it stipulated that for no payment = site goes down. If he changes the password or if you give the password to the host, then the project is FINAL and the payment is due in FULL. You should also have it in your contract that if any legalities arise, you are not responsible for his fee's and that both parties agree to settle their dispute at YOUR area. I would also stipulate a late fee's % per month etc.

I would tell the guy nicely but firmly, sir I have been more than leanent with my terms, and this is not normal practice for a web contract.



 11:22 am on Dec 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thank you everyone for your advice!

This customer has finally paid, so that is no longer an issue.

It's now been 2 weeks since I've heard from him, so hopefully that's the end of it.

I've taken the comments from several of you and have revised my contract to be much more detailed in what I will offer and how changes will be handled.

Thanks again!


 12:45 pm on Dec 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

Letting a client go [webmasterworld.com]


 2:38 am on Dec 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

Oy . . . I just wanted to say I deal with 8 or 10 customers just like this every week, but I don't have the option of making the decisions, I work for a company where "customer always comes first" and it's . . . . draining. So good to see I'm not alone. :D


 2:43 pm on Dec 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Theres a feature in teh Sunday Times business section covering just this sort of thing.


 2:57 pm on Dec 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

To flat rate a job successfully is simply to describe (by contract) exactly what will be done, when, where, and at what price, with a method to allow for mutually agreed changes. For clarity it can help to note specific exclusions (perhaps with additional optional pricing attached).

The above describe my contract (My attorney did the original)

Further (at least in the US) you cannot substitute for the court and bring down the site without court clearance

You can be prosecuted for that; ironic isn't it?


 2:57 pm on Dec 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I am not in webdesigning bussiness
but this post was really interesting story
Looking forward to hear more like this...stories full of guesses...will he give money...will he stop calling and many things like that
keep it up u all webmasters
good luck


 4:07 pm on Dec 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

It sounds to me like this person is trying to get out of paying you.

re the training--I always tell clients who ask about this that I've been a webmaster for ___ years and ___ years in college taking internet classes and they will have to take classes for ____ years to catch up to what I know (most of which is via experience so add on ____ years of experience also). I would refuse to train anyone. Tell them to take a nite course at a community college or something.

I also write at the bottom of each estimate--anything requested other than what is stipulated above will be added onto the final bill at $--- per hour.

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