Clients From Hell: being underpaid and undervalued

"Recently, I bid for a website cleanup job. The site was viewable, and all the elements were there – just not where they belonged.

"The client's budget was above what I thought the job was worth, and most rival bids were close to it. I offered to do the job for a fraction of the budget, on the agreement that he pay a 25 per cent downpayment and that I get to use a before and after picture in my portfolio. I told him that if the files were as simple as they seemed, I could do it in a day, but that I could only give an accurate estimate once I saw what I was working with.

"An hour later, he sent me zips of the files: it was a nightmare. Some CSS was double and triple written. The site had also been run through and edited with multiple (poorly designed) WYSIWYG editors. There was sloppy and redundant code all over. I told him I'd probably need a full week.

"I started work, giving the client an update for each milestone I reached. By the third day it looked like I'd finish by the evening. I told him this, and included one alternative suggestion to his revision requests: to have his logo 30 pixels lower so it looked like it rested on the colour background rather than floating above it. I specified the screenshot was just to get his opinion on the logo position and that the rest of the page content was still being worked on… big mistake.

"The client, via profanity, said he was sure I had no idea what I was doing (because the content lower down was not done yet) so he could not approve the alternative suggestion. I then got an email telling me I was fired, and I was threatened with a lawsuit for the downpayment, all the while being told I had ruined his website forever and that his whole business was a wreck as a result.

"I took a couple of days and I finished the project on my own time. I sent the client the original files, the two iterations I did while on contract, and a low-resolution screenshot of the finished result. I also included a 'thank you' note for the learning experience and the work to put in my portfolio.

"Once again, he threatened to sue: I was 'using his work as my own'. This had been covered in the contract, and I didn't see anything constructive in continuing dialogue. When I didn't respond, he offered to "pay me in full … the full 50 per cent of remaining payment", pointing out I'd had the 25 per cent deposit. I explained that still didn't cover the invoice. He said I was lucky he didn't sue.

"Long story short, I let him keep the money; the final product went no further than my portfolio."

This article was originally published in issue 253 of net magazine. To read more stories of client nightmares, head over to Clients From Hell.

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