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Client from hell - extremely serious - need help on how to proceed, please!! - Pt. 1

Ace Contributor
Benjamin H Member Since: Mar 12, 2015
1 of 37

Dear Community,


A bit of backstory would probably help put this in context.  I apologize for this being a long read, but I don't think you'll be able to help without knowing the full story.



The Project


Week 2, I begin on the backend, building out the tables/fields/relationships, to overly simplify the process.  I managed to get this knocked out and start on the frontend, all the while keep the client updated with Upwork messages, e-mails, a phone call and at least one more skype screen sharing session.  The client is satisfied with progress and we're moving right along with the project.


Week 3, I'm about 80% finished with the frontend and we're heading into the 4th of July holiday weekend.  Again, I update the client and they are satisifed that progress is moving right along.  In fact, at this point, it won't be very long before I'm sending them a completed beta with sample data to being testing.


The Problem


Leading into Week 4, the friday right before the 4th of July, the client starts this dialogue (there are no names and this isn't completely verbatim, to respect the NDA I signed):


Client: When is out next meeting?


Me: Probably right after I deliver the beta so you'll be able to have something tangible to look at, click through and get the gist of the overall workflow.


Client: Any rough estimate of when that will be?


Me: I don't want to promise anything that I cannot deliver, so my rough estimate will be right along with the project scope, at the end of next week.  Ideally, I'd like to get it done quicker for you, but I've got several projects that I'm working on at the moment.  Does this work ok for you?


Client:  Sooner the better because I expect a lot of "massaging" before we can reliably start transitioning our cases to it. I trust you're not taking on too much new work in light of your current workload.


Client: I'm trying to be patient… But please understand that I hired you because I was in a crisis ... and that crisis still remains.


Me: I'm not taking on any new work. I'm definitely turning projects down, seeing as I have a full workload through the end of summer. There shouldn't be a lot of massaging, but there will be some and it's par for the course. Turning around a workable beta in a month is rapid development. Thanks for being patient!


Client:  : )


(Note: I'm assuming our communication channels are open at this point.  Over the holiday weekend, the client sends over more changes, causing me to go back and re-do some things that are done.  Again, not a huge deal, but it's going to push the beta a little further out because of the slight "scope creep".)


Then, the very next Tuesday, right after the 4th of July, I get this:


Client: By my quick math, we're about X-dollars into the original X estimate for the 3-phase development. Things still on track?


(Note: This beta is almost done at this point and I'm nowhere near the deadline for an estimated deliverable date or in any way, shape or form, over budget, despite the various changes the client has made during development.)


Me: Yes, we are still on track.The project scope is just a project scope, when deviations occur it will reflect in the time and cost involved. However, we aren't running over budget or missing any deadlines with this project, so yeah, it's definitely on track.


Client: Perhaps it's just a result of in my legal profession, we do the work first and are paid later. Here we are 75% into the initial budget without seeing a beta of all your efforts. 

Client: Thanks for the reassurance. Having scheduled the project in 3 phases -- i didn't think we be this far in financially before a beta in phase 1. I fully expect significant "massaging" through the beta stage ... but am concerned that the process will exceed the budget.


Me: I think that you might have the phase breakdown a little confused:

Phase I - Backend
Phase II - Frontend
Phase III - Reports/API integration
Phase IV - Beta 1.0 testing and push to the cloud

I'm almost through with Phase III. The "massaging" comes into play when you actually have a beta to test, than we tweak/edit it. That typically results in beta 2.0 or production-ready.

In the project scope, I estimated roughly 80 hours before beta 1.0. We aren't quite there yet.


Again, I don't want you to have anxiety, but you're going to have to trust me just a little bit for this to work smoothly. I've built several hundred databases over the last half-decade and, while there are several ways to work out a project, I've refined a system based on experience that results in a win/win situation for both the client and myself.

Rest assured, I'm working as fast as I can on this project and devoting as much time each week as I can. If I could have gotten this wrapped in a few weeks for you, I would have, but that isn't anywhere near realistic for this type or size of database.

Thanks again for the opportunity and you'll have a beta in no time!


--due to the 20,000 character limit, end of Pt. 1--


Ace Contributor
Benjamin H Member Since: Mar 12, 2015
2 of 37

--Part 2--


(Note: At this point, the project is 58 hours in and roughly 85% done to beta, so we aren't close to my estimated 80 hours for a deliverable beta yet).


--Then on Thursday, I get this:


Client: There is some confusion on the phases.  Please review the overview that I sent you.  This was the "3-phase" rollout as I understood it.


Me: I am onsite with a client for the bulk of today and have a meeting this afternoon, but I will address this as soon as I can later today.


Client: We need to talk before proceeding further to eliminate any further confusion.


Me: I don't disagree. There won't be any more work done on my end, and thus billable time added, until this gets cleared up.Please review the project scope that was outlined before we started this project until I can schedule in a phone meeting with you.


Client: Thanks. When can we have that call? I will make myself available for any time that works for you.

Me: Monday (7/11) afternoon should work fine for me. I've got a window between 2-4pm. Just let me know what works for you.  Thanks!


Client: Putting this on hold without clearing up the confusion and pushing a workable beta further past the prior estimated date really doesn't work for me.


--The Client, at this point, pauses the effect, "putting it on hold".--


Client: Waiting until next Monday to have a meeting is not reasonable.


Me: I literally do not have time for a phone meeting until Monday afternoon.  How is this unreasonable?  You said that you would make time to discuss this and I agreed to stop work on the project until we have time to do so.


Client: Please email to me the database in its current state.


Me: Will do.  It is 100% open and the backend is unlocked.  Please bear in mind that this is not a completed beta, as you paused the project before I could finish it.  If we aren't going to have a meeting to clear up the confusion, please unpause the project and end the contract since we are squared up to this point.  Good luck with any/all development endeavors that you have in the future.Thank you.


--I send him the database file, that is not complete due to (a) the client paused the contract and (b) we aren't anywhere near the estimated time I told him it would take to complete.--

--The very next day, Friday morning, I get this:

Client: Now that I have had the opportunity to have other developers review the work you delivered to me for the first time on 7/7/16 (after billing me for 58 hours), you should know we are not "officially squared up." I'm not going to waste your time telling you all the consequences that could occur if we do not amicably resolve this problem. I am willing to consider any proposal you have for resolving this. If we cannot reach a mutually agreeable resolution by the close of business on Monday, July 11, 2016, I will avail myself to other methods available. I hope this will not be necessary because I believe we both have better uses of our time. If you are foolish enough to respond to this invitation to cooperatively resolve this disagreement with a pithy message, I'm done trying to do this the collaborative way.


Me: What proposals do you have for resolving any issue that you have? I am willing to consider them.


Client: Deferring to the opinion of another developer that I interviewed and shared your work with, it should have only taken you, at most, 20-25 hours to build what you did.  My proposal: ) as a financial compromise, refund X amount to me so that my payment for the database as delivered would cost X amount (25 hrs at $X/hr) -- in exchange for this refund, I will agree to 1) not post negative feedback on Upwork for the project; 2) not file a dispute with Upwork; 3) not report a theft to my credit card company, and 4) release all rights to pursue legal action on this dispute and to file a lien on future payments made to you thru Upwork. Let me know how you want to proceed.


--Even though the project is still paused, the client then starts making changes to the terms of the project--


------------------------end of backstory and problem-----------------------------------------------------------------


Yes, extremely long-winded, so I thank you for your read.  I have not responded to this client yet, as that was just sent last night and, to be honest, I don't know how to respond.


It appears to me that there are several violations of Upwork's policies on the client end, a little bit of blackmail thrown in, and a sheer gut reaction from someone that appears to have lost their mind.  This guy is certainly a class act.


Am I off base here?


What the hell do I do with this?


Any/all information and insight will be highly appreciated!


Upwork mods: How do I best deal with this? This client is basically saying that if I consent to something, than they won't leave certain negative feedback, file disputes, not report a theft to their credit card company and not put a lien on me...which implies that if I do not comply, they will do all of these things.


Please help!!



Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
3 of 37

Hourly contract?


Check your work diary. Was all time logged with the tracker, reasonable activity and meaningful work memos?


That will largely determine your right course of action, and the best and worst case scenarios.


Plus, what is the client's history on the site? Money spent, length they've been here, feedback left and received please. (Just an overview)

Community Guru
Maria A Member Since: Apr 6, 2016
4 of 37

Yikes!!!!! Those "threats" sound so obnoxious. Sorry you have to deal with this. Hopefully everything was accurately tracked.

Ace Contributor
Benjamin H Member Since: Mar 12, 2015
5 of 37

Thank you for the responses!


Yes, all time was accurately tracked.


The client is brand new to the site, has no previous history and thus no feedback.


Is he not suggesting a violation of Upwork's User Terms of Agreement when he states that if I pay him X amount of dollars, he won't leave bad feedback, file a dispute, etc.?


I know, as a freelancer, that I cannot ask a client for certain feedback, under any circumstances.


This client is an attorney.  The DB I was working on was for a law firm.


I don't appreciate the veiled threats and I feel like, even if I did want to refund him to 'make him go away' then I would be violating Upwork's policies by agreeing that if I pay him X amount of money, he won't leave certain feedback, file a dispute, etc.


This is really stressing me out and is certainly the absolute worst client I've ever dealt with in 2 years of being on oDesk/Upwork.

Community Guru
Christy A Member Since: Dec 30, 2015
6 of 37

I'm sorry you're faced with this.


Personally, I don't deal well with threats, particularly empty ones.  Placing a lien on further Upwork earnings?  Really? If I were in this position (knock on wood) and I had done the work well, according to scope and carefully and accurately tracked my time, I'd be inclined to politely tell the client that his solution is not one that I am open to accepting.  Remember, just because he says he won't leave negative feedback doesn't guarantee that's the case. Plus, he could just as easily leave you horrible private feedback and you're right back where you started from.


Upwork has a dispute process in place for these types of issues.  I would let the client know that he should avail himself of that.

Ace Contributor
Benjamin H Member Since: Mar 12, 2015
7 of 37

Thank you, Christy.


I've not responded to the client since that was sent.  But, I did open a support ticket and shot a screenshot of it to Upwork.


I don't like threats either, especially since I pride myself in bending over backwards for clients.  This guy has been extremely reasonable, if not a little inclined to some hand-holding, up until this week.


I spent about two hours late last night, reading through Upwork's User Agreement and came to a conclusion that even If I did want to refund money, I might be violating the User Agreement based on his statements.


I've got a few friends that are attorney's and thought about having them look at this.  But, I would rather it go through the Upwork dispute and (if needed) arbitration process, just so I don't mess up my own account with Upwork.




This just completely boggles my mind and has had me overtly stressed for the last several days.  I really enjoy Upwork as a platform, but I've thought about leaving after this just so I never have to deal with this again.  There were absolutely no warning signs that this was going to be a 'client from hell'. Smiley Sad

Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
8 of 37

Benjamin H wrote:  But, I would rather it go through the Upwork dispute and (if needed) arbitration process, just so I don't mess up my own account with Upwork.

 There won't be much of that.


As mentioned, for hourly contracts ALL the client can dispute is hours logged since the 4rth (the deadline ran out last night for any hours logged last week or previously.)


All they will look at is:


  • Are all hours tracked?
  • Is there sufficient activity?
  • Are all screenshots related to the client's work?
  • Are there meaningful (!) work memos?


If ALL answers to ALL the above are YES - the client will not win the dispute.

If ANY answer to the above (pay attention to "meaningful work memos") is No - the client will win the dispute for THIS week's hours only.


However - if the client does do a charge-back - ALL hours will be looked at and if all answers to the points above are YES you are protected under the hourly protection policy. If not you could lose alln hours that are not covered (lack of meaningful memos being the most frequent issue here.)



Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
9 of 37




Let's look at the facts:


The client is not "invested" in Upwork so losing their account due to policy violations won't worry them.


If all time was accurately tracked, with meaningful work memos (!) and proper activity the client does not have a leg to stand on if he files a dispute as disputes on hourly contracts are decided on the relevance, activity level and memos of the work diary, and can only be filed for the previous week (it is already too late for last week, only this current week could be disputed.


*IF* the client makes true his threat of reporting theft to his credit card company when there clearly was no such thing, he would himself be rather on the wrong side of the law. He may be able to pull off a chargeback, but if your work diaries are spot on you won't lose the money already paid.


Now for the bad news:


Your JSS will likely take a hit from this regardless of how it pans out. If that happens you can, as a top rated freelancer, ask for this contract to be excluded from the calculation, within 2 weeks of losing your top rated status. That should save your status and your talent cloud membership (!)


The fact that he IS in fact doing feedback blackmail means that he is indeed violating policies but that doesn't really help you much either way.


If you are confident that your work was up to par give the client the option of unpausing the contract and you'll finish the work as agreed, or to end the contract. Do not react to the threats, do not rise to the provocation, do not sink to his level.


Stay calm and reasonable.


I would respond in a very professional and neutral tone, completely sidestepping any threats.


Such as,


Dear Jim,


I was sorry to hear that you are not happy with the way our working relationship has panned out.


As things stand, we can either finish the project and for that we would have to have you unpause the contract, or you can take what has been done so far and continue with another freelancer of your choosing.

As the contract was on an hourly basis, you have all the deliverables, and the time was tracked in accordance with Upwork's policies, we can end the contract here if that is how you would like to proceed.


Alternatively we can have our phone call as planned and decide together how to get things back on track.








Please take screenshots of ALL your work diary pages. If the client ends the contract you will no longer have access to them.

Also take screenshots (NOT transcripts) of all Skype and email conversations.


My gut feeling is that the client is bluffing and you can call his bluff because IF (!!) your work diaries are fine you have nothing to lose letting the client do whatever they feel the need to do. IF (!!) your work diaries are fine you are protected, and you can undo any damage to your profile and JSS via the "remove one contract per quarter / every 10 contracts from your calculation" IF the client gets vindictive.


You MIGHT even be able to get any feedback like that removed anyway if the blackmail was clear enough.


But I would calm down first, and whatever you do, don't get into a fight - stay calm, professional, and under control.


Sorry you have to deal with this, it's horrid!!!

Ace Contributor
Benjamin H Member Since: Mar 12, 2015
10 of 37



Thank you!  Phew...even though it sucks, I would gladly take the hit to my JSS and re-invest the time into rebuilding it, rather than deal with this guy anymore.  As sad as it sounds.


Yes, my work is quite up to par and, ironically enough, if the client didn't cut off their nose to spite their face, I would have had a completed beta done by yesterday evening.


As it stands, he has an incomplete beta and a ton of threats.


I've got an extremely well-documented history with this project....several screen shares, 35+ emails, Upwork messages almost daily and my work diary is detailed to a tee and follows the project scope.


That you for your insight.  You and everyone else on this thread, are giving me some proper perspective.  I'm too emotionally charged up to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  Thank you immensely for the bird's eye.


It can, and hopefully will, turn this blizzard into a breeze.