Things My Clients Hate. What about Yours?

I have been a freelancer for almost a decade now and in the course of these years, I have had dozens of clients and hundreds of projects. While no two clients are the same, I have noticed some common things many of my clients hate. For truth’s sake, I try to avoid these things, especially when I really value the client but sometimes the items on the list below are unavoidable.

Here are the Top 5 of things (my) clients hate:

1. Missed Deadlines

I am not quite sure if this is the thing my clients hate the most, especially having in mind that I relatively rarely miss deadlines simply because I have already learned not to leave a project to become urgent and very often we don’t even set a fixed deadline at all (i.e. it is more “You will have it done sometimes next week” rather than “You will have it done next Friday by 5 p.m.”), which gives me more flexibility to arrange my schedule, but based on what I know from other freelancers (and my own experiences on a couple of projects where I did miss the deadline), clients really hate it.

[Image Source]

I guess clients hate missed deadlines more when it is crucial. For instance, if you have to finish a design by a particular date because this date is set in stone as the beginning of a huge promotion campaign for the site, then it is really obvious while the client will get mad, if you miss the deadline. Fortunately, I have already learned that even when such projects pay more, these fixed deadlines are too much for me to take – not because I am not serious but simply because things happen and I might miss the deadline because of a something unpredictable, so I do take such projects only when I absolutely have to. After all, clients also need to learn to plan in advance and start a project early rather than in the last minute and make the freelancer’s life a real hell because the project is so urgent, urgent, urgent, and the world will end, if we miss the deadline.

2. Price Increase Mid-project

I understand a client (usually) has a budget for a project and he or she is not happy to go over it but it is quite common a project to get more complex or larger in size than what we initially estimated and in this case the price can’t stay the same. I know that some freelancers use this cheap trick to get clients – i.e. they quote a lower price and after the client is hooked, somewhere in the middle of the project, they announce additional charges and this makes clients cautious but not every freelancer plays that low.

Besides, if you fix the price (and above all – what it includes) in the contract, very often this solves the problem. Just make it clear to the client that the volume of work has changed and this is why you are increasing the price. Still, I am perfectly aware that this isn’t always possible and because of this I try to make the initial estimate as precise as possible, or break down a large project into smaller chunks and put prices for each of them.

[Image Source]

I really hate it when a client says to give him or her a final price without knowing exactly what the volume of work is. If the client is very pushy and shows no understanding to the fact that I can’t quote a final price when I don’t know how much work there is, we sometimes just part ways. I sometimes explain that his or her question about the final price sounds like, “How much does it cost to fill my basket with fruit?” It is the same basket but the price is different – it just depends on what fruit you put in it.

3. Poor Communication or Lack of It at All

I have rarely had clients who are mad at me because of poor communication (more, it is the other way round – I get mad at clients who answer weeks after I asked them something) simply because I know how vital good communication is but from what I have heard from clients and other freelancers, this is something clients really hate. Of course, I am not expected to answer real time and I did have some cases when clients were irritated for not getting an answer immediately but this is more an exception than a rule.

The case I am referring to was with an Australian client who probably didn’t know what time difference is. While she was bombarding me with emails, I was sleeping because in Europe it was still night. Am I expected to answer emails while I sleep?

[Image Source]

This is why, when I land a new client, I very often tell him or her that I usually respond to emails in 24 hours or less. Also, when I know (i.e. when it is planned ahead), I do tell in advance when I am not available (like, “I will be away for the weekend and will come home on Monday in the afternoon”), so that they don’t expect an answer from me. In all other cases, if I am late with the answer, presume an emergency has stricken or I have simply forgotten, so please shoot me another email to check if I am alive or not.

4. Unavailability

I don’t know why but I think clients presume a freelancer is available all the time. This is why when a freelancer is offered a project, he or she must gladly jump on it right away. Every now and then I do get such clients and I notice their irritation when I tell them I can’t be theirs, at least not right away. It’s very funny when I get approved for projects I have applied for months ago and get an enthusiastic message from the client, who probably expects I have spent all these months waiting for his or her approval and is very disappointed I am not interested anymore.

The clients I have been working for for years already know that I do have a schedule, very often a tight one at that, and it isn’t very likely to be available right away (though this happens, too but don’t presume this is very likely). I taught them they need to contact me at least a week in advance for a small project and two weeks or more, if the project will require more than 10 hours a week, so that I can adapt my schedule. Still, if my schedule is filled for weeks ahead, I might not be able to accommodate a large project and in this case I am fine if they find somebody else for the project.

5. “This Can’t Be Done!”

I know how it feels when you want something badly but you can’t have it and because of this I understand why my clients are unhappy, when something they want badly can’t be done. With clients, who are technically savvy, it is easier to explain that there are technical limitations and not everything they dream of can come true.

For instance, once I was designing a small site (6 or 7 pages, static HTML) for a client of mine, who was a one-man show in electronics retail. He had seen the site of a competitor of his (a huge multinational company) and wanted much of its functionality. I did manage to communicate that the competitor’s site uses much more complex technologies and in theory we could switch to them, if he really wanted to but this will increase the price 7 or 8 times.

[Image Source]

He was disappointed but at least he didn’t make a fuss about it, unlike another client of mine a couple of years ago who responded something like “You can’t do it?! But I thought you were a pro!” when he wanted something very complex and I told him that I doubted it could be done at all and for sure I couldn’t do it.

What about you?

There are clients and there are clients. Not everybody is irritated by the same things. However, I presume it is not only my clients, who hate these things and it will be interesting to hear what other fellow freelancers have to say about what their clients hate. Care to share your experience? What do YOUR clients hate?


  • ‘This can’t be done’ – the one of the worst phrases you can hear from a designer, developer, etc. Every time after it you should listen for a long story on why you’re wrong and it won’t work.

  • Nice post. If you can get the third one right (communication) than the other four issues should be manageable.

  • I am working as a photographer. the thing my clients hate most, except those little devils you have mentioned is the thing, that people expect, that no mater what photos have to be as good as expectations. I am usually having little fuss with clients explaining about factors as weather, mimics, kids which i am last one to force on the photographs. But i love my work. :)

  • Communication is always key when doing freelance. I find that my clients love it the most when I send them an email with a recap of what has been completed and what is going to be done that day.  That said I have had clients who don’t want to hear anything till the  project is nearly complete.

    My clients also hate when I tell them, that for their budget they can’t have the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They think that we can just wave the magic wand and make things happen without actually having to “work”. 

  • Great Post Ada. I totally agree with the communication point, that has to be the most important point of this article. It is about how as a freelancer, you manage your clients expectations. 

    There is thought process that if you ‘say your going to do something, do it’ if you stick to that rule you want disappoint anyone or let any one down. The key thing is under promise and over deliver. I don’t say you can finish something for Friday when it’s not physically possible.

    Be honest with yourself and the client about the deadlines. It is a two way relationship and you should be flexible enough to work something agreeable to both parties. Yes, we’ve all had nightmare clients who want it four days yesterday on starting the project for the first time. Again, it is about managing expectations and you have to stand up for your rights as well.

  • Davor Ergotic

    Great post…
    But in my experience… they hate price increasing when they give more features in some app/web app/web site… 
    They hate to give money :) 
    I hate lack of communication which occurs when it’s paying time… 

  • Jordan Trainor

    I have seen myself saying it can’t be done in order to cut my losses. Some clients are so difficult to deal with and demand the World from you. They don’t get the fact that things take time to create and therefore you can lose money by trying to get what they want done. Scope creep and all that…
    Indeed I agree with having better communication. I will have everything signed off before work starts. Create the requirements spec and wireframes depending on the client. For example, plumber just isn’t interested in seeing these so it need to be tailored to suit them specifically; translate your wireframes and specs to their level. When you make everything clear and have it agreed upon, you then have more scope to negotiate the contract when there are deviations. 

  • michaelpingree

    I always try to include something about scheduling in my quotes. Nothing worse than having 5 quotes convert to jobs in the same day. Let them know in advance that you might not be starting right away and everything should be fine.

  • Navigator Multimedia

    Tech jargon. Clients really dislike project meetings and invoices that are saturated with terms they do not understand. And can you blame them? I’m not saying that meetings need to be “dumbed down”- communication between parties should be clear, and designers should be open to explaining concepts. It makes for a peaceful and effective project process.
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  • Max_maler

    Really great article.
    I want to add one thing, that MY clients often hate. It’s my price. Many of them do not have any technical understanding of the web, of design or all the other things why they hire me. If they see my price for their project they are surprised and I always have to explain a lot, why things are not as cheap as they think they are. And that’s really annoying. I know my prices are not too high, but I always set it to a minimum level – an below that level I do not work for the client. With time I hope this will become more easy.

  • Ada

    @Ann: To be honest, sometimes “This can’t be done!” really
    translates to “It is technically not possible, or feasible to do”,
    but in other cases it is simply a way to get rid of a client.
    Probably clients know when “This can’t be done!” is honest and
    when it isn’t.

    @Rob V: For a techie, communication is a very hard to master skill
    and probably this is why the problem exists. Though, I believe the
    problem exists in non-tech areas, too.

    @humu: You are right, I didn’t think of the specifics of
    photography when I wrote this piece. You reminded me of an
    acquaintance of mine, who is a videographer (weddings mainly) and who
    occasionally says that unfortunately he is just a videographer not a
    plastic surgeon, so he can’t be blamed that the bride/groom, or
    anybody important doesn’t look like a model in the video. :))

    @Elke: This is a great approach to sent recaps, it helps to track
    progress. You are also right that there clients who hate much
    communication – probably they regard it as overhead rather than
    necessity. These pots of gold are always a problem with clients who
    don’t know the market and who aren’t aware of real rates.

    @Illiya: Absolutely, under promise and over deliver is the way to
    keep a client happy. The problem here is if under promise can land
    you clients when everybody else over promises and under delivers and
    if the over delivery won’t break your schedule and budget. But it is
    not impossible to find the balance!

    @Davor: This is tricky, especially when the client is not familiar
    with the technical difficulty of the task. It might be a small item
    to design/develop but it still could easily take days to do it. I see
    your point about the lack of communication around payment time – or
    even worse, “we’ll pay after we thoroughly review your
    deliverables”, which in some cases takes months.

    @Jordan: I definitely see your point. In a sense, you are more
    diplomatic than me because in such cases I am very direct and simply
    cut off clients in ways that aren’t always very polite. I usually
    have only one project with a client who demands constant revisions
    and changes their requirements all the time – on rare occasions, I
    can’t stand even one project with an utmost idiot.

    @Michael: Good approach! When I was active at bidding sites, where
    you don’t know how many of your bids will be answered at all, not to
    mention turned into gigs, I used to overbid and state that as of
    today, I can start the project immediately/a day after being
    selected/next week, etc. and this helped, though still there were
    clients who probably missed the “as of today” phrase and thought
    that I was immediately available at any times, for example.

    @Navigator: Correct, tech jargon is really something a non-tech
    client hates! I myself do try to translate into userese but it’s a
    hard task. Sometimes, when I know the client (or at least I think so
    :)) I just decide on my own what to do rather than discuss it in
    userese with a client who won’t understand anyway – less painful
    for both of us. :(

    @Max: This is a bit of a problem when you want to charge more for
    higher quality. Clients just see the lowest of prices for quality I
    wouldn’t call quality at all and think this applies to everything. I
    guess we as clients in a different area aren’t much different when we
    don’t know the market and the rates. I too have this problem from
    time to time and I explain it figuratively as a “Ford vs Mercedes”
    comparison – a Ford is a good car and not a very expensive one, but
    Mercedes is better and costs more, though not close to a Ferrari for
    example. Sometimes such real-life comparisons help to communicate the
    idea in an easy to understand manner. :)

  • Matt

    The last point is the biggy, in my opinion; those who don’t understand technical limitation but still insist on everything being done are a nightmare, in fact I won’t work with such clients any more. A small night club website isn’t going to be the same as a national chain’s will be – because they have a much higher budget; Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was it built for the same cost as number 3 Cottage Lane…

  • Harith Roslin

    You took the words right from my mouth.. ^^ ….great post…