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How to Deal with Loony Clients

Loony ClientsThe red flags were there, big and bold and waving in front of my face. But I was too stupid to mind them.

The phone rang at 10:20 pm (red flag #1) and the woman on the other end didn’t seem to notice my groggy voice or reticence, but proceeded to ramble on for an hour and a half, explaining (kind of) what should have taken ten to fifteen minutes (red flag #2). The woman admitted to being completely nontechnical and had trouble articulating what she actually wanted done on the site (red flag #3). Within the course of the phone call, she changed her mind back and fourth multiple times about how to proceed (red flag #4).

Most of the conversation — if you can call it that — consisted of her complaining about her awful experiences with the past two people she hired to help with her blog (red flags #5 and #6) and expressed suspicion about another programmer she had spoken with (red flag #7). Another chunk of the conversation was about how she had been wrongly vilified by opponents in a pet cause and about the injustice of being called a “loon” on the #1 ranked site in the SERPS when googling for her name (red flags #8).

My 17-year-old daughter was sitting next to me at her computer through most of the conversation. She heard enough to warn me not to accept the work (red flag #9). My gut told me she was right and as we walked up the stairs I said, “I’m probably going to regret taking on this client.” (Red flag #10.)

But the woman was paying too much for work because she didn’t really know how easily it could be done. She didn’t know what she was doing and so was an easy target for overcharging. And she was referred to me by a relative of a wonderful client. How could I say no? I mean, I’ve never had a problem with a client before. We work together. I work efficiently and err on the side of the client in my billing and try to provide real value. If there are problems, we just discuss resolutions. What could go wrong?

The woman had a bunch of old articles that were just PDF links and wanted them to be added to her new blog to add some depth. Since I work at an hourly rate, I told her to give me just one post to create, I’d report what I did and how long it took, and then she could decide if she wanted to continue. She agreed. She sent me the Word document and I got to work.

I took the Word document and copied the text into the post. I removed the article byline and date to remove the redundancy created by WordPress and set the post date to the article date. I removed some info from the top that referred to the original publication site. Next I set the title as she specified and added the categories that she said she wanted, including those that she wanted this particular post identified with. Then I formatted the headings correctly, got rid of the garbage code, and uploaded and added the image. Last, I manually linked to the new post from a list page a previous (disgruntled) blog worker had set up.

Creating the entire post took 25 minutes, which meant she would be paying me less than half what another programmer was charging for the same work and the same amount per post that she was paying to just have PDF links added. I thought she’d be thrilled!

Instead, I got another midnight phone call (I told her I lived in Utah — I assume she understands the concept of time zones) that left a long, incoherent voice mail. That was followed by a long email repeating most of what she’d said and adding some new accusations.

In a nutshell, she hated everything, it was all terribly wrong, I had completely ignored all her directions, and she wanted it reversed immediately. I was summarily blamed for:

  • Doing more than we agreed (“you were just going to input the one thing”) — although I only did input the one post she requested and she would not clarify what else I supposedly did.
  • Putting her categories in the incorrect order — even though WordPress alphabetizes categories and only shows those that are actually applied to posts.
  • Adding a calendar to her sidebar — because she didn’t understand that her theme is set up to put a calendar in the sidebar for each recent post.
  • Doing the “entry items…all wrong” — which I could address if I knew what “entry items” were.
  • Having the audacity to remove the ALL CAPS YELLING TEXT and replacing it with real bold and italics as appropriate — because she does not need grammar lessons.
  • Removing the byline altogether — because even after exchanging five emails specifically addressing that point and describing to her where it was, she still claimed there was no byline.
  • Creating a “snapshot that took three hours” — which meant “took three hours to load,” apparently not realizing that I used the image she directed me to use and that I have no control over her internet speed.
  • Putting “an advertisement on the bottom…ads by Google” — even though there are no google ads anywhere on her site and repeated requests could not get her to clarify what she was talking about.

So here’s my great piece of business advice, learned the hard way. When you see those red flags flying and your gut says, “You’ll be sorry if you take on this client,” your gut is probably right. Just run away. Fast.

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • CarnieD August 12, 2010, 7:31 am

    Nightmare. You’ve got someone who has no idea the constraints of their own software and theme (and internet connection). That’s a bullet you want to dodge at all costs!

  • Paul August 12, 2010, 9:14 am

    Thank you! I could have written this post. Prima donnas exist in every corner of the world. Run away is right!

  • BlogMan August 12, 2010, 12:29 pm

    Wow, I hear you. If you work in the service industry you will quickly find that not all clients are created equal. You are better to pass on the questionable ones. It will save you time and money later!

    One question: I don’t get the image of the nuts? What’s up with that?

  • BlogMan August 12, 2010, 12:30 pm

    Ah! Nuts! As soon as I clicked “submit” it hit me. Ha ha!

  • Alison Moore Smith August 12, 2010, 12:41 pm

    CarnieD, I tend to agree, but it all depends on how teachable the client is. I have a number of clients who are not technical, but they are great clients because they are willing to learn.

    Most of my tutorials on this blog (like the Custom Title Size on Your Thesis WordPress blog) have been the result of questions from clients.

    But when a client doesn’t know the first thing about WordPress or their theme — or web sites or blogging — and yet they demand things that don’t fit the venue without accepting explanations (such as how WordPress manages categories), it’s an exercise in frustration. At best.

  • Frannyloo August 14, 2010, 2:58 am

    Wow. I think I’ve worked for this woman! Seriously! Wow. She lives on the west coast, no? That at least narrows it down to a few million loons!

  • Dan Lew August 15, 2010, 2:01 am

    Wow, lots of red lights! I recently stopped taking on work from clients as I prefer not to have to lose the time babysitting. I much prefer and enjoy making automated income! Nice post!

  • Carrie August 15, 2010, 8:46 pm

    I’m a blog book designer and 99% of my clients don’t live in the same time zone as I do. Thankfully I haven’t had the late night calls before. Thanks for sharing your experience as a warning for thhe rest of us who do our business through the web!
    Read Carrie’s inCREDible post…Show off your photographs in a blog bookMy Profile

  • Matt August 16, 2010, 5:52 am

    That sounds like a real nightmare. Yep, if you can work out who is going to be that difficult very quickly, well, that’s a good skill to have.

    I had a horror client once when I had a flyer distribution service. He was arrogant, bossy and unreasonable but I did everything he asked and he still wasn’t happy. He ended up yelling at me on his mobile. I was worried that he was going to come round to my home and abuse me or even physically attack me (he had my address).

    I think he was going through some sort of personal crisis, and was taking it out on people he was working with. (Actually it sounds like that might have been the case with your nightmare client, too.)

    Ever since that occurred I’ve had my radar up. When I detect an aggressive, unbalanced tone I make some excuse and say I don’t think I’d be suitable.
    Read Matt’s inCREDible post…A local classifieds site with a differenceMy Profile

  • JackieO August 18, 2010, 3:22 pm

    Sorry you had to deal with such stupidity. Some people really are just nuts.

  • Karl Foxley August 27, 2010, 7:40 am

    Hey Alison, I feel your pain. I’ve been in the same situation a few times in the past but now I’d much rather lose the income from a difficult client and have peace of mind instead.

    I had one client who I agreed could pay in instalments for our service and this was to be over four months. Never again! After the first payment had cleared he was on the phone every minute asking what had been done. It was only through talking with the client at length that I discovered that his business was in financial trouble and he was seeing SEO as the solution to some quick income. It can work that way sometimes but he was in a very competitive market and was told that it will take some time before he got the results he expected. Oh well!

    Live and learn, live and learn!


    Read Karl Foxley’s inCREDible post…Saying Thank You To Our Top ReferrersMy Profile

  • Karl Foxley August 30, 2010, 4:17 pm

    Hi Alison,

    I left a comment for this article recently and just wondered if it has hit your spam filters.

    Warmest regards,


  • Alison Moore Smith August 30, 2010, 4:29 pm

    Ah, thanks for the heads up! I found the post and just released it from the Akismet black hole. 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith August 30, 2010, 4:31 pm

    Spot on, Karl, across the board. In the end, problematic clients cost you.

  • Karl Foxley August 30, 2010, 4:40 pm

    I can’t believe Akismet sees me as a bad commenter. 🙁
    Read Karl Foxley’s inCREDible post…Warning- Don’t Ignore This Instant Traffic MethodMy Profile

  • Suresh Khanal September 4, 2010, 9:29 pm

    Ileane passed the link in Buzz and I’m thankful to have this opportunity to go through some nightmare experience. God help the woman and she’ll still have tons of complains. Run away with those complain-boxes!
    Read Suresh Khanal’s inCREDible post…Computer Operator Result Published — DhankutaMy Profile

  • Jake September 7, 2010, 1:18 pm

    Ha-ha. The client from Hell :D. It could have been worst. I had 3 or 4 meetings with a client and after I explained him that he needs hosting and how to get it, because he want to get it him self, not through me, he complete abandoned our deal :D. Good thing I do not deal with clients now, or not directly actually.
    Regards and good luck with your clients. Just remember to explain to them everything, even stuff you do not thing is necessary.

  • Chris September 7, 2010, 7:04 pm

    Sometimes no matter how nice and polite you are to ppl they still act like jerks. Here is my philosophy…..

    If you spend most of your time trying to do one thing for a client and they are still not reasonable. DROP EM.
    Read Chris’s inCREDible post…Is Gold Miners Stocks On The Verge Of Breaking OutMy Profile

  • WorkFirst September 16, 2010, 12:01 pm

    Anyone who works in the service industry knows what you’re talking about. Run from the crazies. This woman is definitely a loon.

  • Ornery October 26, 2010, 12:38 am

    #5 and #6 alone would be enough to get me to drop her. That’s always a bad sign.

  • Julie ~ jbulie's blog January 4, 2011, 4:21 am


    Ha. Ha. Ha.

    Great article. Thanks.

    I think what scares me about blogging is that you never actually DO know the person you are dealing with so yes, you might be dealing with loons. I suppose what’s important as you say is to watch out for the red flags.

  • Alison Moore Smith January 4, 2011, 10:26 am

    LOL Yes, Julie, I learned my lesson. I think. But there’s always this temptation to just take the work anyway and hope it won’t be as bad as you imagine. 🙂

  • Tim Ryan November 6, 2011, 8:16 am

    That was quite an experience. It’s okay to experience these clients once in a while. In time, one’s gut feeling will develop and will produce more accurate feelings. It may be tempting to accommodate these kinds of clients simply because they are a paying customer. However, I think one will benefit more by skipping them.
    Read Tim Ryan’s inCREDible post…Title InsuranceMy Profile

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