The 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.