Clients From Hell – Lessons Learned

you're firedIn the middle of summer this last year (2015) I was invited to a Facebook group that was curating a lot of content from news outlets.  After I’d been in the group a few weeks I asked one of the admins what software he was using to automate the publishing of his content.  He replied back that he was not (I later found out this was a lie).  I suggested a few methods and said something like Hootsuit would be a great tool for them, and while I was not sure how they were monetizing their FB group that I’m sure they could afford it.  He said they were not monetizing their group yet, and was interested in talking to me about doing it.  I told him I’d be happy to talk with him more about it, and eventually he took me up on the offer.

The client had this grand plan where he wanted a site that would merge all the best things from spotify, craigslist, facebook, youtube, skype, redit, a dating website and a few other things.  He wanted all of this generally free stuff packaged up and put in a paid version.  It took a while before I could ground the client.  Unless he had a development budget of a few hundred million dollars we were going to have an issue pulling this off.  I let him know that even if he had all the money he needed to make this all happen, even Google splits up their stuff into multiple stand alone products.
So we decided to go with a website that they could drive all their Facebook traffic to.  They had around 250-300k members between their +10 Facebook groups.  This seemed like a great opportunity for me to make a lot of money, but it was more then I would be able to handle myself.  I enlisted the help of a friend that I’ve done a lot of work with before to help with the website.  He negotiated what at the time seemed like a great deal for us.  We would be getting 10% ownership in this newly formed company in exchange for our services.  He got to work right away on building the site.  I kept saying that we needed to hammer out the contract first, my partner just wanted to knock the site out and then work on it.  The contract took forever because of all the generalities in it, and loopholes where if something was violated there would be no real way to enforce anything.
After what was about 2 months of back and forth the client decided that it was my biz partner that was holding things up and wanted to go with another developer.  The client kept insisting that the site had to go live as soon as possible.  I was the main hang up with the contract as I was the one that was actually going over it and trying to decipher what the heck the client was trying to do.  So why he decided that my biz partner was responsible I’ll never have any idea.  So the website he made up was about 95% completed.  The only thing it was missing was some content and some other misc info the client would have needed to provide.  So all that work was scrapped.  This is why contracts need to be done before the work, even though the client insisted on getting the site up as quickly as possible.
So this all fell apart in mid October.  We could have launched then easily had the contract been done.  The client claimed to have had some sort of background in law.  He never made any specific claims, so all I had was a mountain of text that it was clear he just copied and pasted in from other documents.  The contract was a huge red flag, both the complexity as well as the time it was taking to hammer it down.  Each time we raised a flag about something he would go in and make 5 more changes in other parts to make the entire contract more restrictive.  My biz partner after asking WTF when he found the news was happy to be out of the mess.  We both do things without each other so he said if I wanted to stay on I was welcome to.  Clearly I would not be writing this had I made the correct choice.
While we were hammering out the contract I was busy doing other work for the launch.  One of the books I’d recently read was Ask, it talks about surveys and how you can use them to find what your customers or traffic wants.  Given this was all Facebook traffic and I was unfamiliar with several of the groups the client was operating I decided to post a few surveys.  I figured it would be a great way to measure both what the traffic would want from a site, and just how engaged they are.  Because this is Facebook, and 1 of his groups was adding around 3-4000 new members a week to an invite only group I was skeptical that all of them were real people.
The client made me an admin on his Facebook group and I posted the first survey.  While I was away from the computer the client tagged +50 people.  I talked to the client about this, he said he just wanted to make sure they saw it and filled it out.  I explained that the point of the survey was to see exactly who would see it and what they would provide.  Tagging people would skew the results.  I figured I’d just account for this while reviewing the data later.  At the time the survey went live we had a little over 18,000 people in this invite only Facebook group.  After a week of being pinned at the top of the page 112 users filled out the survey.
About 10 days later I did another survey.  I asked the client to not tag anyone.  This survey was pinned for 4 days and we got 9 people that filled it out.  At this point I was extremely skeptical of how much of his traffic was actual people.  The client kept telling me how “engaged” they were and how none could possibly be bots.  How he could have known this is beyond me, but the data was extremely telling.  I did not do a 3rd survey, I should have just to confirm the results.  Either way we were at over 18,000 members and the level of engagement I was seeing was abysmal.
The client found another web developer who was geographically next door to him.  They had most of the site my biz partner had made put together in about 2 weeks.  The client said he found them through a Google search and that they would do all the work for $1,000.  He kept telling me that they were “excited” to work with us.  Obviously he’s “excited” to work with us, because its a paycheck for him.  So early November is where things froze for a while.  The entire time the client kept messaging me about things and telling me how “urgent” everything was.  This was the first time I was able to let him know had he not for some reason had an issue with my biz partner we would have already launched.  We had wanted to launch before black Friday so that we could cash in on all that Amazon money by having everyone use our link to Amazon to shop.
Through the rest of November I received several “urgent” to do emails.  The client knew nothing about WordPress or anything to do with websites, so things that should have fallen on the dev he chose were dumped on me.  My favorite messages from him was the ones where he wanted me to message our dev to have something done, and CC him.  The dev, even after being introduced to me didn’t give 2 craps about any emails I sent, even if I CC’d the client, so most things I asked for never happened or took forever to happen.
I found out after I had the Google Analytics code installed exactly why things seemed to take forever.  Those of you that remember the price the site cost likely already knew.  The “developer” had outsourced everything to India.  So when the client wanted something to happen, he emailed me, I emailed the dev, the dev had to message his team in India.  Eventually they got the task done and they messaged him back and let him know, and he would message us.  I could only laugh when I had the data to prove what was going on.  I let the client know how all of the traffic to the site which no one knew about was crawling with hundreds of hits from India and how it was likely completely outsourced, he didn’t care.  This was another red flag.
I moved in December, and had limited internet.  Looking back it was nice to not have any internet where I was able to get a break from dealing with this guy.  About the middle of the month I finally got my internet hooked up and did some additional things.  The entire 2 weeks I was without internet next to nothing happened.  When I had internet again the client had more “urgent” work for me.  I again reminded him that if it was so urgent that we go live, we could have gone live almost 2 months ago had he not dumped my biz partner.  He let me know that I needed to “back off”.  It appeared I had found his button.
So pretty much nothing happened the rest of December.  January I took some more time off, and figures, but guess what we had more “urgent” stuff that had to be done.  The list of things needed for launch were still growing.  About the middle of the month I had to have a talk with the client.  His to do list was growing and he was trying to work in more of that stuff from his list that he “had to have” before we could go live.  I told him the priority at this point was to get the site up and get traffic coming to it.  He agreed and the list got trimmed quite a bit.  Things came together finally, the various ad affiliate codes I’d sent the dev got added up onto the site, some content started appearing and then more nothing happened.
The client kept telling me we were going to go live, and then nothing happened.  He told me again… and again nothing.  Finally we went live and he didn’t even say anything to me until I messaged him.  We had not chatted for 2-3 days so I was curious to know what had been going on.  He let me know we’d been live for about 30 minutes.  He’d been posting a ton of content to the Facebook group and the traffic was pouring to our website finally.  We finally got approved for Adsense at this point.  They seem to have gotten a lot harder to get approval from.
The next day looked at the analytics data.  We had 8711 unique users and 9777 sessions.  The thing that I found fairly alarming was that the bounce rate was over 87%.  So the 2nd day is when Adsense went live on the site, and we pulled in a little over $8.  January 31st was our first full day with Adsense and we pulled in over $50.  The next day we took in $47.  Looking at the ad performance we were getting around 1% average of the traffic clicking on the Adsense ads.  The money was decent to start, but looking at the other affiliate ads, Amazon received 0 clicks, the rest of the ads were getting exactly 0 clicks except for the survey ads I had just as filler.  Those were getting clicks, but I’m guessing that people were smart enough not to give out their emails because they didn’t want to get a ton of spam.
Traffic picked up and the Adsense money settled to the lower $40 area as an average.  The client seemed happy with the initial results, but became more flaky.  The client had access to the analytic data as well as Adsense.  I started getting messages from him at all hours about traffic or how much we were earning.  I woke up early one morning to see one of his messages and I asked him if he had access to analytics and he told me “yes, but I don’t know how to use it, I need you to show me how”.  He didn’t seem to care that it was 2am.  I told him to find a YouTube video.  As you might guess he did not.
For reasons I still don’t know the site was offline for close to 36 hours.  No reason was given, I didn’t bother to ask.  I was fairly sick of the client at this point.  The deal was that I’d get 10% of the earnings, and we were on track to where I’d be making maybe $300 a month at the pace we were at.  The bounce rate was creeping higher and higher.  When you factor in the first days its still only at 90%, but as of the 11th its now above 93%  Again for seemingly no reason the site went down for almost another 24 hours after it was up for almost a day.  Traffic is now at 1/3rd of what it was at.  The ad clicks are still next to 0 except for the under 1% on Adsense.  Daily earnings are around $20.
The client kept sending out messages about how he wanted to do this or that.  None of what he wanted to do was going to address the problems the site had.  The 250,000-300,000 people on his Facebook pages amounted to 178 people who signed up as free members on the site.  I didn’t account for the staff accounts when I looked so its likely that as many as 8 of those were staff accounts.  There was a grand total of 3 comments on the +400 news articles that were posted the first 8-9 days the site was up.  The only people that were members of the groups was staff members.  For some reason he went with groups as opposed to forums that most people are familiar with.  I honestly don’t think this would have mattered much as most of the people on the site simply have 0 interest in doing anything other than reading the article and then closing the website.
As I write this I’m looking at the analytics (I still have access to analytics, Adsense and the email for the domain).  There is some hope for the site if it was to be run properly.  The client that is running it wants to be the captain of the ship, and does not care about anyone yelling about an iceberg.  I let greed of a big potential payoff blind me to many red flags.  If you are working for a client that does not have the experience they need to use technology well, and you need to win them over every time you want to do something that is going to make your client (and you) more money, consider that unless you are really hurting for money that you are throwing away your time and talent on someone that is only going to frustrate you and cause you more trouble than they’re worth.
Below are some highlights of my conversations with the client that I’ve had in the last week.  You can use it to guess how fun the previous few months worth of comments were.
Client: are we making mobey?
Me: as of right now we’ve made $200 off adsense
Client: yes I now
Me:  …then why would you ask?
Client: I am trying to irgaznie
we are blowing through bandwidth
as per him
hostgator has unlimited
thoughts and reccs
Me:  I would strongly consider shooting yourself in your foot before going with hostgator
it really is the better of the 2 options
Client: what do you recommend on a very limitd budget
Me: has he told you how much data we’ve used for our transfer?
…and if you dont know, who are we with and what hosting package are you paying for with the company we are with?
Client: I don’t know   Its worth noting that the client had told me on 3 different occasions that “he was the one paying the bills”, and everything was in his name.
Me:  OK, I can make suggestions, but without knowing how much data we’re going through or what our hosting package is now…. it wont matter.  Do you know what the hosting is costing per month?
Client: I don’t
Me: Based on what I can see we’re using something that Name Redacted has bought and likely uses for other projects (given the cost of the host we’re currently on).
The place he has us on has unlimited bandwidth, however I’m sure Name Redacted is worried about us eating all the other resources on the web server where he hosts his other clients websites on.
Client: ok
dude needs to fucking communicate
I can see why he seemed a little angry in his email last night
but it was understated
Me: This is all speculation on my part.  Through my tools I can see where we’re hosted, and given you don’t know what you are paying for hosting this is some assumptions I’m making because the cheapest hosting package costs 159$ a month.  I can’t see what they charge for virtual hosting, so that may be possible too.  Again without more information I really can’t say what we would need, and this is not an area where I know a lot.  I know enough to get by, and defer to my web developer when I have questions.
Client: ok
will have to see what he says
didn’t mean to call him a fuck
he frustrates me at timeds
I like him
but he is a fuck
Me: I emailed him a screenshot    I didn’t actually mail him one, but it might be funny to do it now.
Client: lol
This next one happened the day after our dev told us “we are blowing through our bandwidth:
Me:  I have to get some stuff done here, please let me know what you found out about our data usage and bandwidth.
Client: yeah
speaking to godaddy
cloud vpn
I am taking care of a bunch things now
Me:  put some focus to that and try it again   Tired of the clients ADD and wanting information I can use to get us onto a host we need and that the client can afford I may have gone a bit far.  this was actually our last conversation before I told him I was done working for him.
Client: to what?
Me:  Before I stepped away I asked some specific questions.  Even if I scroll up your reply did not relate to anything of the earlier conversations.
Client:  no idea what you’re talking about dude.
I am posting
dealing with monetization
to make more money
and hosting issues
I need you to back off a little

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