I picked up a small client (like ridiculously tiny) a couple months back to make a simple site for them. I got them via Upwork, so I was going to do the work charging basically nothing as I wanted a good rating (though so far he hasn't paid me via Upwork, only independently via PayPal) to make people see I was legit on Upwork.

I estimated 20 hours of work to give him a responsive site with a basic theme and basic functionality (newsletter, class registration, reservations and contact form) @ $30/hr. So total cost for a full website - $600. Very low compared to what I would normally charge (minimum my goal is $2500, and I've worked on sites that were legitimately worth $10000s for previous employers, that I basically all made myself), but I wanted a good Upwork rating. I have seven years experience doing this - getting me for $30/hr is a crazy bargain - it's actually lower than what my equivalent hourly rate would have been at my last job before going freelance.

Since that time, he has been ridiculously needy. Calling all the time, texting all the time. He wants training so that he can make modifications to his sites but doesn't really know how to code, doesn't really understand databases or just basically how anything works. Always wants me to hop on calls with him to train him further and contacts me without much prior scheduling.

I sent him an invoice a day or two ago for around $200 for the work I've done so far. Partially for theme-related stuff - we're using a common content management system and I configured his theme, did some basic setup for it, etc. He had at one point said he wanted to have a theme that looked like this one picture he sent me, but that it only had to look similar, not exact, I picked a free one that was relatively similar, and made some small edits to it, expecting that he would tell me what changes he wanted going forward.

This morning after viewing my invoice, he sends me the theme picture again and says he, "wants to talk to me" - I assume to argue that he doesn't owe the $60 (for initial theme setup, modifications, etc) because it doesn't look exactly like the theme he sent me earlier (despite saying it didn't have to look exact, I double checked with him on that...).

Basically, he's being a nightmare client for a ridiculously tiny sum of money when he's already getting a phenomenal deal. Do I fire him? Do client training to explain that he's getting a good deal/real work actually went into the invoice? How do I use this for myself as a teachable moment?

My first inclination is just to fire him - especially if he's upset over $60. But I've never done that before and don't know how this particular aspect of business typically works.

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    This is pretty funny and also can provide insight to your situation: toggl.com/worst-client-types-infographic
    – panoptical
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 18:21
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    Tell him the invoice is not open to negotiation. He pays what he owes or he can find someone else to build his web site. Assuming he doesn't walk away immediately, also let him know your prices will be going up - to something that makes the headache worthwhile.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 18:31
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    "I assume to argue..." - Where's the assumption coming from that he'll tell you he doesn't owe you that money? Based on the rest of your post, that seem unfounded, since you didn't tell us about any actual complaints about money from his side. Were there any? Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 18:57
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    You're asking that since you wanted free points, you offered a low price but realize he's not playing along with that, you want to drop him? Did he already give you a positive review for the site?
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 19:24
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    @DavidBrandtz I see. My advice for future clients is not to go low if you just want "easy points." As seen here, they always want more and more. As I learn, when people go cheap, it's because they expect more for their dollar.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 19:32

3 Answers 3


In my experience of working with needy clients, best filter is billing practices. There are no problematic clients, only problematic relations.

Unless his voice / tone / way of writing irritates you, produce invoice after each interaction for work complete / hours worked. Do not forget to bill the communication time as well, most of the customers that make lots of changes would not even look at communication as your work, but few hours on the phone "explaining" that this green need to be "more not less and little energized" is not your free time :)

First invoice will filter out clients that looking to waste your time.

Others will be paying customers and customer is always right as long as its paying for your work :)


How do I use this for myself as a teachable moment?

For the next time I suggest you stick to what the project included: developing a site for them.

Two things I see here:

  1. You are charging a small amount of money, which ironically can have the effect of making people say "whoa, what a bargain! Let's see if I can get more out of it", and in a way not appreciate the job being done.

    To prove you are "legit" you don't need to do cheap work, you need to deliver good-quality products (which you seem to do).

  2. You gave this client many extras. All that support, training, changes, etc.., when you actually charged and planned for a simple responsive site. You were not obliged to provide all this support, or at least you could have charged a bit more for doing so.

    This resulted in changes (which require more time from you), friction, and a bad time for you. IMHO, the hardest part of Software development is to stick to the features agreed without many changes from clients. If you give them room, they will want to redesign and include "some minor changes" every time you meet, which makes finishing a product a nightmare. The time for changes is after the product is finished and before the next iteration.

Do I fire him? Do client training to explain that he's getting a good deal/real work actually went into the invoice?

If you fire him is up to you, but it seems to me that this has already been a negative experience for you so far, and most likely prone to continue.

Another option could be to be a bit more firm and objective with the service you are providing, so this client doesn't take advantage of your good work. If he wants coaching and tutoring that would be another service that should be charged independently (or included in the price).

Bottom line, in future situations, don't confuse charging small money with delivering good-quality work. Sometimes people don't appreciate or value what they get if they don't have to put effort or resources to get it. As the Joker once said: "If you are good at something, never do it for free"

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    "Give them a finger, and they'll take the whole hand"
    – RandomUs1r
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 20:43
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    @RandomUs1r in Spanish we have a similar saying, but I didn't know it's English version :D thanks ... but yeah, basically that... in this case this persons seems to be taking the whole arm instead
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 20:47

First, as a freelancer, your time is money. What you are doing is selling your time to clients. If the client keeps interrupting you with calling/emailing/texting, you might want simply provide regular status updates about the project. If that doesn't work, you might want to inform the client that these interruptions are eating into the original 20 hour estimate, and that you'll have to bill for any overages. This is best done sooner rather than later, to set up the client as to what to expect from you and to avoid surprising the client.

Second, if you and the client have already agreed upon scope, requirements, and cost, you should absolutely avoid renegotiation with the customer to lower the costs. In fact, especially if the customer is wanting to change the requirements, you should consider raising your estimate and your cost.

Regardless, if the customer is refusing to pay for the work already performed and agreed upon, you should refuse to provide any work materials until the customer has paid up, and simply walk away.

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