First, as a disclaimer to any future clients (love you!) let me say that very few clients fit into the client from hell category. If you’re an average Joe or Jane who’s spent the majority of your life not getting slugged square in the face, you’re excluded by a mile. Welcome!
That said, here are some warning phrases that any freelancer should tune his ears to. If you hear a lot of these from the same client, not just a couple here or there, be very sure to clarify down to the finest detail everything that’s needed and wanted. And get a contract signed. In blood. On ancient parchment from the fertile crescent. Or, don’t even take the commission.
“I don’t care.”
The client always cares. If he’s writing the checks, he cares. If he’s proud of his business and the things you’re producing for it, he cares. And if he really doesn’t care, the one thing he’ll care about it is making your life miserable though micromanagement and endless revisions.
”It’s up to you.”
No, it’s really not. The client calls the shots and that’s how it should be.
”You can do anything you want.”
Distant cousin to “it’s up to you.” This is the school of thought that gives you just enough rope to hang yourself.
You need a framework. And if you don’t have one this is what happens: You start creating on a commission. The client doesn’t like it so you change tack and he doesn’t like the next version either. Well, given that there is an infinity of options for every project, this process can and does go on for a long long time.
Why give the client a triangle, then a rectangle, then a rhomboid, then a circle, then a pentagram when all he wanted was a square? Why guess through an entire color spectrum when he really was envisioning something around beige-ish?
That is the sound of silence, and is what you hear when the client disappears. Your telephone and email conspicuously fail to say “ding” or “ring-a-ling” for days on end and you feel like you need to start pacing the floor.
When you can’t reach your client by phone or email for more than two or three days, be wary.
Unless it’s a planned vacation or something you’ve discussed beforehand, this could spell danger. Which in this case is spelled A-B-S-E-N-C-E.
One time I had a client that went from about four emails a day to zero very abruptly, which is what made me suspicious. It was one of those loud silences, you know. It turned out that he’d decided not to go on with the project anymore and just “totally forgot” to let me know.
A freelance friend of mine had something similar happen. He was doing a big website for a company. They were in great communication with him, right up until the moment when they weren’t. He learned later, after an agonizing expenditure of time and energy, the company had hired another designer temporarily but kept my friend on “just in case he came up with something neat.”
”We’ve got to put this on hold for a bit.”
All other things being equal, this means funding has run out. At least, that’s what it’s meant when I’ve heard it. Luckily, I’ve never had a project completely die when I was told this, but I came very close.
”We need to make a few changes.”
There’s nothing really wrong with hearing this, especially at the beginning of a project when you’d expect to work out the larger wrinkles. It’s at the end of the project when things are just about wrapped when this one hurts.
See, in my experience this phrase has always been code for “new management is on board and they’re not diggin’ it.”
Again, not a terrible thing. At least the project hasn’t been halted or given to another guy, right? It does, however, usually entail redoing a lot of work, possibly even all of it.
That’s my list for now, but I consider it a living document. Now, I’d like to hear from ye all.
What have you heard from clients that made your arm hair stand up and your eye lids roll up like window shades?