No Heart: Learn to Say No to Bad Clients
Say no to commodified peace symbols, say no to draining relationships, say no to bad clients!

Web Design Manifesto: Bad Clients

Let this serve as a warning for freelance or on contract web designers. Be careful! Some clients are good. But many others are bad clients.

There are clients who have yelled at me for wasting their time so many times that now I have developed a complex about it. I won’t work with people who yell at me ever again. Let this post serve as a for freelance or on contract web designers. Most clients are usually okay clients but some clients are bad clients. They are narcissistic, sociopathic, and sadistic; and most importantly don’t understand web design!

How to Break From Bad Clients When Desperate and Poor!

I am usually useful. But I am attractive to psychotic and sadistic people. I worked for an intimidating alpha type guy for a film production publication called Below the Line News. Patrick, this guy whom I call ‘the sociopath’ because he made it incredibly difficult to pay me but in a friendly and patronizing way. The guy strung me along for four months before my former web design teacher, who got me the job and was his primary web developer, gave me the $400 balance he owed me. Months later, I discovered he did this to a lot of people.

He casually spoke about ‘firing people’ as if bragging and constantly spoke negatively about the managing editor Doreen whom he repeatedly told me I was going to replace behind her back. Then he had me do menial tasks. He had me edit and re-edit then re-re-edit and get really involved in a strange fluff piece about me joining as this important editor to the publication. And he also got me into a dialogue with the writer about it. This was supposed to be a direct threat towards that managing editor. He had me change the bylines on articles to his friends’ names for press passes to get his friends into conventions. Like it could have been fine as I totally didn’t have to like or respect him but he didn’t pay well and he didn’t pay!

Dealing With the Narcissist

I worked with JGerard, which was some type of front business for the fashion designer, who also known as the ‘Phantom of Melrose’, who had her head so far up her ass, she physically manifested a large gut in her stomach from it. I worked for this bad client from 2016-2017. For a year, I cataloged thousands of pieces of merchandise. It was like I was working on what was a front for a store. I built an eCommerce store with an iceberg of merchandise that was never used. I posted rants and promotional things that she paid a PR company to have celebrities wear.

But that $65 t-shirt your spouse wears to bed hasn’t fallen apart…

Writing a description of the bully bad client is easier said than done. I should have shown it. I kick myself over not filming her behavior on my iPhone. If she had more human followers than robot followers on Instagram, there would be a comedic skit of her yelling on top of a soapbox about how she invented the ‘cold shoulder’ by Donna Karan. She is emphatically the inventor of holes on women’s shoulders. I didn’t even know people would claim that holes on the shoulder could be something that can be claimed – claiming a design, how old-fashioned. She would be banging on the front door of her mausoleum-like store after coming to her store from a large Uber Black yelling about the cold shoulder. She’d bang on the door of the Versace McMansion as she doesn’t open doors herself. She’d shuffle in then unpredictably yell or make an asinine comment followed by an off-putting maniacal laugh that amplifies.

One of the only webpages that was used during my year of working here was making a webpage off from a long notepad rant about how she invented the said Donna Karan cold shoulder on her iPhone. She said it must look exactly like the rant she wrote on her iPhone, like using the iPhone’s Helvetica font too. And she yelled at me when I didn’t use the same default Helvetica font on notepad!

Don’t Turn Into a Gray Rock for Boomer Trolls

The woman behind the JGerard business front is a strange combination of senile and violent. She imagined things to be in existence that never were. When she discovered her nonexistent things to be ‘missing’, she immediately pointed fingers, jumped to conclusions, and yelled inconsolably when I argued with her. It’s like they became more real to her as she yelled them into reality.

Every weekday afternoon in 2017, we sat around a rusted out and rickety round table, while she sat at the back part of the table behind piles of papers. There was a circle of chairs for cleaners, maintenance people, salespeople, hairdressers, graphic designers, and tailors. They were more or less being paid the good California $15/hour living wage like hourly workers but done like a contract worker, meaning no healthcare.

We sat on these old pleather office chairs that were flat and had holes covered by large bandanas with her peace symbols printed on them. These flat office chairs surrounded that rusted out old former display table from a former store. It was so brown and covered in a combination of dirt and rust particles that it had a sand-like texture that you couldn’t write on without creating a brown carbon copy on the opposite side of the paper. The office chairs were deplorable; they were the type of furniture that would stay in the garbage pile if left on the street. As I sat on her $40 bandana that covered this junky flat office chair for over a year, I usually wondered whether when I would be berated next by the bad client. And why was I there? I worked on the facade of an eCommerce store, adding thousands of items worth of merchandise, that was ultimately trashed for a crappy Shopify store after I quit.

But Don’t Be a Yes Man (Like Topher)!

About a decade earlier in 2009, I worked with this awful woman named Thea Farhadian as a teaching assistant for an art course she was assigned to teach at UC Santa Cruz. She didn’t know how to teach. She made wacky requests and got under people’s skin. The other teaching assistant Topher Maraffi enthusiastically called me a ‘loose cannon’ and agreed with every wacky thing she said.

Ten years later, I took Topher’s lead and agreed with whatever the JGerard lady was saying. The goth equivalent of the black Nehru suit that a 70-year-old hipster wore 50 years ago looked so great, so goth, in a way I like! But going along with someone’s reality whose reality is fried invites them to turn the table on me when I didn’t go along with her reality. In other words, it was futile to tell her anything without creating a bigger problem. This was initially due to not following hazy instructions.

The hazy and unclear yelling came out of the blue after coming up with a textured background gradient that uses a light gray instead of a medium gray. The bad client then told people I was doing ‘double work’ and threatened to not pay me however many hours the $15/hour constituted and replace me. She is a woman of short stature and has a mental complex about people not listening to her. So I knew I had to leave after she continued to lash out, berate me, threaten to replace me, or not pay me. I thought about how I was safely going to give advance notice of leaving. So I repeated her instructions about the medium gray, then I agreed and apologized for hurting her feelings.

Is Your Job Description as Elusive as Your Client’s Invisible Papers?

So the plan of quitting finally came to praxis after ultimately going along with her belief that I had misplaced her invisible papers. The bad client went berserk after festering over a pile of papers that had been left on the table next to where I sat. The pile of papers was actually size charts that had been there for a while. I had transcribed them within three hours of receiving them. I had no use for these papers since I made digital transcripts of everything. I offered them back to the seamstress Svetlana, who was computer illiterate and only transcribed by a pencil, the same day I received them. And she didn’t want them back either.

This bad client was infuriated about this pile of paper and then asked me about another series of measurements that she ‘saw’ her seamstress doing. And after telling her I never received the sizes for these garments she ‘saw’ her seamstress do, this pile of paper seemed to signify to her everything she wanted to believe had happened. Her hostility was amplified by her rage. She concluded that this pile of paper was evidence of me being careless and losing any garment size of her conjuring.

This bad client refused to believe I never received these sizes and accused me of “throwing Svetlana under the bus” when I told her that her seamstress never gave me those invisible papers. She said the seamstress, who was never asked about this, was an organized person unlike me as evidenced by this pile of paper. Mind you, I was a web designer, not an archivist of garment sizes.

She didn’t let it go and harassed me for two months about other invisible papers.

“But the ‘size charts’ aren’t there [on the table anymore],” I said.

“They’re not ‘size charts’! They’re called ‘SPECS’! ‘SPECS’!”

Breaking up With Your Bad Client: They Won’t Ever Get It, Ever…

Finally, my exit strategy came. I decided to give her a month’s notice. I had to confront a narcissist in her 60s whose mental capacity was declining or always has been marginal. She was unapologetic, defensive, and incredibly offensive when I confronted her about her behavior towards me.

Text message excerpt of narcissistic bad client.

She delivered a long self-serving philosophy about how it was my problem for being offended. I didn’t communicate well enough. I didn’t speak in clear enough sentences. But not only I didn’t speak in clear sentences, but she was also very patient in dealing with my lack of giving full sentences and not listening to her instructions for such a long time that I should be the one apologizing.


The bigger issue was I didn’t have the experience of dealing with bad clients. And while the answer is ultimately not to deal with bad clients, fire the bad client, you first have to know what a bad client is.

I wanted to help bad clients who didn’t pay. I wanted to help bad clients who threatened not to pay me. I began wanting to help the bad client behind the business front but her business lives on a separate plane of reality along with her philosophy and her invisible size charts. It was futile to say anything without creating a bigger problem, and it was an insufferable paradox to be treated like an idiot and allow it. I should have recorded at least one of her tirades on my iPhone before quitting sooner.

If you’re a web designer, you got to learn how to communicate appropriately with however your client communicates. Most clients I can just be blunt, direct, and straight-forward as a web designer. Others, you have to speak flowery. With the JGerard client, you need to be the type of person who enjoys giving around-the-clock commentary to work with her. This type of bad client loves to ask very asinine, left-field questions, and then expects a solution to a problem that nobody would ever conjure up. She’ll hold you to her stupid question until she has an equally stupid answer.