Been There, Done That: Asshole Clients

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In the last instalment of Been There, Done That, I wrote about how important it is to write a good brief, and I mentioned a client who wanted to hire me for a production and couldn’t bring herself to write a decent set of guidelines–this was back in May and I never heard back from this chick after I gave her a quote. And then about a month or so later, I suddenly received an email from her, which I’ve pasted below verbatim.

Sorry for late response. We have just hired the replacement for Learning and Participation Manager last week. You will be amazed how difficult to hire the right person. We now can have the job done in-house. Many thanks for your offer to help.

Let’s analyze the major problems here.

1) If you’re actively hiring for the position whose duties include the task that you’re asking a freelancer to do, then you should make them aware of it. This is just basic courtesy.

2) Don’t take a month to reply after you receive a quote. (I usually write clients off if it takes them more than a week to reply–THIS IS A BAD SIGN and you can see that I am right.)

3) I don’t give a fuck how hard it is to hire someone, don’t try to make me feel sorry for you so that I won’t get pissed off that you took a month to respond.

Now, what should this client have done instead?

Make the situation clear from the beginning. Whether it’s the problems with the budget or the fact that you’re asking several freelances to quote or that you’re looking only for a stopgap and that the project won’t exist if you hire someone, tell the truth. Nothing spreads quicker than if you don’t pay on time or if you’re a liar.

Acknowledge receipt of the quote right away instead of waiting a month. In fact, that goes for almost all professional correspondence. If you’re too busy to reply right away, send a standard “I’ll give you an answer when I have time, I’m swamped right now.”

Don’t add bullshit to deflect responsibility. Sure, everyone wants to be cool and not look like the bad guy, but avoiding responsibility makes you look like a piece of shit. Unless you really are one. Just say, “Thank you for your quote and your patience, but we have decided to move in a different direction.” Being direct and polite is not rude.

Final note: a friend of mine would like to share his experiences as a warning to freelancers out there. My friend is a very talented chef who is currently staging at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Barcelona after stints in Malaysia, Dubai, Hong Kong, and China. After he left his job at a seven-star (although this is in dispute, apparently) hotel in Dubai due to burnout, he was approached by potential employers who wanted him to helm a restaurant.

They asked him to propose a concept, menu plan, and so on, which my friend obliged them with. After receiving his proposal and quote, they never replied. Months later, the potential employers resurfaced in another country with a restaurant using his exact same concept and menu. My friend sued and the restaurant was shut down, but my God, what a stressful time for him.

My friend says that the warning signs were there but he was too inexperienced to notice at the time: the clients often conducted their conversations via social media, often late with their replies (like I said, this is a bad, bad sign), didn’t have concrete guidelines nor budget, made unrealistic promises like opening up three branches within the year (unless you’re McDonald’s, I don’t think that’s possible), and set unrealistic financial goals.

If you think you’re dealing with an asshole client, PROCEED CAREFULLY. If you’re desperate and need the job, cover your ass and don’t hand in anything unless you have an air-tight contract. Good luck and may Buddha have mercy on your soul.

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