the crappy client

client relationships can sour

As a freelancer, once in a while, you wind up with a crappy client. And there’s just no indication when beginning to work with them. As with other types of relationships, there’s often a brief honeymoon period. The client starts out on their best behavior: they spend time crafting carefully worded documents, define the specs for new features in detail, stay within project scope, and pay on time.

After a successful project or two, the relationship begins to fray. You start to see little signs that the client finds their initial good behavior too demanding. Grammar mistakes and misspellings appear in those previously perfect documents, and soon the docs require multiple, thorough readings to decipher. Maybe you give a little feedback, asking for more care in describing the assignment. In response, they tell you that “the task is quite simple” or something similar, as if you are the stupid one for failing to understand the garble.

You get on the defensive. You’re an excellent developer, and perfectionism kicks in! You spend some extra time reading through the document (on your own dime, if this is a fixed price project!). You do your best to reiterate to the client what’s been requested. The client tells you that your interpretation of their garble is correct (with an “of course!” as if you are stupid to even request additional feedback). So you start working. Then you run into a hitch, and ask for instructions. Turns out that they “didn’t mean that, they meant something else…”. No apologies, just do it some other way. You get a little miffed, but they’ve been paying on time, so you back off and rework things.

Finally, you finish the work and bill them, but they won’t pay yet because they are “testing”… they find some “bugs” that they want fixed. The bugs are just things that do not work because they weren’t covered in the original garbled “spec”. You spend time trying to reproduce a bug and can’t get it to happen… that’s more of your time wasted, if your project is fixed price. You ask for more information about the “bug”, get more incomplete and unclear feedback, and waste more time trying to reproduce it. Finally, after many hours of wasted debugging work, you discover that there was an important step left out of the bug report in order to reproduce the bug. Nice!! With that step, you can finish debugging, and you fix the issue. Everything is done, but it took a lot longer than expected.

And then comes the kicker: they felt like you took too long to work on this “simple task”. It’s all your fault, you see. They pay you less than what was agreed upon, telling you that the work took “too long”.

When this happens, you need to kick the client to the curb. Just don’t tolerate this behavior. Sure, you got paid “something”, but there were so many problems with this situation that you should never, ever do business with this client again. If you are so desperate that you have to work for them again, then you need to work hard to put yourself in a position where you can be more picky about your clients. It’s just not worth the aggravation!

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