My Client From Hell: Consultants Share Their Most Unbelievable Stories

Though most are respectful and gracious, there are those clients who push boundaries, court chaos, and yes, refuse to pay. From raging down the phone to casual porn shoot invites, here are the jaw-dropping tales of freelancers from around the world.

The Event Planner Who Held Me Hostage

“I once worked for a woman who claimed to be an event planner, but she never had any events. She would fly me to Europe constantly and have me sit around and work on mindless projects that never seemed to coincide with what she said she was doing. On our last project together, she made me miss my flight on purpose and kept putting off buying my return ticket and returning my passport, giving me loads of excuses. It was stressful and bizarre. I was unable to get home for five extra days and finally told her that I would not leave my room until she purchased my flight home. I finally left and then had to chase her for three months for payment. She paid 1/3 of it, and I never heard from her again.” Michelle*, Content Creator, New York

The Friday Buzz-Kill

“About 50% of my clients call me on a Friday afternoon with requests for stuff to be done by Monday morning. They end the conversation with ‘have a nice weekend’. They have no sense of irony,” Chris*, Web Designer, London

The Cheap Celebrity

“We had a very famous client ask us to design his son’s wedding at a discount. We gave it to him. We gave in to all of his ridiculous demands (and drove ourselves crazy to meet them). Then, a week before the wedding, he decided he would not pay for the two main statement pieces he requested. He knew that a major magazine was going to cover the wedding and our design would look terrible without these two pieces. We ended up doing them for free to save face. We didn’t even get a thank you,” Cassandra*, Event Designer, Los Angeles

The Sudden Ghostwriter

“I was paid to write training materials for a small training provider, and I recently found out that the owner of the school plans to self-publish my work under her name. She’s positioning herself as an expert even though it’s my knowledge. I know that there are legal avenues that I could pursue, but as I do a lot of work for this client, it puts me in a tricky position.” Alex*, Integrative Therapist, San Francisco, CA

What? You Don’t Work For Free?

“We did a lot of work for a major NYC retailer. Instead of paying their invoice, they told us that they would like to renegotiate the contract terms after the project was completed and delivered. They tied us up for so long that we could not continue to afford to pay our lawyer to work on it. As a result, we finally accepted the renegotiated terms. Then, instead of paying the renegotiated amount, they told us we should send it to collections since they had no interest in paying at all.” *Ella, Web Designer, New York

The Class Troll

I had one client who was taking part in cooking classes just to give people bad reviews. Other colleagues had the same experience with the same person. I have 77 five stars ratings and this was the only person who gave me a bad review. When I read it, I cried because half of the things she said were untrue, and I was pregnant.” Vittoria, Chef at Pasta and Play, London

The Creepy Puppet Master

“I once had a client who had a staff made up of young females he loved to pit against one another. As a result, the women, terrified of getting on his bad side, would throw each other under the bus. Before I knew it, they were trying to use me as a weapon against one another. Though we had a contractual agreement that outlined our process and clearly stated that I would report to one person, I was getting competing directives from five different people on almost an hourly basis. I explained I could not work this way, and the client told me he understood and not to worry. He said we were “on the same side” and “to follow his directive” no matter what he said in meetings. An hour later, we had a zoom call where he screamed at me and degraded me in front of his team and then called to tell me he didn’t mean it right after they left the room. I have never run away from a client so fast!” *Monica, Social Media Strategist, Los Angeles

What’s My Check-Out Time?

“I once worked for a client who refused to get me a hotel room upon arrival and insisted that I stay in the attic above his child’s room. I had to crawl down a ladder past his child’s bunk bed to use the bathroom. It was ridiculous.” Nick, Graphic Designer, Rome

The Misogynist

“I had an email from a chap asking that the boss of the company give him a call as he was interested in working with Virtual Bird. So, I gave him a call. He was insistent he wanted to speak to the boss. [He said] that a woman could not run a business and I should just run along and get my boss. I very politely told him we don’t work with misogynists and hung up!” Anastasia, founder of Virtual Bird 

No Porn, Please.

“My client invited me to go out on a boat with him and a friend on a Saturday afternoon. I found out they were porn producers the day before, and the invitation was to shoot. I declined!” *Chris, Engineer, Miami

“I Was Invited To My Own Event.”

I designed a bespoke corporate workshop for a client, and several months later, I received an email from someone who worked at the organization inviting me to the same workshop. They lifted every single word from my original copy. I mean everything aside from my name and contact details. No one realized I was on their contact database and I wrote back to tell them as much. I also asked they add my name and contact details as the originator of the material!” Marilyn, Corporate Trainer, The NeuroSuccess Coach, and Flexible Implementation Consultant, London

The Missed Deadline.

I worked for this guy who thought he had a real understanding of tech but knew absolutely nothing. He hired me to make an app, gave me impossible directives and made 180 changes on the agreed-upon scope two weeks before delivery. When I explained that would take another 95 hours of work, he demanded a discount because I missed the deadline. His entitlement was unreal.” *Scott, Web Designer, New York

Cash Only, Please.

“I had a client who owned an olive oil company who tried to pay me in olive oil, and another client tried to give me his piano.” David*, Branding Specialist, London

They Stole Our Proposal.

“A prospective client asked us for a project proposal during a bidding process. Then, they passed our proposal to another vendor and asked them to do it. This kind of thing happens too often.” *David, Coding Engineer, Paris

The Equity Pitch

“I turned down a prospective client who told me that in lieu of payment he would give me shares. When I politely declined, he flew into a fit of rage calling me a shortsighted idiot.” *Charles, Web Designer, New York

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