John Siebert July 1st, 2014

Clients From Hell: The Art of Not Giving Way to Unreasonable Demands

“I hate that client”, how often have these words come out of your mouth. Often enough! Don’t worry; most web designers have a list of clients they’ve absolutely hated working with. These are clients who made working with them an agonizing experience, with no redeeming features whatsoever. Collaboration with such clients becomes a torturous exercise, which means you don’t enjoy working on their projects. This is a real tragedy because designers must feel invested in their web design projects, in the absence of which their designing decisions will be found wanting. Some clients are just plain difficult, others are rude and abrasive, there are a few who are penny pinchers and there are others who arrogantly assume they know way more about web design than you do.

Client’s Unreasonable Demands

But there is yet another variety of clients from hell. These are individuals who make unreasonable demands from you and more often than not are not willing to compensate you for such demands. They want something extra at each stage of the design process and generally expect you to give them way more than what you have promised to offer them as per the website specification document.

What if you have no other options but work with such clients? Will you keep complying with their demand however unreasonable it might be? Or will you put your foot down and say enough is enough – we do it either my way or not at all?

While you might love to opt for the latter, don’t come out all guns blazing just yet. Why not opt for a middle ground? Don’t give in, but don’t fight either.  There are other ways you can make sure a client doesn’t keep pestering you with demands that keep piling up.

Let’s take a look at some of them:

Identify these Clients

Identify these Clients

Your job begins with identifying such clients. Most begin making demands right from the start. Give them a quote and they start asking whether a feature here, functionality there can be added to the project without jacking up the figure you’ve quoted; and some of them actually haggle for a bargain. In such cases, you should immediately get your guard up. Think very carefully if you want to work with such clients, if you’ve not signed up for their project yet. If money hasn’t exchanged hands, there might still be time for you to say no.

But if you still prefer to go ahead with this client, make sure he understands the terms of engagement. You need to be very clear about the kind of work you will be doing in the price quoted to him.  There should be no doubts in his mind with respect to the project deliverables.

Be Firm

Be Firm

Easier said than done; many a times it is our fear of losing the client if our firmness is interpreted as rudeness that makes us feign politeness and accede to client demands that are come in fast and furious. The one way you can get out of them is by saying a polite and firm no. If you keep saying no to their demands repeatedly, they will get the message.

But, there is a problem here. They might get into an argument with you; in such cases you need a cool head. You know the clients will come hard at you, but there is no real reason to put on your boxing gloves. Instead listen to what they have to say (rant) and answer with sugary politeness. Say you are very sorry but you can’t satisfy each and every demand they keep piling on your head. Over time, you will be able to fine tune your refusal so that you can put it across in the least offensive way possible.

Put a Price Tag on It

Put a Price Tag on It

Say yes to the “requests” but say they will have to pay for it.  Make it very clear to the client that every new demand that can be categorized as ‘unreasonable’ will add to the project cost. Also, explain the reasons for the same. And if you really want to go the whole hog, ask for an upfront payment before going ahead and satisfying the client demand. You’ll find most clients taking a step back and willing to listen to reason if you start putting a price on their demand.

Everybody wants more for less; nobody wants to pay more for more.

Don’t Take Calls, Stick to Emails


No, this doesn’t make you look like loser; on the contrary it will help you focus more on your work. You don’t want to listen to a client who is making a demand that you absolutely cannot fulfill; you don’t want to participate in a series conversations that have every chance of going downhill after a period of time. For the client, such conversations might not be as off-putting as they will be to you, your creativity and your productivity.

They will not only take up a large portion of your time but also leave a bitter after taste in the mouth. So why not choose the next best thing – email, to communicate with such clients. Read what they have to say, convey a reply, and leave no room for ambiguity.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed


Imagine a scenario in which the client from hell keeps calling you day in and day out  to “check” whether you’re keeping his “new” demand in mind while designing your project, even though you have categorically said no, the first time he/she made the request. These incessant calls might make you want to give way to the clients’ demands just to get them off your back.

Don’t do that. If you give in, you’ll never learn the ropes of how not to give in. The person who came up with the saying, “A client/customer is always right” must have never worked with a client who antagonized the hell out of him/her. A client is not right all the time, and therefore you shouldn’t agree with everything the client has to say. Try to convince, educate, explain and if nothing works, just put your foot down. And yes, sometimes you can just nod your head when the clients are talking, and just tune out the unreasonable demands they are making.


John Siebert

John Siebert is the President and CEO of Tranquil Blue – a webdesign company from Tampa, FL that focuses on all kinds of website design, mobile app development and search engine marketing.


  1. This is fantastic!

    I remember when I first started out in this crazy digital marketing world and I made so many mistakes with regard to client allowances for free, and I can honestly say it’s my biggest regret in this industry as it ate up so much of our time and money. Never be afraid to say no!

  2. Hi John!
    good points! The ideal situation is to obtain trustful relationship with the customer. I have been lucky so far, and for me it helps to do the following things:
    1. Communicate: In most cases the problem is the lack of information and misinterpretations. Client believes getting something else or more that you think you’re going to deliver. Packaging design to neat product bundles helps. I do a very specific business offers detailing the deliverables, too. This requires discussing with the customer first, preferably at least half an hour, about their needs. If the project is too fuzzy at the beginning, slicing the project to phases and ordering one phase at a time may help.
    2. Related to previous: offer alternatives. I also do business offers with minimum, medium and large options. This way customer sees what he gets with different amounts of money, and some misunderstandings can be avoided.
    3. Identify difficult clients: yes, unfortunately there are those, too. I guess I’ve been lucky, and maybe my intuition has helped too. First signs of alert is a customer promising something in exchange for bargain price: visibility, “great networks” etc. I seek for customers wanting to pay for a professional; who does not need any extra visibility or networks, not at least by reducing the price. Beginner freelancers who need visibility would be maybe better designers for these kind of projects.

  3. I am a client to someone and I have clients too, having a picture of what you want and communicating it to the vendor is always a difficult task.

    Except if the vendor over delivers, I understand this that is why I take my time to listen and guide if necessary.

  4. I can’t tell you how many times this happens to us, but then I remember I am probably someones clients from hell too- maybe the hairdresser, maybe the auto shop… I think being firm and having clear communication is the most important thing. Once you give in once, you set yourself up. Thanks for sharing, I’ll be sharing this with the design team.

  5. John, very interesting post. Learn lots of new things from it. Surely I’ll keep in mind all the things you have shared here.

  6. Nice post, you have no idea how clients can screw up a good service. On the other side we have many very nice clients who always give us exactly what we need – unfortunately not every client is one of these “nice guys” :P

  7. I think a lot of confusion can be avoided by setting up some boundaries from the word “GO”
    Your clients might not agree with everything your trying to do for them at the beginning but maybe as the project progresses and they start to see your vision, they might decide to get on board. Those boundaries that you set up from the beginning will save you lots of headaches when they ask for a redesign in the middle or toward the completion of your designs :)

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