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Bad client!

Discussion in 'General Business Forum:' started by marktea, Apr 5, 2011.

  1. marktea

    marktea New Member

    Hello from Liverpool, hope you're all good :icon_smile:

    Not posted here much since I joined but have a situation at the moment and I guess I'd like to know what people think, and to hear from any others who have been in a similar situation, and the outcome and how you dealt with it.

    To give a bit of background, I've recently gone self employed. At the moment I'm in the process of registering as a sole trader and working as a freelance graphic designer. The two clients I'm working for right now are companies run by the same person who is a "friend" I've known for years (there's a lot of background story, I helped him set up a business years ago and he would have literally folded without my help), but in a lot of ways he's not a good person to work with. I've been doing casual bits for them for a couple of years and always knew what he could be like. Recently he's offered me full time work but on a self employed/freelance basis (which also involves a fair bit of commuting between Liverpool and Manchester) which is why I'm setting myself up officially. I have gained other clients and bits of work along the way but none with a constant work flow or who will generate a solid income. Yet.

    Anyway, I'm a month into working with these two companies and very dissatisfied with them as clients. It was arranged I'd report to a certain person for each company for briefings, feedback etc. but this is being overridden by the "friend" in question when we agreed this wasn't the way it was going to happen - I made sure we agreed this at the start because I know he has a very erratic, disorganised management style, along with a tempramental/unreasonable streak. I keep reminding them I need written briefs and solid deadlines for each project (ie. an officially agreed document to refer back to, some direction in black and white, insurance policy between designer and client etc) as they haven't had the best track record for delivering me a clear brief in the past. So far this hasn't happened, they are delivering requirements verbally and moving the goal posts around constantly, as well as forgetting what they have asked me to do. I have constantly asked and asked for briefs, all they do is fob me off with 'we haven't got a problem with that' then do nothing.

    Of course, with no brief and often little information or direction, things go wrong and I get the blame. They also expect me to go 'above and beyond' - I agreed at the start when they needed help I'd put the hours in with a bit of notice but he (the friend/business owner guy) decided all of a sudden at 4.45 on Friday afternoon that he needed to move a deadline forwards and said could I stay over because the work I was doing was getting 'too long winded', then when I couldn't (had arrangements) he started being unreasonable. They're piling on the work and pressure with a total disregard for the time it's possible to complete it in.

    It's got to the point where I feel like they are a bunch of idiots and I should never have started working for them. They are really taking the p!$$ and treating me with a complete lack of respect. It's never going to develop into a proper, professional client-designer relationship, I've tried to steer it that way but it's not happening. I need to get out of there :icon_Wall:

    They constantly feed me tales of 'Oh we have work coming soon you'll be really excited about' and promise this and that, but a month in and I still need to see any of the terms we agreed on being implemented.

    I just feel like walking away from it all. I didn't work all those (quite enjoyable) years at uni to be in a position where I dislike my job and had to tolerate clients being rude to me and treating me with lack of respect - this is supposedly a friend too! It's sucking all my enjoyment out of the design process and stressing me out.

    I guess my biggest problem is I don't have any other solid clients. Currently weighing up the pros and cons of sacking it all off later this week but not having another source of income yet, it's a big one :icon_Wall:

    Guess this is half rant half question really lol, just interested to hear from others who feel my pain or can offer some sound advice to a frustrated designer :icon_cheers:
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2011
  2. Minuteman Press

    Minuteman Press Moderator

    Do not do anything you'll regret.

    Walk away when you have something to walk to. Make time to gain clients. Build a base and then decide regarding exercising options. Start doing this now.

    In you current position - define some rules and stick to them. If they are reasonable but not accepted, then the solution may be to bite the bullet.

    You need a strategy, consider it carefully and make it your blueprint. Again, do it now.

    May be you have to jump to a part-time job to tide you over.

    Good luck (though with a strategy you will not need luck).

  3. dedwardp

    dedwardp Member

    Agree with Peter that unless you have something to turn back on then it would be silly to leave it when you say you have no other clients etc, but ensure you can stick to the rules you set out.

    I know it may feel harder than that when they're proving to be tough to enforce but make sure they know if they don't stick with the guidelines you're applying that you won't do the work until they do.
  4. printbar

    printbar Active Member

    Things I don't agree with:

    1. The comment from Peter above

    2. The comment from dedwardp above

    Sorry guys, but I think you're doing OP a disservice by recommending that they stick by a client who is so obviously misusing them....

    If the client has work coming in soon that you'll be excited about, ask them to come back to you when it comes in & say you'll tender for it like every other designer they contact. I really and truly believe that there's no point being in an industry with thin margins if you're not enjoying what you're doing.

    When I was a designer (before the print brokerage) I took a temp job to pay the bills while I built up my portfolio & client base. I hated every last minute of it, but I knew it was what I was doing to pay the rent while I built up the chance to do what I wanted. Hating what you do to keep a roof over your head is one thing, hating what you do for the love of doing it is another....

    If you back yourself then you'll pick up the work elsewhere. You do not have to whore yourself, or accept the unacceptable, just because it might get better. It won't - not with this client anyway - until you demonstrate that you're willing to walk away from an unreasonable arrangement.

    Good luck, good health, and good clients in the future!
  5. dedwardp

    dedwardp Member

    But I still think it is silly to walk away from a job if you have no other income available, regardless of whether or not you don't like it.
  6. Minuteman Press

    Minuteman Press Moderator

    Walking away is the route of least resistance. The skill is to manage the relationship. We have turned around so many relationships that were of a not disimilar scenario (we bought out the company five years ago).

    If they will not agree to your terms or abuse them and you are unable to resolve the scenario, then walk. Rational not emotional.

    Best wishes

  7. Ian Bonner

    Ian Bonner Member

    I agree. In the early stages of a business I think the most rewarding thing is to turn the tables on relationships like this. They at the moment seem to be in the driving seat, so now is your opportunity to reverse this and put YOURSELF in the driving seat. Not only will this show the client that you won't be dictated to, it will also give you the confidence to do this again in the future WHEN a client tries this again, because believe me, it will happen, you just have to have the confidence and know how to handle it.

    Walking away should not be a consideration at THIS stage.
  8. printbar

    printbar Active Member

    From reading OP's original message, it looks pretty clear that they've done all that's reasonably possible to manage the relationship and turn it around... Add in the facts that the whole arrangement is built on the basis of a (clearly undervalued) friendship and that the terms of the informal agreement have been repeatedly broken and I just don't see where the leverage is to make this work.

    Of course I'm not saying to blow up their office on the way out, leave room for a return on better terms, but why should anyone have to keep being over-ridden and belittled just to prove themselves? Sometimes it's better to fire the client...
  9. Ian Bonner

    Ian Bonner Member

    Family and friends...oil and water...
  10. Dave L

    Dave L Well-Known Member

    What would I do? I'd use the fact that you're about to change your trading status as leverage to formalize your relationship with said troublesome client, presenting professional terms and conditions outlining what they're entitled to expect and what you want from them in return: that way, you're not making it a personal matter (you're de-personalizing it if anything) and they can engage you on that basis or look elsewhere.

    The key is that you have a set of agreed standards to refer to when they dick you around.
  11. marktea

    marktea New Member

    OK so here's an update on the situation...

    Tried to talk to my client and said we need to discuss a few things in a businesslike manner. My intention was to use my change in trading status as leverage as suggested above as a last ditch attempt to make things work, but everything went horrifically wrong.

    Basically I asked to book an urgent appointment to discuss where things went from here and lay down a few ground rules to make the relationship easier. Made it clear this wouldn't wait, and the matter in question had to be sorted before any further work was agreed. This was taken by my client ('friend') as a refusal to work (it was anything but) and I received a very aggressive and threatening phone call, in which he practically refused to give me any payment for the last months work unless I finished off the work he wanted me to do that week, along with personal insults. What this boils down to is harassment and bullying, and I'm not being threatened, taken for a ride or treated like a design bitch by anyone. Least of all someone who has the cheek to call himself a friend.

    Anyway, I had little choice but to work for the rest of the week. Luckily there is another person involved who was sympathetic of my situation (he's a bit of an emotional sponge) who acted as a negotiator between us, but who also tried to talk me into staying with more promises that everything would work out in the future. I refused, saying under the circumstances, there was no compromise left in me.

    I absolutely think I did the right thing. Reading back through my contract he's breached it in at least three places and had I continued to work there things just would have got worse. I didn't study for years to qualify myself in a job I love only to endure a job in said career which I hate 'for the sake of my career'. It doesn't work like that and I can't work like that.

    As you can probably guess there is more to it than that. For a start they still owe me money for work completed. Under the circumstances this relationship was best finished, now I have to look to getting myself a foot in the door somewhere else.

    Totally appreciate all the advice, thanks to everyone for their input. I'm sure I've made the right decision in this case, sadly there really was no other way.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2011
  12. Dave L

    Dave L Well-Known Member

    Sounds like you're well out of it; anyone who takes offence at conducting business in a businesslike manner isn't worth doing business with.

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