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This 36 message thread spans 2 pages: 36 ( [1] 2 > >     
Client from Hell - What makes a bad client? Can they be reformed?
Or is it best to turn tail and run?

 3:43 pm on Jan 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

One of my worst nightmares is the client that asks for a design that is "Bold, yet ethereal."

That's a tip off that these people don't know what they want and will never be satisfied with anything you give them.

The flip side are the ones who nit-pick the details and drive you insane by asking for things that should never be done, or worse, cannot be done.

I have made it a policy to turn tail and run.

There are certain phrases that make my ears prick up, and if the body language is there, you can bet I'm excusing myself for the bathroom and beating feet.



 3:56 pm on Jan 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

My worst are those <Eeek!>'s who hire a professional web designer/programmer and then proceed to tell you how to do it. Step by step.

If my professional opinion is so <Arrgh!> worthless, do it yourself muppet!

I've resolved to do no more work without a written agreement and several interviews with the prospect first this year ;)



 4:20 pm on Jan 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's not easy but I too walk away from the obvious pain in the neck clients.

Before I would "hang in there" and hope that it would all work out - it doesn't and if anything they get worse.

It did seem odd at first, turning down work, but I now spend my time more usefully and profitably and I don't regret one instance when I walked away.


Undead Hunter

 6:20 pm on Jan 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

"Bold, yet ethereal"

That's a good one! Yes, its really important to get down to specifics.

There's two places a comment like that can be taken:

1) Can you show me what you consider bold and ethereal - do you have a design in mind that accomplishes both? Several? Let's look at each element of each design together and determine what works and why..." That often ferrets out some very interesting information about design expectations.


2) "And is that something that adequately captures the essense of your company's brand? I ask because in any web design our number one consideration is how the users will, on a practical basis, interact with your web site. You want to be user-driven - solving people's needs..."

Of course I can't always think that clearly on the fly when somebody tosses out a statement like that - so I usually say, "Bold and ethereal: let me take all this in and get back to you on Thursday".

IF you can pin the clients down to specifics very early in process, put it all down on one sheet that says "here's what we're doing and why" - then they can't give you flak. Or rather they can change their minds, but then it costs more money

"I understand that you personally 'dislike' this interface, but you do see what it accomplishes and how, right? If you want us to go back to the drawing board, we'll happily do so. It will cost an additional $X,000 and set us back another 3 weeks, but we're prepared to do so.

Or... you could move forward with this current design, test it for a few months, and change it again then based on what your clients think - this IS a continual process. What would you like to do?"

Now, we did have a client who represented a board of people who wanted a "slick, modern design". Oh, and the whole project only had 1 month to complete.

So we asked detailed questions about what a "slick, modern design" meant - his answer, "beats the *ell out of me, I'm just the committee leader".

We followed by asking to chat briefly with all 5 people before quoting the project - without it, we didn't know if they wanted some flash intro or just a fresh look! Two very different price ranges... and the client said, "no way, you don't talk to them".

Now THAT'S when you run and don't look back: whenever the client will NOT give you the info you need. In fact, that's the # 1 "bad client" sign for us.

Turns out they didn't want anything complicated at all - but I'm still glad we didn't take it, 'cause the budget wasn't enough to run the site for 8 months AND re-design it...

Undead Hunter

 6:42 pm on Jan 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

And Nick, you're also 100% right - if they are discrediting your opinions and ideas from the get-go, they *don't* need a professional designer. Micro-managers are the worst, the most difficult to deal with. Have them get a high school kid to bully around with a copy of MS Frontpage. :-)

We're working on an increasingly solid interview process based on a commercial "selling method" (for lack of a better term) that, when we follow it to the letter, disqualifies all but the most interested clients. Our meetings and phone calls are all about disqualifying people - and we can do it in just one, vs. spreading it out over the year.

You absolutely have to be able to turn away work - you have to be able to walk away from *anything* in order to negotiate what you need.


 7:57 pm on Jan 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Walking away can often actually be profitable. I was doing seo for a client who found a cheaper solution (automated submissions to 3000+ engines, among other things!). They acted as if I had been cheating them. I politely advised that the cheaper solution was going to get them knocked off the engines entirely, but I didn't fight too hard to keep them...6 months later I was able to command an even higher price (to compensate for the extra work in cleaning up the damage that had been done) and they were happy to pay it. They have been a wonderful client ever since :)


 10:36 pm on Feb 15, 2003 (gmt 0)

Imho - there seem to be two type of client

Type A - Dislike everything you do and nit-pick it to pieces at every opportunity.

Type B - Who go along with everything you say and would be happy to pay if you only gave them a page with their company name on it.

I also hate the first type and do as little as possible with them for my money.

The second type are great and we put a lot of effort into their sites and developing their business


 10:49 pm on Feb 15, 2003 (gmt 0)

I like your split into Type A and Type B clients

Experience has taught me that about 10% of my clients are type A - is this abnormally high/abnormally low/about what others get.?

With 90% happy bunnies, maybe I shouldn't complain.


 11:56 pm on Feb 15, 2003 (gmt 0)

The client is always right! Plain and very simple guidelines to live by.

I commonly indicate... "I will be very happy to accommodate your request <name here>, as I am sure you are aware this is outside of our original agreement and I will need to work your additional expenses".

50% of clients are willing to pay the additional expense, and the other 50% revert back to the original plan.

New "potential" clients... don't get this "agreement adjustment capability"... I simply walk away.


 12:03 am on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

I loooooove type B.

Type A can make you some money if you have the relationship on a tight contract. When they ask for updates beyond the contracted stipulations, you invoke the scope creep clause, and start charging them the Update Rates.

Amazing how fast some people start liking your original ideas. I think it can really boil down to how well your contract is written, and how much protection it gives you.


 6:29 am on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

A bad client - one who wants to bump Microsofts PR9, 11,000 backlinks, page from the number 1 spot with his website which has a greyed out bar.

And by the way - it has to done by tomorrow.

And when I say "it cannot be done by tomorrow, rather it is more a case of a long on going project", he says "well you dont have a solution then do you? I thought you were an SEO company"

Goodbye Kiddo.



 7:17 am on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Ya know, from the viewpoint of someone who was willing to spend $5,000 - $10,000.00US to rebuild what was/is basically a "hobby" site these kinds of conversations always fascinate me.

Let me assure you, there are "type A" and "type B" designers too. :)

In the meantime I still plod along on my own attempting to learn what I can hanging out here.

I have since noticed that that kind of money buys a lot of.........uh........ beverage. :)


 5:09 pm on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

What ever happened to 'the customer is always right'?

If somebody wants to spend their hard-earned money on your services I would think they should be entitled to as much input as they want.

Perhaps it would be better to take on a policy of 'I'll do it your way'.

One of the best books I ever read about building a successful business was titled 'Just Say Yes'. The idea is that if you give the customer what they want you'll be successful.

I figure that as long as they pay the bill, they're the boss and I'll do what they want.


 5:32 pm on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

'The customer is always right, but you must know the customer', I believe is the full expression.
When you get the feeling the customer may be a pain in the 'proverbial' you can either (as the 'actress' said to the 'bishop') Think of England and do anything asked, or tell them you'd rather leave the project alone since it does not appeal to you (suit your abilities, etc).
Me? Well, I love making web sites and feel I'm getting better all the time (many thanx to this great place) at making better ones, so I would hesitate to do something that goes against my principles as far as web design goes. My principles may well be modified to accept extra reasoning, but money, for me not the be all and end all, would not change my own principles.

You may interpret that as the reason I am reasonably poor. :(
You may interpret that as the reason I am reasonably happy. :)

You may also offer me a 7 figure ($) sum to make a web site ;)


 6:36 pm on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

I used to be a for hire site desinger... and I was a real design "whore" :)

I didn't care what they asked for... I charged by the hour... they got what they wanted. Usually, though, they didn't even know what they wanted. Those kind of clients always ended up with the very best sites.


 9:02 pm on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

I got that recently, the client seemed to be real anal and always referred to me as "Mr. xxxxx" rather than my first name, had absolutely no sense of humor and asked way too many questions that had already been answered, i don't like repeating myself that many times so based on that alone I walked away.

If someones going to be a pain in the butt I'd rather walk away. I actually hand select my clients...I look for someone I want to work with either through referral, I like the industry their in or I just connect with them on a personal level...when that happens I actually might lower my prices, only because I have to absolutely have fun at this or it isnt worth it.


 9:28 pm on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

>> 6 months later

Way to go webwoman! That's the attitude I take most of the time. I know some of my potential clients just don't get it. They think that what I offer them can be found in

a. A box called MS FrontPage.
b. A high school student who built the family web page.
c. A graphics designer who decided to get into website design last year.
d. A "build your own website" kit provided by thier website host/isp/vendor of the week.
e. A brother-in-law/nephew/friend who dabbles with website design for fun.

BTW that's not a slam on MS's FP as much as it is on the gullability of some of these folks who honestly buy the MS sales hype. And as for the graphics folks - again - no slam intended. I've just seen too many GAs around here who think that if they buy a copy of MS FP/DW/AGL then they can simply add webpage design to their portfolio of services.

Rather than waste my time trying to get this sort of client to understand the bigger picture, I much prefer to wish them well, leave my card, and then leave their office on good terms. When I see the red flashing lights - I heed the warning.


 11:19 pm on Feb 16, 2003 (gmt 0)

Every shopping cart software I've seen says anyone can build a store and start taking orders within 30 minutes.

Ethereal should add 15 minutes to the job.

Robert Charlton

 1:59 am on Feb 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

>>Ethereal should add 15 minutes to the job.<<

Depends on how ethereal... It could add an eternity.


 2:15 am on Feb 17, 2003 (gmt 0)


Ha ha ha! That's too funny.

By coincidence I have a t-shirt that has the following slogan across the chest: "I [heart] eternal damnation."


 9:01 am on Feb 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Ummm they seem to fall into the extremes.

Cat A = cheap and cheerful OR on a mission OR Self proclaimed leaders
Cat B = none of the above

There also needs to be a Cat C = the rewriters! They appear to be intelligent, they appear to know and understand about client employee relationships, they allocate adequate funding to the appropriate area, they appear to be normal in everyway. However, hidden away is a very special quality one that forces you into the land of terminal boredom, to contemplate suicide, to change careers, offer them a full refund anything just to finish the project!



 11:50 am on Feb 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

>> What ever happened to 'the customer is always right'?

It's a nice theory, and indeed, we strive to fulfil it. BUT is a client who changes their mind (and the spec) sixteen times between initial brief and final signoff "always right"? Are they more right when they demand all left-hand navigation, or do they become right when they decide that a different colour per page is the way to go?

Basically, it comes down to clients knowing next to nothing about the web, and how it works. Classic example, we recently completed a site for a client that has a nice Flash animation on the front page, which includes textual buttons to skip to sections of the site. OK, there's text nav too, so spiders can get in, but upon viewing the final product, the client said "Very nice, but I've decided that I want to add one more section to the Flash nav, and change the wording on most of the buttons to include more characters, and I want to rearrange some of the existing stuff anyway". Much cursing was forthcoming (in private) and a quick test showed that the changes just weren't possible, whilst still permitting the site to dispaly in 800x600 screen res, as the movie filled the available space on the page, and was already pushing the limit to remain legible.

Clearly, the client had no idea of the complexity of what he had asked for, because he seemed surprised when we pointed out that as the original work met his submitted spec, the new movie would be chargeable, and would take some time. In his own words, he thought that "we only had to move some buttons around", and thats easy, isn't it?

>> The idea is that if you give the customer what they want you'll be successful.

There is a caveat to that, IMO. "If you give the customer what they wantand they are willing to pay for it, you'll be successful". I'm sure we've all come across the prospect who wants a site that rivals Amazon, or Yahoo for functionality, looks like it was designed by Michaelangelo, can be developed, tested and deployed inside 2 weeks, and costs about 300, with a free mousemat chucked, and Gor bless yer, guv'nor

Hmmm, I seem to be ranting. Maybe I should go and lie down


 12:32 pm on Feb 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

There is a caveat to that, IMO. "If you give the customer what they wantand they are willing to pay for it, you'll be successful". I'm sure we've all come across the prospect who wants a site that rivals Amazon, or Yahoo for functionality, looks like it was designed by Michaelangelo, can be developed, tested and deployed inside 2 weeks, and costs about 300, with a free mousemat chucked, and Gor bless yer, guv'nor

Hmmm, I seem to be ranting. Maybe I should go and lie down

Na... I wouldn't say that's a rant.

At the start of all contracts I generally indicate that in order for me to assist them, they need to appreciate my background, and experience, as well, I need to appreciate that their business is not mine, thus this appreciation (both ends) must be cast in advance in order to develop a path to proceed.

This is their opportunity to caveat the agreement but once the contract is signed that path is clear - and adjustments to change any portion of the contract is at their expense.

This will often produce conflicts over the contract and varying opinions on how to proceed (we all develop new ideas as we go). But the end result is they pay to adjust... and should we come to a crossroad where the contract must be cancelled -- my fees are paid in full.

I am locked into this contract, so are they... If I can't meet my obligation - I have breach the terms of the contract and need to compensate the client... so do they.



 12:53 pm on Feb 17, 2003 (gmt 0)


Far from simple. If one wants to avoid the lawyers, then things have to be worked out amicably, which is difficult when a confrontation occurs.

No matter how clearly matters have been laid out in advance, if the parting of the ways does come, then (regrettably) one side or the other feels aggrieved, and perhaps due compensation. Especially where matters of principle are involved.

Unfortunately these matters are never simple.


 1:56 pm on Feb 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

"Bold, yet ethereal" - is this guy looking for a website or a nicely aged Cabernet Sauvignon? ;)


 5:48 pm on Feb 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Just start the page:


That works for me...

(A word of caution: ALWAYS remember to close the ethereal tag.... you do not want it leaking over to your rival's pages!)



 9:50 am on Feb 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

A recent REAL example (not a website though): A client recently asked my co-worker designer to create a logo for salted nuts package, and described his vision as follows:

"A spider in Spetsnaz uniform cracks a big nut"

The client was a former russian spetsnaz officer starting his first business :)


 11:12 am on Feb 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

I've got one happening tomorrow, here's the scenario....

New client contact us on Dec. 1st and we met a few days later. With MD and Marketing/PR Manager in attendance.

Client has just had their 'new brochure' produced: excellent bespoke photography, spot UV varnish, the whole nine yards and a very nice job. Wanted their web site to 'look like and contain same information as brochure'.

Explained that this would not necessarily be the best course of action, particularly as their brochure contained full A4 pictures and some pages just 2-3 lines of text.

Client supplied a very small budget for the web site (having obviously pushed the boat out on the brochure) and when I asked the MD how he would judge their web site 'a success' he replied 'getting it off my desk' - obvious wince on the part of the Marketing Manager. They also wanted their site 'high in search engines' as part of the package. They wanted the whole thing done in 4 weeks!

The only reason we actually progressed this is that (as usual) the client is a major technology consultancy, with big, plush building. We thought it was worth getting our foot in the door and then convincing them of what can be achieved on the web/internet.

We went away, produced a 12 page, bespoke proposal outlining how the brochure styles could be adapted and extended for use on the web. How we could actually take some of the design/copy standards but tailor them for online delivery. We also pointed out that SEO was not a throwaway bolt on to a web site and we couldn't undertake this within budget. We came in under the budget for the site, proposed a 8-12 week production schedule and delivered the proposal just before Christmas.

We waited, and waited and then heard from them in early Jan. They said that as we were 'close to their top budget' they would be seeking another company's proposal.

Since Christmas we have been commissioned to undertake several major projects from our key clients who keep us in business throughout the whole year.

Last week, the new client phones saying they liked our proposal after all (possibly that the alternative company either quoted more than the budget, or told them to get lost?) and would like to discuss it further tomorrow - Wed 19th.

Here's what I will be saying (not in these words obviously):

We will not get into a 'Dutch auction' - if they want money off we will decline the project.

We are now at capacity for 3-4 weeks (thanks to our key clients) so cannot start work on their project immediately.

If their brief has changed we will have to re-quote according to the changes.

If any of the above is unnaceptable, we will decline the project.

Will let you know how it goes!


 6:18 am on Feb 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

What ever happened to 'the customer is always right'?

To quote from one of my favorite all-time Dilbert strips:

The customer is always right.

And they must be punished for their arrogance.


I guess we've dealt with most of the nightmares described already. My personal least favorite is the client who doesn't trust our experience, talent, and knowledge -- no matter what we suggest, their ideas are always better than ours.


 5:25 pm on Feb 24, 2003 (gmt 0)

Pleeker, I think there is a real and viable talent in making the customer think your great idea is really his :)

This 36 message thread spans 2 pages: 36 ( [1] 2 > >
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