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robin_hyman
Community Member

What's Your Experience with PITA Clients (Nightmare Clients)?

My current clients aren't PITA (pain in the you know what) but I've had my share of experiences.  Since so many newbies come to the platform asking questions before accepting or afterwards (especially that sexual harassment post), thought it would be helpful to share this blog post I recently wrote. 

 

Have any of you experienced this?

 

7 Ways to Know if a Client Will Be a PITA (Pain in the XXX) Before Accepting A Freelance Gig
 

It's all in the first contact meeting.  Whether you are communicating via a freelancer platform like Upwork, phone call, LinkedIn, skype or email, you should know after a few minutes of speaking or back-and-forth messaging if the client is going to be a PITA - a pain in the you-know-what.

 

I have been freelancing for nearly 2 years and completed more than 60 projects, most of them with different clients.  Over time I learned how to spot red flags.  Not every client will be a PITA.  There are wonderful, smart clients out there who are awesome.  But this post is about how to identify those who may hurt your reputation (JSS) or who may cause you unnecessary stress. 

 

Here are 7 ways you can tell it will be a painful freelancing experience:

 

  1. How Much Time Do We Have?

You have scheduled a call with the potential client or the client pings you to chat at your convenience.  Either way, you get on the call and one of the first questions the client asks is "How much time do we have"?

 

I consider this a red flag because it means the client is not busy and not results driven (time is money!) There arre no meetings set up, no pressing things the client has to do.  The client will also talk your ear off speaking until the very last second before you say you have to go - guaranteed. 

 

If you hear this question, proceed with caution.  Make sure you give a hard stop because you value your time and have other things to do even if you don't

 

2.  They Try to Get Free Work

 

Unfortunately, this happens too often.  Before hiring, the client has a right to do an exploratory conversation.  That doesn't mean they should ask you question after question having you reveal your goodies.  As a website copywriter, at times I'm asked to give my opinion as to the page design and set-up in addition to the content.  To combat this, make general statements.  Tell the client, "Sure I can offer landing page design recommendations.  I will provide more detail once we have a contract."  

 

3.  They Cannot Define Project Scope 

 

As a marketing copywriter, I specialize in rewriting or writing landing page content.  On an initial call with the potential client, I always ask, "How many pages does this project include?"  One, you need to be able to manage your time.  If you are charging hourly, make sure the client can budget accordingly.  Second and more importantly, anticipate being asked how much the project will cost on a fixed-price basis. 

 

Some clients prefer fixed-priced projects as they think they can get more for their buck and ask an unlimited amount of questions.  Just manage the client's expectations, setting a clear number of revisions as well as set aside time to answer questions all at once if the client pings you a few times during the day (it's my hold and post technique = hold off until you have a few questions and then answer them in one cohesive message). 

 

If the client cannot finalize the project scope, changes are they will add more landing pages, sections, etc. to the contract WITHOUT offering to pay you more (also known as scope creep).  It is not ok for a client to say, "It is 4-6 product pages, but you can give me a fixed price that covers adding more products."  You need to know EXACTLY what the project entails.  If you end up working with the client and they try to scope creep, just respond with "I would be happy to do that for you.  It will be another $X."


4.  They Tell You You're The Expert

 

You ARE the expert.  That is why the client contacted you in the first place or why you received a response to your proposal.  When a potential client does not give me much direction on a project, I establish "check-ins" to ensure we are aligned.  Just because the client says you are the expert doesn't 100% mean she believes it to be the case. 

 

I had a client who contracted with me to create a pitch presentation the company could use while on a prospect call.   On our exporatory video conference meeting I told him my design skills were basic and recommended he hire a designer to clean up the slides when I was done.  I asked for an outline; he didn't provide one.  I asked for guidelines; he gave me some information about his company's services.  He told me I was the expert. 

 
Prior to sending him a first draft of the deck, I sent him an outline and waited for approval before proceeding.  Within a day he responded with, "Looks great so far :-)."  I moved on to writing the presentation and when I submitted the draft, he responded, "I'm not crazy about the content or design."  He then put the project on hold and has since posted the same job.  Good luck, PITA!

5.  They Make You Feel Uncomfortable

 

Within the past month, two potential clients made me feel uneasy on our exploratory call.  The first claimed the position was remote in an email but on the call he mentioned frequent office visits to the agency headquarters (more than one hour drive from my home) and to client meetings in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area.  It was a bait and switch.  This job is NOT remore and he made me queasy.  If you are ok with in-person meetings, set expectations of how many times a month you can communite on-site. 

 

The second client made multiple inappropriate comments.  He created a medical device to alleviate a common cause of itching.  Because he lived about 40 minutes from me in NYC, he offered to come to my area and chat about the project.  No thank you. Stranger, you are not invted to my small town instead of your large, public metropolitan city.  He also commented that the device was purposely created as a phallic symbol.  Really?  Why did I need to know this piece of information.  Run away from these clients. 


6.  They Haggle the Price

 

If you quote a price and the client tries to negotiate, it is likely the client will be a PITA.  Your price is your price.  Perhaps you are willing to drop it a bit in order to win the job.  If so, consider yourself warned. 

 

If the client haggles and wins, she will probably haggle the price for every project.  If the client haggles and you win, expectations will be higher and she may never be satisfied with your work.  I've experienced both and prefer letting the client win as long as the price is reasonable.  If not, move on. 

 

There is a small possibility the client haggles, wins and everything turns out ok.  Lucky!


7.  Deliver Date is Unreaslistic

 

I have turned away projects due "tomorrow".  Really, your landing page needs to be written in less than 24 hours?  Your brochure's content must be written in a day?  Doubt it.  Impractical due dates yield PITA clients.  

 

Chances are the client wants everything ASAP because they need to have the upper hand.  She is likely paying below market value for the work.  Educate them on your availability and the fact it may take more time to write quality content.  Rome wasn't built in a day, neither should your work. 


Before you get on an intial call, keep these points in mind.  It might make the difference between a good or bad experience.  There will always be PITA clients.  That doesn't mean you have to work with them.  If you decide to proceed, make sure you do it on your terms too.  Work smart!  

11 REPLIES 11
lysis10
Community Member

oh man I've never had #1 happen to me. Is this common? lol

 

#4 gave me a chuckle, because I say that to clients a lot xD But they've kinda said the same to me sometimes like "I'm looking for your direction on how this should be done since you're the expert." I'm surprised this is a flag. But I also go hourly, so wishy washy scope and stuff like that aren't a problem.

 

The others are yep yep.


Jennifer M wrote:

oh man I've never had #1 happen to me. Is this common? lol

 

 


It happened to me 2 weeks ago with an Upwork client.  He said it and then I thought, here we go.  And the call got worse and worse.  He was the one that claimed his product was a phallic symbol and wanted to meet me by my home.  See ya PITA!

ellnichole
Community Member

Thanks for that insight!  I'm new to UpWork, so this helps!  What about this scenario?  Invited for an interview via Skype.. did everything per invite..even stayed online , as requested.  An hour and a half goes by.. still no response from Client. Finally they ask if we can interview in 20 mins. I agree to that, 10 mins later they are calling me. I was unable to answer the skype call. The msg me to call them back when I can, 5 mins later I call them, and they don't answer.  My gut instinct is telling me this client will be a PITA.. like I mentioned I'm new to upwork, so am uncertained if this is normal when interviewing..?  Any advice would be great! Thank you!


Nichole E wrote:

Thanks for that insight!  I'm new to UpWork, so this helps!  What about this scenario?  Invited for an interview via Skype.. did everything per invite..even stayed online , as requested.  An hour and a half goes by.. still no response from Client. Finally they ask if we can interview in 20 mins. I agree to that, 10 mins later they are calling me. I was unable to answer the skype call. The msg me to call them back when I can, 5 mins later I call them, and they don't answer.  My gut instinct is telling me this client will be a PITA.. like I mentioned I'm new to upwork, so am uncertained if this is normal when interviewing..?  Any advice would be great! Thank you!


There have been a couple occasions where this happens and I tell them to just put whatever they have to say in an email. lol But I've also said "meh, iz ok mistakes happen" if I'm feeling like I really want the job. I landed my favorite job after that happened. It depends if I'm feeling the client and want the gig.


Nichole E wrote:

Thanks for that insight!  I'm new to UpWork, so this helps!  What about this scenario?  Invited for an interview via Skype.. did everything per invite..even stayed online , as requested.  An hour and a half goes by.. still no response from Client. Finally they ask if we can interview in 20 mins. I agree to that, 10 mins later they are calling me. I was unable to answer the skype call. The msg me to call them back when I can, 5 mins later I call them, and they don't answer.  My gut instinct is telling me this client will be a PITA.. like I mentioned I'm new to upwork, so am uncertained if this is normal when interviewing..?  Any advice would be great! Thank you!


No, this is not normal when interviewing. I have not run into this scenerio before, and I'm not new to Upwork. Yes, they will be a PITA. Unless your desperate, and willing to take a risk, I'd say "decline and move on." 

Nichole-

Make sure the call is scheduled. Your time is just as valuable as theirs. Yes this has happened to me and the project never usually pans out. Proceed with caution with that one!
dsmgdesign
Community Member

Great post, and totally relevant. I absolutely get why #4 is a red flag, and it's probably one of the biggest red flags IMO. I'm a graphic designer, and laugh when clients give vague answers and then say "just go wild" or "do what ever you think...you're the professional designer".  #4 normally occurs along with #3....the client can't define what they are looking for, so they put it on you to "read their minds." Well, I'm a designer, not a mind reader.  Briefs that are vague or too open to interpretation can, and do, often result with a PITA. I definitely prefer clients who know what they are looking for and can articulate it well. 


David S M wrote:

Great post, and totally relevant. I absolutely get why #4 is a red flag, and it's probably one of the biggest red flags IMO. I'm a graphic designer, and laugh when clients give vague answers and then say "just go wild" or "do what ever you think...you're the professional designer".  #4 normally occurs along with #3....the client can't define what they are looking for, so they put it on you to "read their minds." Well, I'm a designer, not a mind reader.  Briefs that are vague or too open to interpretation can, and do, often result with a PITA. I definitely prefer clients who know what they are looking for and can articulate it well. 


Totally hear you!  They usually say it because they have no idea what they really need or want.  The best clients provide detailed job descriptions and are able to address questions.  Those that claim you are the expert are not going to know what good work is when they receive it.  

a_lipsey
Community Member

I think this is great, Robin. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. My only suggestion is to change the title so that newbies can easily find it when they search using the search bar. Something like (or add in parenthesis): Client Red Flags or Problem Clients. I'm just thinking what are the normal things newbies post, you know? Could also be " unreasonable clients"  or  "demanding client".  Too bad you can't keyword tag!


Amanda L wrote:

I think this is great, Robin. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. My only suggestion is to change the title so that newbies can easily find it when they search using the search bar. Something like (or add in parenthesis): Client Red Flags or Problem Clients. I'm just thinking what are the normal things newbies post, you know? Could also be " unreasonable clients"  or  "demanding client".  Too bad you can't keyword tag!


Thanks Amanda!  Just changed ๐Ÿ™‚

Love it! 

 

For me the problem with vague clients is that they want to apply for a grant, which means it's likely project funding, and occasionally general operating. If they don't know the details of their project, how am I supposed to write about it? Then there's the wonderful clients who say "just make up a project to fit the foundation guidelines." Um, no. That's like the 2nd major rule of fundraising. You don't apply to agencies or foundations that aren't a fit for your program (or make up a program to fit their criteria - it's a sure fire rejection). If you're curious what the 1st rule is, it is: Ask. The biggest secret to fundraising is that most of the time you just have to ask. ๐Ÿ˜‰ 

 

Anyways, I have definitely had vague clients that just needed help verbalizing their thoughts, they aren't the problem. It's literally clients who basically want you to dream up their business for them, from idea inception to production to profit, that are the red flags. 

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