Time wasting clients

I have a web client who is taking up a hugely disproportionate amount of my time on a relatively simple low budget project. It is forcing me to think about the way I deal with clients and setting stricter boundaries, because I cannot allow this to happen again.

This is a job I started in early March that could have been comfortably finished in 10 days if everything was organised, but here I am almost 3 months later still waiting on basic materials I am now told will not be able for another couple of months. This is very frustrating, not least because I was previously given a deadline of mid May to finish everything.

It’s a fairly small website under 15 pages, yet I have so far received around 150 emails as the client changes their mind or requests feedback in areas that are often not even related to the the web design work. There have also been various meetings and several phone calls that have frankly left me drained by the endless back & forth, so I now feel I have to write an email explaining why it is just not feasible to work this way.

We originally agreed a fixed price, but this has been like asking a decorator to paint a room numerous times over 5 months for the same cost, while offering feedback on what car they should buy and how they should deal with their business taxes.

Not long ago they asked me about the bill for all of this, saying they appreciated I had done more work than expected, but they had only budgeted for a figure that was 30% less than I originally quoted!! I am pulling my hair out here and trying to calmly write an email to explain how ridiculous this has become.

From what I have heard, this is the way the client typically operates, so I know it is not just me. Has anybody else come across clients like this and have any advice how best to handle a case like this? I want to be paid and ideally I’d like to finish the job, but I cannot entertain continuing in this fashion.

Take control, pull out. Do not give them anything cheaper than agreed. That’s bad form on their behalf.

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I know a previous web designer stopped working with them after completing a site and another supplier eventually refused any further correspondence, before starting on the actual job due to the number of initial enquiries.

I’ve been a freelancer for 25 years in various capacities and cannot think of a single client who has taken up anything like as much time on a job, even ones that paid ten times more.

Simply explain that the fixed price was for a project as discussed in the initial meeting, the project has expanded due to their changes and the proposed rediction in cost of 30% is unacceptable. Request that the agreed price is paid in full now or work will cease. Then add that all future work, should they require it will be undertaken on a time and materials bases. But is they don’t pay, they don’t get anything produced thus far.

Sounds like the best option would be if they declined, so make it taste bitter for them. You will lose the money but just think of the freedom :grinning:


That all sounds perfectly reasonable and correct. I just want to find the right words, so the client goes along with this without bad feeling, rather than walking off without paying and then bad mouthing me everywhere.

Despite it all, I do want to finish the job and deliver a website they are happy with, but they have to understand there are limits on the amount of time any business can dedicate to a single client without charging for every additional request.

At this point it would still be slave labour even if we doubled my original quote, mainly due to the outlandish quantity of emails I’m expected to offer feedback on. They often contain contradictions or crazy ideas that have led to further delays and confusion when trying to clarify what they want or guide them in a better direction. I accept a degree of responsibility for this in always trying to be helpful, but enough is enough.

Tricky position to be in, you must have a satisfied client base that will counter a single disgruntled client. Also understand the professional in you that wants to complete the project, but the professional in you should also know when enough is enough.

The client has a few other suppliers involved with this project, however a key difference is that they are all paid by the hour. I think I would like to reach an agreement for the work done to date, then switch to a similar arrangement for what remains.

At one point there was total chaos and the entire project had stalled. I realised nobody had the vaguest clue what was expected of us due to the mass of emails and changing ideas that were often cc’d for no obvious reason, other than producing feedback and keeping us all involved.

Eventually I had a discussion with the client who agreed to let us all get on with it and just wait to see the results. That only seemed to last about two days though and at this point the others have largely finished, but I’m the last one standing and waiting on content from the client.

This has definitely been a learning experience and I’m trying to use it in a way that will improve my future dealings with clients.

An old friend of mine is a web designer in Italy and I know he once had similar issues with various clients until he eventually shifted 100% to payment by the hour. He initially lost a few clients, but within a year his income had trebled and his stress was much reduced. His company also did printed brochures and I can remember them once pleading with the brother of a client at their studio, because a simple job had been dragging on for 9 months with very similar issues for a fixed fee that should have taken a few weeks at most.

Fixed fee offers to much freedom for them and restrictions for you, if the client doesn’t play fair. But we live and learn, I wish you luck with this one.

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Yes I agree, but I think there was a fundamental mistake here by the client in calling me in some five months before they expect to have all the products available on a small website and then expecting to just keep rolling with discussion and tweaks for the duration of that period.

Anybody in business must realise that is wholly unreasonable, especially after saying at the outset that there would be a mid May deadline for the project completion, so I think that is how I will frame this.

There’s not going to be a good outcome, either way.

Tell them that work will now stop on this project until all of the required assets are available and that future amendments to the design beyond that already discussed will be at an additional charge. Also explain that the budget will not be decreased.

Give them the opportunity to find another developer but you will retain the deposit already paid ( you have taken money as a deposit, haven’t you?).

I have had only one client quite like this. I gave them their deposit back and walked away. It was the kind of client that made me want to wash my hands after their email arrived. The amendments and additional requests grew and grew.

I would not be happy to walk from a client unless absolutely necessary.

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…do let us know how you get on with this. We’re all waiting to know how it pans out.

I know you’ll feels better to be addressing this difficult client rather than waiting for the next bunch of changes at your expense.


In a nutshell, the control should always start with an encompassing contract, stipulating all expectations and requirements upfront. It should lay out all the expectations for both sides, timetables, retainer fees, payments, overcharges, penalties, exit clauses, and on and on. Detailing the framework of everything from the inception to completion of the project.


I’m probably echoing everyone else here but I would suggest:

  • Tell them that the fixed price must stand (because it must: they’d hold you to it if you asked for 30% more).
  • Sweeten the pill by pointing out that you have given them consultancy (up to now) that wasn’t in the original contract.
  • Tell them that it is in everyone’s interests for you to stop work until they have decided, and defined to you, what they actually want.
  • Offer to provide further consultancy (assuming that you’re willing) that will be charged at an hourly-rate.

No-one could accuse you of being unreasonable at that point and you avoid any suggestion of walking out on the client. Oh, and don’t take any further business from them!


Thanks to all for the above advice. I seem to be sorting this out now and I’m certainly in a better place than I was a week ago. It couldn’t go on that way.

The client has agreed that I should be paid more and that all future changes will be charged additionally. I still received FOUR emails in the last 15 minutes with changes for the About page that contradict each other and I don’t think anybody will truly succeed in making them more organised, but at this point I’ll be charging them whenever it incurs more web work or time consuming correspondence for me.

This experience is pushing me towards abandoning fixed price packages and quotes entirely, because this is obviously being abused in some instances. If I could add an extra charge for clients with no taste, who insist on ugly fonts or graphics I could retire next year.

I suggest three main things:

  1. always get a pre-payment and the final one after the ACCEPT from the client but before delivery. with new clients they need to pay 50% upfront, with long time client status they pay 40% or less. it is not only because of trust, but also to ensure no matter what happens with the client’s company you have at least some money
  2. always track your time. f.e. with meister task (comes for free). even when it is a fixed price, the time sheet shows exactly what you have done for the “fixed” price and was not agreed on from the beginning
  3. the magic term is “change request”: in the briefing there should be a description in place “what, where, when”. everything outside that bubble is a change request. this is not covered by the “fixed” price. and this you should tell right away to the client.

in your case my suggestion is easy but maybe hard for you to do. what I did in cases like that (yes, that happens to everybody :disappointed_relieved: – i tried to listen to my instincts and ask myself, will the client change, will he bring me new “better” clients, could I do better more important things instead right now?
if only one answer is not for your advantage, QUIT the job. there is no need to drag that thing until your nervous breakdown. i know money is money. but health is more important here. and what you have written based on the stories you heard it looks like this is an axxxole client. so say bye, keep the project and cut the cord.

i am sorry for your stress. that sucks. – but with taking back the control you will see, THAT FEELS GOOD and you are empowered to reach for better clients.


BTW: if I have the pre-payment and we go seperate ways I keep the money. that happened twice. in that moment the client’s consious suddenly appeared :slight_smile:

@michaelokraj All good points and I thank you for your suggestions here. I also think there may be a case here for deciding on the type of clients we want, partly based on their area of industry.

For example, local tradesmen like painters or builders generally understand the concept of time, yet they have very little wish to invest reasonable amounts in a website. When they do give the go ahead, you end up doing more than envisaged, because many of them are incapable of providing any written materials and expect you to magically know all about their business. I wonder if this is partly the reason why some web designers specialise in certain sectors.

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to work for smaller clients who understand the concept of time can be fun if you have the freedom to decide a lot by yourself. if you dont have at least that, there is no point in working for them.

i think the key is always the briefing and as you said in your conclusion somewhere above: no fix rates.
money = time and you will not earn any beside that one time consuming job, when the money does not come in.

I dont believe it is just a matter of the sector where the client come from. the richer one became they usually know what is the value of time, too. – for really new business owners it is hard to figure out what a concept, design & code project is worth.

Well said, I work mostly with small clients and non-profits and mostly they rely on my expertise. For me it’s more about the relationship, which has always been good. I normally have the freedom to decide a lot about each project.

I did have a recent project that started to go wrong, everything I did was questioned even though the client told me up front that they are really bad at design choices. It was becoming very stressful and I finally put my foot down. I just plain and simple asked the client that if your relying on my expertise and you’ve given me your vision then just trust me that I’ll deliver a website that you’ll be proud of. If not then lets just end the agreement now. I’m not a good fit for your company. The working relationship changed 100% from that point and now we’ve been working together great.

It’s hard and stressful when this happens but backing out if necessary is the thing to do.



I think some of the smaller traders like local builders or carpenters tend to view websites in terms of one or two days work charged at similar rates to their own, but even then, they are reluctant to invest, because they are skeptical it will bring in additional work. I’m coming around to the idea that enquiries from that start point are not even worth discussing.

Another area I am wary of is people who come to me with longs lists of questions that eat up a considerable amount of time in research, phone calls and emails, yet lead to nothing. Perhaps some view this as a cost of business, but I have found some “clients” are simply fishing for free information before they disappear. Last year I was approached by a doctor in the US, who wanted a site built with Rapidweaver and had a huge number of questions, but basically had no intention of hiring anybody.