Okay let’s talk about the seven types of nightmare clients for web designers, brand strategists and honestly just the whole of life. From scope creepers to shitty communicators to ghosts I reckon this list covers the worst kinds of design clients that we all know are out there. TW: doody head nightmare client personas based on actual real experiences that still haunt me each and every day.
1. Just one more thing Justine
You know her well. She’s so nice. She replies to your emails timeously. She’s decisive. She makes all the content delivery deadlines. A dream! But then the nightmare begins at the very end of the project. The first email that says “just one more thing…” and you feel the panic rising in your throat. You brush it aside cos it’s defs just this one last thing and this is isn’t going to turn into a scope creeping nightmare. Or is it?
You decide it isn’t and you make that one last edit or addition. She’s so grateful and happy, but noticed just one more thing when she took a look at it again. And so it goes for days, weeks even. You keep thinking it truly is just one more thing, but Just One More Thing Justine is a pro and has managed to squeeze 6 more hours of (unpaid) work out of you with all the little 10 minute edits and additions.
2. Ghosting Gertrude
This type of client comes with absolutely no warning sign. They find you online, complete your contact form and tick all the metaphorical boxes. They want exactly what you offer and understand that good things take time. Your discovery call goes so well and you not only click and have magical chemistry, but Gertrude is so on board with everything and ready for the grand show! You chat about scope, make your recommendations and discuss price. Everything is perfect!
You put together a detailed proposal and send off the email. You already book out the time in your schedule because this project is a done deal and now you just need to go through the formality of getting the deposit in and contract signed. And then…nothing.
You follow up a week later. Nothing. Another follow up and somehow you just know that your emails are going into a black hole. You reach out on social media – also nothing. Ghosted. You never hear back and have no idea what went wrong. Sucks. You console yourself with the idea that maybe they died and it’s not because of anything you did. But you see them popping up on social here and there and you know they are just ignoring you (or maybe ignoring a bunch of other peeps too – you hope).
3. Micro-managing Myrtle
My absolute worst nightmare! I’m starting to break out in hives just imagining this type of client while writing this. Ugh! Myrtle thinks she owns you. Myrtle thinks she knows how to do everything better than anybody else. Myrtle literally thinks she knows better about everything than anybody else on the planet – especially better than you about design.
She will manage the timeline. She will manage the content delivery. She will manage scheduling the meetings only in times that suit her that are not within your usual work hours. Micro-managing Myrtle is a puppeteer and you are her little design marionette. She pulls the strings and ruins your life (and the project). And when she ruins the project, it’s defs your fault.
Remember: she has come to you because you’re the expert – not the other way around – good luck reminding her of that. Beware the micro-managing Myrtle and rather just say no to the project from the start.
4. Time vampire Velma
Everything needs a meeting. Every single step of everything needs a meeting of at least an hour and you need to walk them through each and every email you send with 65 questions asked that you’ve actually already answered or that are entirely irrelevant to the project. How does Time Vampire Velma even have so much time on her hands? Isn’t she running a business? Perhaps all the time she sucks out of others she can repurpose to use on you.
And somehow in most of the two hour meetings she manages to get SO MUCH extra value out of you by picking your brain on all the things she “couldn’t” afford on your quote. She literally sucks up your time and converts it into extra shit for herself that she could have researched herself on the internet or paid you to help her with. But instead she just gets all this extra help and info from you from the 32 extra hours of time she got from you that she didn’t pay for. All the sad face emojis.
5. Emergency Edna
Zero replies to your emails. Cannot nail them down for a Zoom call. You’ve nearly given up and have prepared yourself to walk away from the project because the content delivery deadline is imminent. You think you’ve got a Ghosting Gertrude on your hands and you start to focus on other things.
Then suddenly, at 5pm on the day of deadline you open your emails and there are 27 from Emergency Edna in an absolute flat panic to deal with the emergency that is now the project and is super important and urgent (because they procrastinated the last 14 days). Sigh. The nightmare has just begun and you know this is your life for the rest of this project and this rollercoaster of panic is gonna keeping on rolling.
6. Serial Spoilt Susan
She’s worked with 4 designers already this year and now she’s trying you. She says it’s because the other designers “just didn’t get her” and she is so excited she found you because she knows you’re so much better. You ego blocks the warning signs your logical brain is trying send you. Well of course she didn’t come right with those other designers – they are shit compared to you and you can just tell that their vibe was not compatible with this shiny new client with the deep pockets.
And then you realise why she’s been burning through designers so frequently. She’s so indecisive. She’ll “know it when she sees it” but she can’t tell you what she doesn’t like about it now. She’s also a scope-creeper and a time vampire. And a pinch of Emergnecy Edna too just for good measure. She asks so many questions that have absolutely nothing to do with the project and are completely out of your area of expertise and wants you to help her set up her Google Analytics account that her business coach told her she absolutely must have.
And she doesn’t understand why you say no, because she is just so used to getting anything she wants her whole life. She’s exhausting. And you’re so happy to see the end of the project and send her on her way to the next poor designer to fall into her trap.
7. Haggling Hag Hilda
Like the gif, Haggling Hilda is literally just begging you for money like a spoiled brat. These Hags (in my experience) have always been waaaaaaay better off than me in terms of wealth and then have the gall to plead poverty and tell you some sob story about why they just don’t have the budget. Hildas can take on one of two sub-personas: self-esteem-hurter-Hag or promiser-Hag.
Haggling Hildas start negotiations by questioning your value, asking for a million references and links to your previous work and just generally making you feel like you’re not good enough for their money. After meetings and proposals and long hours of research she tells some story about how she has/could work with someone cheaper and how working with her will actually help you so much cos she is hella important and then dangles this shitty little carrot of her money in front of you. Ew.
Or she is all about how awesome you are and loves everything you do, but she just doesn’t have the budget right now because business is slow or whatever (enter the insta pics of her latest overseas holiday and brand new fancy car or beautiful big house) and can she please get a discount or trade exchange or something and she promises that the next job will see you getting your full fee.
You fall for it. You drop your fees. And Haggling Hilda wins. She’ll also no doubt creep out-of-scope and probs get all Emergency Edna on you. Ugh.
JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS OVER, HERE COMES ZOMBIE ZELDA!
Just like the Ghosting Gertrude, Zombie Zelda disappears completely and is utterly unreachable. But only after she pays her deposit. Aaaaaaaaaaah!
The literal worst cos now you have money from her and then nothing. So you wake up at night in a cold sweat thinking about the money you’ve been paid (and spent) without the project getting anywhere. You finally start to forget about this project and the “unearned” money you got. And then it happens. She rises from the grave and with a single email wreaks havoc in your life. She’s so sorry and “insert excuse here” got in the way of her business. And now she wants to resurrect this project. Not start again, but re-start the exact same project from 11 months ago. Just like how the sisters in Practical Magic learned that you can’t bring someone back from the dead with no consequences, so bringing old projects back from the dead will only bring back something dark and unnatural.
You can’t simply restart this project as if it hasn;t been dead for nearly a year. Your business has changed. Your services have evolved. Your prices have increased. What do you even do? You either carry on like no time has passed and then die inside or explain to Zombie Zelda that she now needs to pay double cos your rates have increased and also you no longer offer x, y and z. Eeeek. So awkward. Especially because Zombie Zelda probs paid her desposit before you even had a contract in place!
There are defs at least four more types of nightmare clients, but I had to choose the top eight worst for this post because writing/reading about any more shitty clients would trigger me right into terror.
Obviously having iron-clad contracts, clear scopes of work and experience sticking up for yourself and sticking to your boundaries helps. But sometimes these nightmare clients just sneak in and ruin your life for a few months no matter what you do.
Who’s your worst? Tell me all about them in an email and we can cry together.