The hard truth about beginning freelance web development

RealToughCandy on August 18, 2019

The following is an excerpt from my book Freelance Newbie available on Amazon on paperback and Kindle. Also available as a top-rated Udemy... [Read Full]
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Hey. A thing like this happened to a person once. While they were working on a big project, they were denied payment. So they open sourced the project and it was trending on GitHub for a while. 😂


that's too bad.. They should have billed by milestone.


Yes. Sadly it’s a lesson people learn the hard way


I had a very similar experience for my first client, who was a lawyer. I came for the first meeting prepared with prices and a contract. He hand waived the contract away, and who am I to argue with a lawyer over the need for a contract?

I would get "summoned" to his office for meetings with no explanation other than "Chad, come meet me at my office". All for it to be a request to "change this colour" that could have been done over the phone. I finished his website and sent my invoice, and then he ghosted me. I eventually did get the last laugh though, as I found a credit collections company that agreed to chase him. Cost me a third of the invoice, but he did eventually pay.

I had another potential client in the next town over an hour away that insisted I come to them for a meeting rather than they come to me to or to discuss anything on the phone because the CEO was "very busy". I said sure, but I charge for in person consultations. They found that insulting and ghosted me. I guess it was ok to waste my time but not their's.

I've had many more great clients than bad though, and I've gotten better at spotting and avoiding the bad ones.


That's just it – I think for a lot of us early on, we just don't know any better and really, REALLY want the client... certain people can smell it and take advantage.

But once we get burned and quickly learn our lessons we improve our business and keep a lot of the tire-kickers/time-wasters at bay. And like you mention, just being able to spot and take action to avoid potential problem clients.

Also, I love that you referred that client to collections!


Wow, what a nightmare. I think you did the right thing deciding to charge them for that third meeting. They were being really unprofessional and a bit disrespectful.
You’re better off without them.

I’ve done some small freelance work for no money just to help projects that I thought were a good cause, but they always seem to end up taking so much time, double the time I originally said I could spend on the project and the client has always been so disorganised (like your client here) so eventually I had to call it a day and take a paying contract. So no more free work for me.

Hope your freelance work got better clients since this story 😀


Hi Stephen,

It was a tough learning experience, that's for sure! Looking back they really did have just about every client-from-hell trait you could imagine.

Thanks for your comment and fortunately I don't deal nearly as much with client drama like I did starting out! : )


I've had 4 out of 5 clients that decided they were better off using wix (or no website at all) over me because I was "expensive." (Though I only charge $300-$600 due to my small town.)

As you put it, dealing with low quality clients is soul sucking.

It also makes one want to leave freelancing when one is surrounded by people that want to take advantage due to age and little experience (they want a forum and e-commerce site for $200 or less).

Glad to know things got better for you, thanks for the encouraging post.


Oh I can definitely relate to that too! I also used to live in a really dinky town and sometimes clients acted like they were doing me a favor by offering me $20for a photo shoot, custom ecommerce website, etc. . .

One good client is all it takes to really turn things around though, I promise you they are out there. Keep on grinding!


I've just started freelancing and my first client was a nightmare. Constantly changing things and I was putting in a lot of hours to play catch up missed the deadline, he wanted to take some money of for advertising costs which been keen I agreed 🤐
Then he started moving goal posts again then demanding a new deal where he could set financial penalties if I missed deadlines at which point I said no!
After explaining why I wouldn't do this aaaaaaand staying calm I got a over 60 messages in a couple of hours, loads of abuse and threats and wanting money back from what he paid me.

I made him a offer, he can take the site as is and the copyright for the code that doesn't fall under any licenses are his or its small claims court 😉

Needless to say he went through another 6 developers and I had to smile as he constantly came back to me with advice and I'm now putting the finishing touches on the same site, I'm not finishing for the money but more for a "yep I can do this job"

Sorry if it sounded like rambling I was out late and still half asleep.

One tip though, remember you own the copyrights to code you write that doesn't conflict/interact/fall under any licenses this can be a helpful tool when clients don't want to pay, no business wants copyright infringement court cases 💪 for this reason as well as a few others I don't think I will take on work for hire when in regards to who owns the code.


Also having working in the building trade since leaving school I've run into my fair share of d******ds especially moving to a country that was kind of third world, the British got used to paying the locals little money for a good bargain and expected us to do the same, most of our work was to do with swimming pools and water damage from cowboy builders not knowing what to do when they had a small building boom l, needless to say our reputation attracted the type of clients we wanted, when people are trying to live the dream in the end they see exactly what cheap will get you my point is one day your reputation will speak for its self never sell your self short take a look at your true worth and get it, admittedly we have to start small until we have proved our selves but then it's not looking back because in the end us and then can deny they need us not the other way round!


Good point! I know a few people who have had...shall we say some "online fun" with shame campaigns when the client didn't deliver their end of the deal. Thanks for the comment!


Everywhere the same. While there will be people accepting working for glory on projects wanted by customers who have absolutely no respect for knowledge and work needed to build a website, one may encounter problems billing or getting the money for a professional work.
This rises another good question : how much can I sell my work ? Answering that question drives you to the good side of the force, where clever people want you to feel comfortable to do the job they are waiting from you. Because they do know how much it costs. Tax, insurance, your income, gasoil, machines...people whom still think that they can get great deals for outter space jobs, dream.


Thanks for the comment! That's a great point too, as freelancers we need to watch out for the dreamers who expect a high-quality website for a case of root beer and some chips. Big time waste and frustrating for everyone.


Right! And also those people mix the need and the price. They do think a freelancer will be cheaper. But who the hell said a freelancers work should be cheaper... Do freelancers have special deals with tax or fees and so on ? They are homeless and it is charity to make them to work.. they have great qualities but we will pay them less. And the need: do I need a freelancer for the task or project I want to lead ?


After being a freelancer for over 10 years, my biggest tip would be never be scared to fire a client.

I have fired two clients in my carrier and although doing so were arguably the hardest decisions I made, they turned out for the best. Toxic clients are toxic. No escaping that.

I always have a kill clause in my contract that let's either party get out with some written notice and doing so kicks off payment of whatever work/milestone is done upto that point. This clause is always mandatory in all my templates and can't be removed or edited by a client when negotiating.

I think we forget sometimes that the beauty of being a freelancer/contractor is that we get to pick and choose our clients. When I'm in a interview the clients also have to wow me, I may have a few clients and need to pick which project I'll work on next, so my time is valuable so what about this client will want me to take on the job.

I akin it to a lawyer hearing your case and deciding to represent you.

I realize that having many clients or projects isn't always the situation but taking a toxic client because you need it will probably do more damage than good, so I'd always ask myself do I really need this project and it's headache?


Morale of the story, don't work for free unless it's for charity.
And also bill the client by milestone


There are a lot of smaller clients like this in my experience.

Being able to say no’ to a client is super important.



I was so desperate for any client in the beginning that I was really scared to say no. And experiences like this one were largely a result of that. Thanks for the comment!


So true - you have to get good at detecting weird situations early, or else they'll turn into big nightmares later on... thanks for the cautionary tale :)

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