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Client from Hell or is it me?

 5:02 am on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

The client is a municipality. The person I am stuck dealing with is the Assistant Town Administrator. We are entering our 8th month of what was contractually supposed to be a 4 month project. Getting content from this guy is ridiculous. If I don't ask for it, if I don't tell him what I need, if I don't do anything...absolutely nothing gets done. We could go for weeks without contact if I don't initiate it. I will probably die of old age before this nightmare is over. On the occasions when I've given up and written the content myself, he DOESN'T even look at it to check it for accuracy.

My latest attempt to get him to actually DO SOMETHING was met with the following response:

"No other vendor tells me how and when I need to get content or other items to them and I don't see why you should. I've tolerated this behavior and I can now say that I've had enough. I really think you need to reconsider the way you approach clients."

Just retyping this is giving me ogida (spelling?).

Am I completely off the mark to think that this is one of the most absurd statements ever made? I mean, I am the web site developer; people pay me to develop web sites. They don't object when I tell them what I need from them in order to do my job. Moreover, I was hired because the town expects professional expertise and services.

Would you hire an architect and then vehemently object when he tells you that he really needs to know how many bedrooms you want if he is to ever finish the plans you hired him to do?

This is making me wake up at 4 in the morning every morning in a cold sweat. I finally demanded that we meet with the town manager (his boss) to get things back on track. You can tell from his smarmy responses that he can't wait because he has obviously made me out to be some incompetent buffoon...with an attitude. It's almost as if he is the brother I am grateful I never had who has gone to Dad and tattled on me or something.

Does anyone have any advice for me for this meeting? I am anticipating the worst. I have never ever encountered anything like this before and I am completely baffled. Part of me is really wondering if the blame lays with me but honestly, I just don't see it. Be brutally honest.

I had such enthusiasm for this job and it really is the best thing I have ever done to date but I can't take this crap anymore. Oh, and you know that old adage about learning from our mistakes? I received a 10% deposit...the balance is due upon completion.



 5:12 am on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

Gosh, I'd be tempted to put up a bunch of pretty-colored pages with no words on them!

More seriously, I'd say your frustration is justified. He might not actually be from hell, but he's certainly been camping near there. He clearly has little understanding of what it takes to build an authoritative website ... and what's worse ... he's not teachable.

What exactly did your contract say about who was to provide the content (text or images or ____), and when?


 5:40 am on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

Does anyone have any advice for me for this meeting?

Yes, I'd give them 2 weeks to deliver the rest of the content required for you to deliver within 4 weeks on web site and if they can't comply with that reasonable request, you'll have to dismiss them as a client as they are negatively impacting your business with their unresponsiveness.

I've fired customers before, just be brave.


 5:41 am on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

For another useful analogy, compare yourself with the guy's doctor. Does he argue with his doctor on when he should take his medicine?

Like buckworks, I'd like to know more about your contract. I'd be interested in the cancellation clauses, because if the meeting does not go well, you should consider collecting your fees for the work done to date, and get out.

At the very least, I'd insist on copying his boss on all future correspondence.



 5:49 am on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

agita - as in agitated(spelling for future reference)

If you at least know the pages that should exist code them prior to your meeting and insert lorem ipsum... dummy text - there is an online generator which should be easily found in a search.

That might at least visually clarify what is required and the scope of your role.


 6:14 am on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

First of all ... how frustrating! Definitely feel your pain ....

Regarding what to do, I agree with incredibill -- you should probably walk away from this business -- and would only add that you should be as polite and professional about it as possible. You don't have a bad relationship with the boss and others at the organization at this point (only with your contact), and there's no need to burn bridges with them. At the meeting where the boss is present, you could simply explain that you only allocated the original 4 months for the project; that you have other obligations; that you'd like to finish it over the next two weeks if possible, but if not could prepare a transition document for a new developer, etc.

The other thing is, your contact and/or the boss may attempt to "right the ship" at the meeting; if that happens, and you want to try to finish the job, be sure to set very clear limits on how much more time you can put in and very clear requirements for what you need from the organization to finish the job.

BTW, I don't agree at all with the suggestion that you plan on repeatedly going over your contact's head ("copy the boss on everything," etc); I think that is likely to just backfire on you, as the boss almost certainly doesn't want to deal with this kind of conflict on an ongoing basis. You have to figure it's quite likely that either the boss supports the subordinate, in which case you will have no credibility (and appear to be whining/tattling -- instead of focusing on the project), or the boss finds the subordinate as aggravating as you do but has to live with it (quite likely since it's a govt org), in which case you'll just be compounding the aggravation.

So ... I say either cut the cord as politely as possible now, or use the meeting as an opportunity to set very clear specs for completing the project (and stick to them).


 6:17 am on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

Sounds familar to me... I think I attract nutjobs as clients. For some reason, they sometimes think that I'm going to write their content.

A big part of my job is always the SEO of their website. I tell them that I will optimize their content for higher rankings. For some reason, they assume that optimizing = writing.

I've learned to use filler text as previously mentioned. I'll fill in the text and upload the site. Usually, they will give me text as soon as they see what needs to be filled in.


 1:06 pm on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

Definately a client from hell! I can relate to your situation.

I would go into the meeting being polite and professional, but be prepared to back up your position with copies of the emails (or at least the dates) where you asked for content and dates you received a response. So that this guy cannot say "I was never told what was needed". I would also hand each of them a hard copy of exactly what you require from them to complete the site.

I would also go in with a pre-drafted change order for them to sign outlining that as the project is already 4 months over the deadline, that you will give them 2 weeks to provide the content for the website. If no content is provided by that date, then a further payment of $x (as determined by you) is due for work already completed. I would also state that if the content is provided after the 2 weeks you make no guarantees of when work will be completed and the new completion date will be solely at your discretion based on your workload at the time of submission. Then, get them to sign (if they are the signing authority) at the meeting.

Your other option would be to give them the two weeks to submit the content, then change the last bit to read that if content is not recieved by the deadline that you will no longer work on the project and once they pay a fee of $x for the design you will remit the work you have completed to them as is.

I would suggest that you think about what you want to happen. Can you continue to work with these people and keep your sanity? Is this why you started designing websites? Why are you concerned about being decisive? Is it the money or preserving your reputation or something else? Once you answer these questions for yourself, I think that the way to approach this meeting will become clear for you.

Then you can clearly outline what you want in the change order. It's professional, yet it is very clearly setting out the guidelines of what the expectations and responsibilties are on both sides.

Good Luck!

PS--More info on the change order here: [webmasterworld.com ]


 1:22 pm on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

You need the conversation in the meeting to be held mainly with his boss (use more eye contact to the boss, even when answering the clients questions - this way the boss will see your honesty). Don't argue or interupt - just keep calm - you have nothing to lose (they are going to try to hang on to the 90% anyway). You client could lose his job or be put in a bad light with his boss.

Secondly, you need to control the meeting (not be controlled). I would state that the project was initially a four month contract and that you are now going overtime for free, in effect. The payment is due upon completion of the website. Make sure everything is on the site before the meeting (everything you have been given) and state that if everything is on the website that you have been given and that the four months is finished that the contract is finished and you need payment. As a good will gesture, offer them 7 days to get everything else to you at which point you require payment in full for return of the 7 days worth of material you are given to work on.


 1:42 pm on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

Oh yes, I know that type of client sooooooo well. Chamber of Commerces, committees & community enterprises. I would say - stand your ground, produce & go back to any proposals & contracts that refer to conditions, timelines, expectations or materials requirements. It really sounds to me like the person is a jerk. Stay very cool and if they do not like it - walk.


 4:51 pm on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

Well, why don't you just give them a content management site with instuctions about how to add their own content along with your invoice? That will get their attention. You can't be expected to do the conetent if they are not responsive.

Just model the site on a quality site of similar purpose for a town of about equal population and leave it at that.


 5:03 pm on Apr 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

>> We are entering our 8th month of what was contractually supposed to be a 4 month project

You know what this means don't you? They will now have to pay double the price. Settle for no less.

This is your starting point - costs for them has already doubled, and for each new day their costs will increase furter. The boss will need to know what has (/who have) caused the costs to double, as obviously -- as a professional entity -- you don't work for free, and you keep your deadlines unless others make them impossible for you to keep. Also, he would need to know what -- exactly -- he can do to prevent costs from growing even more.

(I had a customer like that for 12 months - it should have been three months initially. I always bill per hour/day/week/month, regardless of result. None of that before-after crap. Flat fee always, and preferably a large one. Meaning: In spite of my frustration, i also made four times as much money which helped a great deal)

Btw.: Welcome to WebmasterWorld rubycat :)


 12:18 am on Apr 3, 2005 (gmt 0)

I put this clause in all contracts:

"If the Project is delayed past the estimated completion date due to a delay in provision of required content or materials by Client or a delay in Project approval by Client the remaining balance of the total amount shall become due and payable".



 12:27 am on Apr 3, 2005 (gmt 0)

Deja vu. I had a VERY similar experience with a local municipality. I just gave them a cms with empty pages, some instructions and asked for my money. They paid. They always do, muhahahah Suckers!


 1:18 pm on Apr 4, 2005 (gmt 0)

JohnKelly - Thank you for this: "If the Project is delayed past the estimated completion date due to a delay in provision of required content or materials by Client or a delay in Project approval by Client the remaining balance of the total amount shall become due and payable".

I have had a few clients who took months past the estimated due date and never figured out a way to word my contract to not have to wait for them. THANK YOU. :) :)


 9:31 pm on Apr 4, 2005 (gmt 0)

My question is this: Who owns this project? In other words, with whom did you originally strike the deal, and is this the person most invested in it's completion? It's obvious that the Assistant Town Manager is not motivated to complete the project. Is the Town Manager?

It's important that you establish a peer-to-peer relationship with the boss, and that he sees you as someone who's working to get him what he wants (the project's completion, assuming he wants that). So before you go in with guns blazing, demanding that content be delivered within a certain deadline, I'd suggest you revisit the original objectives and find out if they still want to accomplish them. Are they still committed to the project, or has it become a low priority for them? If they still want to move forward, first come to terms on a new completion date. Next, get both the boss and the assistant to agree to get you content by a certain date. Then, specify that final payment is due by that completion date, whether the project is completed or not.

If you do this, the boss will see that the Assistant is the one who's standing in the way, without you having to accuse him of that.

Here's a good reference that may help. It's an online book on the subject of sales. Chaper 12 talks about how, once you secured a deal with the decsion-maker, the technicians, feeling threatened, may try to squash it, and how to handle that:

www.honestselling.com/books/your_name_here/toc.htm (Click on the Chapter 12 link, then read "Stage 2: The Technical Sale"

"If the Project is delayed past the estimated completion date due to a delay in provision of required content or materials by Client or a delay in Project approval by Client the remaining balance of the total amount shall become due and payable".

I'd considered this, but exactly who caused the delay can be a subjective matter, at least in the eyes of the client. In this situation, I'm sure the Assisitant would claim to his boss that you caused the delay.

Instead, I like to require final payment in a specified amount of days, regardless if the project is completed or not. I try to roughly correspond this with the estimated completion date. If the client knows he'll be making the final payment in say, 90 days, he'll be more likely to get you content in a timely manner. If not, at least you're not waiting for him to do his part before you can get paid.

Hope that helps.


 10:54 pm on Apr 4, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thank you to everyone for giving me feedback. Sorry for the silence...I've been frantically working all weekend to get my "stuff" together for this meeting tomorrow.

Some of the suggestions about walking away from this just aren't feasible. My reputation will be shot if I do that. And you know something? I really don't want to walk away from this. I just want to deal with someone competent who understands how web development works or if they don't understand, that they don't act like a 4-year old who can't wait to tell Daddy on me.

My biggest concern is that the Assistant Manager is going to be focused on sticking it to me rather than getting this site done. Remember, he's had the Town Manager's ear the whole time so god only knows what this man thinks or has been told.

What I could really use is a succinct response to his statement because as irrational as I believe it to be, what if his boss shares that? I shudder at the thought. I'll repeat it here:

"No other vendor tells me how and when I need to get content or other items to them and I don't see why you should. I've tolerated this behavior and I can now say that I've had enough. I really think you need to reconsider the way you approach clients."

I mean, I can think of ten things to respond with right off the bat but they all have profanities in them.

I have created a six-page chart titled "Status Report and Authorized Sign-Off Sheet" which lists out the 104 web pages that constitute the site so far and it has columns in which I have checked off the status of each...

-- completed
-- incomplete--info was requested
-- not yet addressed

Oh, and there's one other column...
-- final content supplied by Client

Out of 104 pages, 58 are complete and 11 of them had final content supplied by the client. Pretty telling, yes? The final column in the chart is for an authorized sign-off for each page.

I noticed in my log files earlier today that the Assistant Manager had a busy morning looking through the site. It's sat there for 2 weeks with nary a look and now...?

Oh, P.S.--pursuant to our contract, they HAVE to hire me as webmaster once the site is done. So, I do have a lot riding here.

Could someone just wave a magic wand and make everything right? :-)


 11:23 pm on Apr 4, 2005 (gmt 0)

"No other vendor tells me how and when I need to get content or other items to them and I don't see why you should. "

We're talking fundamental breach of contract here, and not from anything you've done based on what you're telling us, so my response would've been:

"Then how many breach of contract suits are you currently involved with?"

they HAVE to hire me as webmaster once the site is done

I can't even imagine, based on the situation you described, that you would want this stress on an ongoing basis. If you think your reputation would be ruined by firing the client, imagine the one you're getting being walked over by the client, it's a double-edged sword here.

Don't get me wrong, I'm nice to people until push comes to shove, and we would've been having this "contract meeting" the first time a couple of weeks went by without getting content from the client. I always send a notice under these circumstances that basically states "the contract obligations and deadlines cannot be met as the client supplied materials have yet to be delivered" and let the chips fall where they will.

Hopefully you'll get the client to come to terms for content delivery at their meeting.

If they won't give you what you need, at least you know where you stand.


 3:31 am on Apr 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

I can't do it! This is so unbelievably antagonistic that I might as well just paste a big sign to my chest that reads "FIRE ME."

Uh, right...?

This agreement amends the "Web Development & Design Contract" executed September 15, 2004 between the Town of XXXXXX (Client), and XXXXXX (Developer).

The following paragraph, titled "Completion Date," supersedes Paragraph 23 of the original "Web Development & Design Contract."

23. Completion Date
The original completion date [one hundred twenty (120) days from the date of execution of the original Agreement] has been negated as a result of the Client's representative's delay in providing required content, materials and page approval.

The Developer and the Client forthwith agree to work expeditiously to complete this project no later than May 20, 2005.

The Developer's ability to adhere to this time frame depends entirely upon the timeliness of the delivery of any required materials and information by the Client's representative. In the event final text is not timely delivered by the Client's representative so as to allow for the Developer to complete the web site by the date stated in the preceding paragraph, the remaining balance of the total amount shall nonetheless become due and payable.

In the event the Developer becomes unable to deliver the site on the completion date because of events outside the control of the Developer, or if the Client, after the execution of this Revision, orders options or creates the necessity for overages, then the Developer shall give reasonable assurance of the new completion date and shall fix such date on a reasonable basis.

The following paragraph, titled "Payment Terms/Work Flow," supersedes Paragraph 24 of the original "Web Development & Design Contract."

24. Payment Terms/Work Flow
A non-refundable, minimum deposit of $XXX.XX is required to commence work. Once the deposit is received by the Developer, basic site design concepts will be put online for the Client's viewing and approval. Communication between the Developer and the Client's representative is crucial during this phase and all phases to ensure that the ultimate publication will match the Client's taste and needs. The Client's representative must continually view updates to the site and express his preferences or dislikes to the Developer.

Developer has made numerous good faith attempts to acquire content from the Client's representative, going so far as to write it herself, contrary to Paragraph 8 of the original Agreement which requires the Client to supply final text. In light of the Client's representative's objection to the Developer requesting content, as stated in Client's representative's e-mail of March 24, 2005, the Developer will no longer write nor seek final text. It will be up to the Client to see to it that timely delivery of final text is made to the Developer.

To wit:
"No other vendor tells me how and when I need to get content or other items to them and I don't see why you should. I've tolerated this behavior and I can now say that I've had enough. I really think you need to reconsider the way you approach clients."

No further work will be performed on Client's web site until the Developer is in receipt of the "Status Report & Authorized Sign-Off Sheet" which will indicate that the Client has reviewed all pages contained therein—complete and incomplete—and which will signify Client's acceptance of same.

If Client is unable to sign-off on any page, Client's representative will provide Developer with precise instructions and, if applicable, final content necessary for revising/completing page(s) to Client's satisfaction.

Once the Developer is in receipt of the "Status Report & Authorized Sign-Off Sheet" plus whatever final text/materials are necessary for completing the web site, Developer will resume work on the Client's web site.

If completion of the web site is delayed past the new completion date of May 20, 2005 due to a delay in provision of required content or materials by Client's representative or a delay in page approval by Client or Client's representative, the remaining balance of the total amount shall remain due and payable on May 20, 2005; no further work will be done until payment is received.

Developer will send an invoice to the Client's representative via e-mail and postal mail on May 20, 2005. Final payment of the remaining balance plus any additional charges incurred will be due within thirty (30) business days after delivery of e-mailed invoice. If the thirty (30) day minimum is not met, an additional charge of 5% is due. If payment is not made within forty-five (45) days of receipt of e-mailed invoice, simple interest will accrue on the balance owed at a rate of 18% from the date the 5% penalty was levied. Developer reserves the right to remove all web content from the Internet if payment is not made within forty-five (45) days after e-mail delivery of invoice.


 7:48 am on Apr 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

>> Oh, P.S.--pursuant to our contract, they HAVE to hire me as webmaster once the site is done.

Rubycat, this is important. It changes the whole issue somewhat. Given the above (you did not state this before) - it is only natural that they would want to test you and your patience somewhat.

Please note the wording - it is only natural - this does not mean that what they have (not) done is right or that you should not seek to remedy the situation. It also holds the answer to that quote you mentioned.

There are two phases here:

1) First, you are the Web Developer, and
2) Then, you become the Web Master

Now, until the web site is built there is no web master. Only a web developer. That is because the web site is under development. In this phase you develop the site, and the client deliver the content.

In the next phase -- once you become the web master -- you will gladly take care of the content, because at that stage you are hired by the client to do so. That is the next phase though, not this one.

It is very important that you make it absolutely clear to the client that these two phases are separate, and that the second cannot exist until the first is completed.

I have a feeling that the guy that don't work well with you might just think that you are already in phase two, in which his claims would be somewhat justified. This is a misunderstanding that is easy to clear up - it does not even have to be bad will.


 8:18 am on Apr 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

it is only natural that they would want to test you and your patience somewhat.

Patience is one thing, but there should also be professional respect and courtesy in the relationship and it didn't sound like RubyCat was getting it from her description of the situation. It sounded more like serious procrastination and contempt than testing her patience. Procrastinators can be the worst clients as it's always someone else's fault that they didn't meet their deadlines and obligations.

Good luck at the meeting rubycat and let us know how it turns out!


 9:35 am on Apr 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

>> It sounded more like serious procrastination and contempt

I agree, sorry if i was not clear on that. And good luck from me as well :)

Wear your "100% professional web developer" hat and don't get emotional, in stead, ask them politely to elaborate, or rephrase statements or questions if you need to take a breath before you answer.


 12:22 pm on Apr 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

Having clients who are slow in providing content is nothing new in this business. I have been gradually weeding these accounts out and staying with clients that have an active interest in the success of their site. For the clients that are slow, I regularly contact them, then simply wait them out, even if I don't get the $, then drop them. There are a lot of potential clients out there that do get the message, so don't fritter away your time with a site that's bound to be a failure - I do county websites where I can't get any cooperation from various departments - I just ignore these departments and work with the departments that will participate.
I now make my clients pay most fees up front, at least 66% to 100% of a small website (under$3,000) and pretty much the same for SEO. I work by client's referrrals only, I don't advertise or chase for clients and won't waste time with a client trying to beat me down to a lower price.
Does this work? My income is triple what it was last year and growing, my average sale is over 10K.

Fortune Hunter

 12:05 am on Apr 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

First you have to understand that you are dealing with a government entity and hence a government worker. In my experience these people know they have their jobs forever no matter how well they do it. They know they don't have to be effective, productive, or profitable. At the end of the day they will do the least amount of work possible while keeping their job.

Now be fair, not all government workers think or act this way, but a lot of them do because they know they can. It sounds like you are dealing with one of those people here. Personally I like the statement earlier about saying if content is not provided by a certain date the contract is considered fulfilled and payment is due in full.

I would go into the meeting and politely, but firmly tell them you were hired to code and develop a site not write content. Tell them you have been more then patient, but all bargains involve to willing parties and right now they are not doing their part.

Fortune Hunter


 3:43 am on Apr 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

When I describe to non web types what the hardest single thing to get clients to do is, the first thing I mention is the fantasy world some clients live in regarding where their site's content comes from, they seem to believe that there is some good website content fairy who will wave her wand and make the content appear.

I had a similar, although different, problem with one client. The problem? I had asked him for clarification on a request. He took this personally to mean that I was saying that he was speaking unclearly... it went downhill from there, after many emails, not one of which ever contained the answer I had asked for, we parted ways since he absolutely refused to give me the information I needed, and took my request as a personal insult.

I think most people have had similar experiences, for some reason it's incredibly hard to get people to actually sit down and write, organize, whatever, they just can't do it. I don't think it's a question of won't in many cases, I'm more and more starting to suspect that they actually can't do it, which accounts for those weird cases of denial you see, where even though it's in the contract that they provide the content, they refuse to see the words.

I'm increasingly adopting claus's strategy, pay by the day/hour/week, forget any other way, it works really well, and weeds out the cheapskates and penny pinchers. my billing is always honest, so at some point we have to learn to trust each other, I trust that they will pay me, and they trust that I won't rip them off by mistating my hours, never have, never will.

Fortune Hunter

 2:24 am on Apr 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

When I discovered how hard content was to come by in my early days and how many clients would cause problems I started charging 40% of the total contract as a down payment with 60% due upon completion. People balked at first, but I explained that I had to develop the designs and I considered it a gesture of good faith. Most paid it. The ones who won't pay are generally going to be problem clients from the beginning and you are probably better walking away early. Sometimes when they ask why they have to pay this I simply ask if they don't plan on paying me for the work when it is done. They stammer and say no and then usually write a check. I figured (and still do) that this down payment has covered my time to develop the home page and a sub page for the design review. At that point the client has an empty shell and I need the content to pour into it as it were. I explain that is the stage we are at and I can go no further until they supply content. I also point this little fact in my development contract for their review.

At this point if the client waits 6 months (or longer) to get me content I don't really care. I got paid for the work I did to date. I call and remind them, but I don't chase them for it. I simply remind them that I can't finish until I get the content. Once they realize that they paid a good chunk of change for something that isn't finished and they know they are the hold up then they usually get to work.

I always ask for this deposit right at the time we have closed the sale and feelings between all parties is still good. I once had a client that I didn't do this with in my early days. I did the design, we made corrections, etc. I had a lot of time in getting to this point. After repeated attempts to get the content he finally said he was too busy to do this [project] right now and that I needed to call him again in a year. I explained that I needed to be paid for the work I had done to date. He said he wasn't going to pay for something that wasn't done. I reminded him it wasn't done because of him. He said that he didn't have time that is why it wasn't done. At this point we got into our own version of a "duck season, rabbit season" debate which ended with him cutting me short and hanging up and me not getting a penny for the work. Now I insist on the down payment or I don't touch the keyboard.

For clients who simply can't come up with content I suggest that I also offer copywriting and photography services at my normal hourly rate and I would be happy to develop this content for them. Some will pay, which means I make even more money, but many simply get to work and write/develop the content themselves which is fine as well.

Just remember to get the 40% down and include the clause in the contract that someone mentioned earlier that said the project was considered forfeit and full payment was due if payment wasn't recevied by a certain date. I think a combination of these two things will insure you have a much better experience in the future.

Fortune Hunter

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