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Clients From Hell: Meet the gatekeeper of freelancer frustration

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Clients From Hell editor, Bryce Bladon

Hang around enough freelance designers and you’ll learn they have at least three things in common; 1) They are perfectionists 2) They HATE Comic Sans 3) They can all tell you a client-related horror story.

It’s this idea which inspired the ultra popular blog turned cult phenomenon Clients From Hell, which collects these nightmarish anecdotes all in one place – often with hilarious results. The blog has over 600,000 Tumblr followers (plus nearly, 50,000 on Twitter), and has provided not just a few laughs, but a cathartic release for frustrated freelancers. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone in your daily struggles, and there are pages and pages of stories to prove it.

GoExplore spoke to Clients From Hell editor Bryce Bladon to discuss the blog’s growth, his favorite anecdotes and why everyone thinks they can be designer.

How did you come up with the idea?

I actually took over as editor about a year after the site started, and I’ve been in that role (among a variety of others) ever since. I’m not sure if the founder still prefers to remain anonymous, but if you’re curious, they moved on to some pretty amazing things. That said, I think the inspiration is a bit obvious. All it takes is one bad client to understand, and one chat with colleagues to appreciate you’re not alone in dealing with them. Also, it’s always worth mentioning that this site is a collaborative effort. I’m the gatekeeper for stories and content, but most of that content comes from our audience. They deserve a lot of credit, alongside my colleagues who have less visible positions on the site.

What’s your personal favorite Clients From Hell entry? 

I’ve read tens of thousands of these stories at this point, but here’s a classic:

CLIENT: “I don’t like the type.”

ME: “What don’t you like?”

CLIENT: “I don’t like how it goes all to one side.”

ME: “You mean ranged left.”

CLIENT: “Yes, yes, arranged left.”

ME: “How do you want it?”

CLIENT: “To be the same on both sides.”

ME: “Justified?”

CLIENT: “I don’t have to justify anything for you. I own the fu**ing company.”

Brilliant! And what’s been the most popular post?

It’s hard to track, but this one has received around 52,000 notes on Tumblr.

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“We don’t embellish, but I wouldn’t blame you for thinking so.”

Are there any contributions that you won’t publish and for what reasons? Is there any way to spot a fake submission (ie – one that didn’t actually happen) or does that not really matter?

First of all, we have a policy on original content. We want your stories, not something you’ve copied and pasted or heard from someone else. It also matters if the story seems real or not. We can’t fact check anonymous submissions, but we can use common sense. The trouble comes from stories where I lack the technical expertise to spot a fallacy in the story, or a submitter doctored the story to look clever or to make the client look especially bad. We also get a lot of stories where the submitter simply rants about something that happened to them. I don’t have a problem with these – let it out, friend – but if there’s no value to our audience, it’s not going up.

That said, it’s disheartening how many of these anecdotes have likely happened. If it was your first time to the site, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking they’re embellished, or that these absurd situations never really happen. We don’t embellish, and these things do happen – just be thankful if they don’t happen to you.

Have any ‘clients from hell’ ever claimed to have spotted themselves on the site / in the book?

Not one of mine, no. Though, I rarely tell them about the blog in the first place. I’ve heard tales via twitter of a client seeing a version of themselves on the site and changing their ways, but that sounds too good to be true.

What are some other blogs that you love to read?

Cracked is everything I think the internet should be – entertaining, inspiring, and interesting. It was BuzzFeed before BuzzFeed, it features more journalistic integrity than most news sources these days, and it spins some genuinely interesting content across a variety of media. BoingBoing is another favourite. The whole editorial staff is brilliant, and the content is so varied. The Toast is wonderful too. It’s one of the few sites I can lose myself in for hours at a time.

clients-from-hell-bookWhy does everyone think they can be a writer / designer? Is the internet to blame?

It’s much the same reason a lot of people think they’re photographers because their phone has a camera. We’ve been empowered with these great tools, and it lowers the bar of admission. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. But, it’s no substitute for experience and talent – especially when a professional has access (and expertise) with those tools.

Best thing about being a designer/freelancer?

There are a lot of answers for this – the lack of pants, the morning strolls to the dog park (admittedly, I have to put on pants for that), the freedom – but at the end of it all, it’s what I’ve learned about myself. It’s kind of a corny answer, I know, but freelancing has taught me a lot about me and what I value. It’s tailored to me, my needs, and my values.

What’s next for you guys?

Quite a few things! We’re still growing – it surprises me each time I look at our follower count. Any future Clients From Hell projects I work on are aimed at providing value. To get more specific, we’ve been chatting with creative professionals via webinars, and those have been a hit with our audience. We’re looking at shifting the webinars towards more digestible, podcast-esque content. We’ve also had some cartoonists and illustrators submit their work when it’s relevant, and that can be a fun break from the usual text-based anecdotes. Our e-books are all free now, and we offer “how to” articles for common questions from first-time freelancers. We’re always looking at what’s next. Whatever we do, we want to do it right. This site is supported by its audience, so it should accommodate them, entertain them, and ultimately, be worth something to them.

For more Clients from Hell, check out the website and the book.

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