A Newbie Freelancer and a Nightmare Client

After finishing my conscript army (also known as the National Service in Singapore) and going back into the workforce in September, I had the opportunity to do some freelance work for a friend I knew back in the army. He and his designer friend were going to start an e-commerce website selling products and I’m approached to aid them in this business venture for a cheap price. As a fresh polytechnic graduate in IT, I took up the offer since it would help me build up my portfolio as well as slowly adjust myself to the requirements of the working world.

Things were going well at first with the first meeting with them to capture their business requirements and understand what they wanted. However the first warning sign (of a nightmare client) came when we were discussing the website design. I was told by my friend: “Don’t worry! my partner here is a designer who graduated from the prestigious XYZ. You just need to implement whatever he designs.” I took it upon face value trusting what he said.

That was when my nightmare started. It’s easy to figure out what happens next. Here some snippets of the scenario I faced throughout the project.

Now take a look at my design mock up pictures I printed, the layout should be exactly as this, first my splash page then my main page, the text blocks should be justified, I have specially worded each paragraph to ensure there isn’t any single hyphenation character at the end of each line & these are the various fonts I used…

Sure, however I would like to ask that you reconsider some parts of the design such as the use of [XYZ]. While they are somewhat technically possible. There were many drawbacks as well…(explain reasonings). I assure you I will try to follow your designs as much as I could but there are some areas I have to make some changes as print design isn’t totally the same as web design. Thoughts have to be given to usability.

Next Meeting, we both bought our laptops.

**** what are you doing? You are not following my design exactly. Why aren’t I seeing the same font used on your display? Are you trying to act smart by showing me my choice of fonts when I viewed the website & a different one for others? Who is the qualified designer here.

I thought I have mentioned to you about font licensing issues the other day.  (I’m more of a developer than a designer here so I kept quiet on the “qualified designer” part.)

I’m not gonna pay, why can’t i use the fonts I bought? In fact I already figured out how to built the website perfectly without your help.

Brings his portable hard drive full of images.

Just attach 1 image on every page. Everything here is absolutely perfect. You even need me to build the website for you.

Client (my friend):
Speaking from a neutral point of view, I feel the design is very important as well. Just do as he say. Just as we don’t question your web development skills, don’t question his design decisions either. I feel what he said is absolutely valid. You are the unreasonable one here.

Me: …(take a breather and continue my explanation)

Falls on deaf ears.

Designer: Oh and just before we forget, we want the splash screen duration to be even longer. You made the duration too short. Our logo need to be shown a few seconds more and stop telling me splash pages are terrible.

Client: Agreed.

Me: :angry silently…:

The above is a typical scene of what many freelancers in general would have encountered. You are often questioned and instructed with specific steps,  making you wonder why do they even hire you in the first place if all they wanted was you to completely follow their steps, their opinions and their thinking. If that is the case, why not do it yourself? If you’re going to question the method I go about doing things and dismiss everything I suggest without any consideration at all, why bother to hire someone to help you? Nevertheless I learnt some few important pointers, here are some of them:

Ensure both parties (client and freelancer) agrees on a common set of goal, objective and requirements

It is of extreme importance that the client understands what he needs and me as a freelancer to know what the client wants. If both the client and freelancer are not on the same page, not thinking about the same objective and requirements, the frequency of changes will increase. You submitting a draft, a preview the client says no, he wants this and that. The next morning you get a phone call, he says he want another thing. Set the goals from the start and try not to deviate from it. Ensure your client know what he wants and do not go changing it whenever he want. Minor changes here and there are fine, frequent major requests are simply just not acceptable and a waste of time. Also, just because they are your friends doesn’t mean you can be more lenient with them. If you do, you’ll just go facing the same problems as me. Of course, the relationship between friends will make the job a little more trickier, so think carefully first.

Client interaction is fine, not too much though

It is obvious that clients would want the best for themselves, the most effective use of their money and the best possible finished product. Therefore, if the client wants to participate actively in the design of the website/product, fine, but make sure he understands the role of him the client and you the freelancer, preventing any time wasting. As you are the expert here, be sure to offer your opinions while actively listening to his. Share among yourselves the different ideas and suggestions, you never know what great idea your client may come up with. However, always ensure that your client understands his place. If he is persistent on his idea (that may be ridiculous in some situations),  show him the pros and cons of his ideas while suggesting your own, letting him make an informed decision. Data and research reports will be valuable here, but as always stubborn people will remain stubborn. You might want to go ahead with his idea first and upon launch ask users for feedback. Discuss with him further then.

Clients are the source of the money

Lastly, while you may not agree with your client, they are still the ones filling your pockets at the end of the day. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t want something that is of not high enough standards to put within your portfolio, besides you are the one that make that product, affiliating yourself to the quality of that product. As much as you hate it being of rubbish, you need the money to live thus forcing yourself into following ideas and concepts that maybe nonsensical and stupid. As hard as that may sound, just do your best to offer suggestions that will improve the product, if the stubbornness remains, that is just too bad. Of course there is the special case of copyright laws and things that are illegal and unethical. If you know something is wrong, point it out and ensure that it will not be produced. You don’t want to get yourself burned when your client gets sued.

[image by bornazombie via flickr]

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