Clients From Hell Podcast

The Clients From Hell podcast is equal parts humorous and helpful as it explores the modern life and times of creative professionals.
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Now displaying: February, 2017
Feb 27, 2017

Learn how to put your best foot forward when you decide to start freelancing. This is easily our most common Freelance FAQ. 

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Freelance FAQ: How do I start freelancing?


The basic answer is ‘find someone who wants to pay you money for a service you provide, then provide that service.

The longer answer is:

  • Identify a target market you want to work with (The Positioning Manual by Philip Morgan is a great resource for this)
  • Identify an expensive problem -- “We aren’t getting enough leads!” -- that the target market is experiencing
  • Create a service offering that helps the client resolve the problem (“We aren’t getting enough leads”) and moves them towards their dream outcome (“We’re getting too many leads!”)

I started by picking a hobby-skill I had (wordpress development) and finding people who needed WordPress websites. Over time, I identified more valuable problems to focus on and updated my positioning, my target market, my expensive problem, and my service offerings.

But to start, create those ‘rolodex moments’ -- have a strong positioning statement (“I’m a THING who helps TARGET MARKET with EXPENSIVE PROBLEM”) and see what referrals and reaction you get.


What you need to start freelancing

All you really need to freelance is:

  • A Good Mentality (e.g. self-confidence, a willingness to try, etc.)
  • Action (e.g. self-discipline, actually doing the work).
  • A skill that can provide value
  • A plan (e.g. self-reflection, meaningful goals, etc.)

Selling and positioning your skill so that it appeals to clients -- and building a plan around that -- is the real secret to freelancing successfully. Typically, this is referred to as finding a niche, which is something a freelancer should do as soon as possible.

A niche reduces competition and increases specialization. Niche experts can earn more and they’re more attractive to clients with problems their niche experience helps solve. It provides direction and focus.

You’ll want to find some sort of niche ASAP. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help:

  • What industry do you actually use products from or enjoy?
  • What industry hires freelancers with skills like yours?
  • What industry would you enjoy networking in and actually being a part of?

Finding those first three good clients is the first barrier to overcome.

With those first clients (and future clients), you’ll want to:

  1. Find a client’s problem and know how to solve it.
  2. Target the correct market
  3. Pitch the client by...
  • Address the problem: The client’s issue, objective, needs, goals, etc.
  • Offer a solution: Your strategy, plan, or unique positioning that makes you the answer they’ve been looking for.
  • Fees and timelines: I wouldn’t go too far into this initially, but you’ll want to lay the groundwork for fees and realistic timelines. A client shouldn’t feel blindsided by this stuff down the line.

After those first few client interactions, you should reassess your plan before moving forward. Is your skill offering value to clients? Did you enjoy working with these clients? Are there areas to improve?

If those first few client interactions went well and you want to do more work with them, pursue referrals, build case studies, and focus on refining your service as much as possible.


Questions? Episode ideas?

Talk to Clients From Hell or Bryce Bladon on Twitter. Or shoot us an email

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Feb 23, 2017

You really can work from anywhere — and even on your own terms! Just make sure all your advice doesn't come from a clickbait headline. 

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Freelance FAQ: How do you work remotely?

You work remotely (and effectively), by having four things:

  • A clear idea of what you should be doing, in terms of outcomes. “Get client outline of marketing project” or “Finish design for Kai”
  • Time clearly blocked off for each project
  • A working environment – be it a cafe, a coffee shop, a co-working space, or an office – where you can do focused work
  • A means of communicating with the client with firmly established boundaries in terms of when you are and are not available

When you know the work you need to do, have time blocked off for the work, have a space to do the work in, and have a means of communicating with the client that isn’t a distraction, you’re in the perfect spot to work remotely.

In terms of telling clients you work remotely, I’ve never had an issue with this. I’ve been consulting for 5+ years and every single project has been remote. No one has balked.


Questions? Episode ideas?

Talk to Clients From Hell or Bryce Bladon on Twitter. Or shoot us an email

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Feb 20, 2017

Dealing with the isolation that comes with freelancing and the magnificent, life-changing power of saying no. 

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Freelance FAQ: How do you deal with isolation when working from home?

It sucks. It really does. Getting over that hump takes a lot of work -- useful, doable work -- but work.

  • Have an immediate support system of friends you can spend non-work time with
  • Stop work immediately at a designated time (Kai's is 4:30pm)
  • Only start work at a certain time (Kai's is 9:30am)
  • Have 2-4 hobbies you’ve cultivated (I like road biking, hiking, weight lifting, and reading) so you can switch to something non-work if you have energy and it’s the evening
  • Track how you’re feeling. Even just in a journal or a journal app like Day1, track how you’re feeling with the isolation and working from home. Mostly negatives? Mostly positives?
  • If the isolation causes you issues -- it very well may -- then look into coworking spaces or sharing an office with an individual or a team to give you that social interaction.

Freelance FAQ: How do you say no?

  • Practice.
  • Realize that you saying no is not a rejection of the client’s idea, but you saying ‘there is a better way to do this.’
  • Be comfortable with the uncomfortableness of saying no. It gets easier over time.
  • Read ‘non-violent communication, a language of life.’
  • Realize that if you don’t say no, you’ll be doing a lot of extra work without compensation; you owe it to yourself to say no.

And if a client pushes back? Either they have a legitimate reason and information you don’t have (good!) or they’re incorrect and a bad client who you should fire.


Questions? Episode ideas?

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Feb 14, 2017

How do you specialize with a niche? Why do you specialize with a niche? A third question!?

This and more on this episode of the Clients From Hell podcast. 

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How do I find my niche?

This question was originally submitted for the 'Feedback from the Inferno' segment. However, it's a common question, so we've elevated it to the Freelancer FAQ segment. 


I don’t have much experience freelancing and I’m confused how to sell my services – what makes me unique?

I’m an illustrator, I started freelancing straight out of university, and I’ve only had a handful of jobs in roughly two years – I think this is because I spent a lot of time not knowing what I wanted to do or even how to do it but I’m starting to find a bit more focus now. I’ve started pushing myself towards children’s illustration with the hopes of getting work in publishing, greetings cards, stationary – maybe even the games industry.

My issue is this – I have no idea what my niche is. I used to think narrowing my field was good enough, but I was just listening to your “how to find work as a freelancer” podcast, and you mentioned the need to tell a client why they need you, and why you can do the work in a unique way.

The thing is, I don’t know how I can complete the work in a way that another illustrator couldn’t also do. I don’t have an impressive client list under my belt, and I don’t have a particularly unique workflow or style. I simply don’t know what I could say to a client that would make me stand out.

- A no-niche freelancer


Everyone feels this way at a certain point – in life and in freelancing. Do not stress about being unsure about your uniqueness quite yet. You may not even have the practical experience necessary to really know yourself and what you’re about.

I think it would be worthwhile for you to try and get some practical experience at an agency. It offers on-the-job experience; it can refine your skills, and it can teach you a lot about dealing with clients. It can also tell you a lot about yourself, what you value, and what separates you from the pack.

But, if you already have a day job, or if freelancing as an illustrator is your exclusive interest, that’s fine too.

The first thing you should focus on is what Neil Gaiman identified as the three reasons someone will work with a freelancer. The best part is, you only need to deliver on two of them:

  • Quality work
  • Delivered promptly
  • Pleasant to work with

After you manage two out of three on that, then you can start to hone in on that niche.

The more work you do, the more you’ll appreciate what kind of work you enjoy – and what kind you despise. The more work you do, the more you’ll come to appreciate what makes you, as a professional, unique and compelling. It doesn’t just happen. It’s a long, slow, and heavily involved process that can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention.

I’m almost certain that the handful of clients you’ve had has resulted in an informative experience, if not a niche-defining one.

There are a few suggestions for finding that specific niche:

  • Reach out to potential clients and ask them questions (e.g. why did you hire that freelancer, how did you find them, what problems were you having, what results did you expect, etc.)
  • Do not try to pitch these clients while you’re researching
  • Time, effort, work, and a whole lot of reflection on your experiences
  • Go to a job board or freelancer site (e.g. upwork, fiverr) and look at what the highest paid freelancers claim as their unique selling proposition (USP)
  • Reach out to successful illustrators and ask them about their journey to where they are now. (e.g. what kind of clients did you end up focusing on? What made your offering compelling? What was the most common client pain point? Etc.)
  • Figure out what you’re good at. Ask your friends; give them an anonymous google doc to fill out if you want a lot of honest answers.

I’ll be honest: my niche has changed multiple time over the course of my career. It will almost certainly change again. I learned that I’m a flexible resource that completes work quickly, and I’m excellent at providing creative content. However, I’m not a huge fan of actually “selling” my work, nor did I always feel I had the chops to provide strategic consulting.

Having worked with clients of a few shapes, sizes, and industries, I figured I’d aim at smaller agencies that had issues with their copy (I looked at their website, job postings, etc.). A client taught me that most agencies of a certain size don’t have a staff writer (this is a pain point); they make due with somewhat-unreliable freelancers (another pain point) for this work.

I reached out directly to the CEO or head of hiring, showcased I did my research, and (POLITELY) brought these issues to their attention. I closed the letter by asking if I could chat with them for five minutes to get some advice regarding their industry. Almost every one said yes. People like being approached as experts, especially if you start by offering a little value first.

After taking these meetings, I ask my questions (see that point about researching your clients?). I close the meeting by thanking them for their time, and I state that, if they ever need help creating content, I was hungry for practical experience in the industry, and I’d even charge less than my usual rate. I also addressed those aforementioned pain points (e.g. I can come in a couple of times a week for in-person briefings and on-the-fly edits; I can commit x hours a week, so you’re always guaranteed a reliable resource, etc.)

Full disclosure: I don’t actually have a usual rate. I figured out what I wanted to make an hour and said it was half my usual rate.


  • Get experience with as many clients as you can.
  • Reach out to clients and ask after their industry and why they hire freelancers
  • Research successful freelancers in your field The end goal: Figure out the client’s challenges, the solutions others offer, and what defines you as an individual.
  • You don’t need to re-invent the wheel with your offering; you just need to give it your own compelling spin.


Questions? Episode ideas?

Talk to Clients From Hell or Bryce Bladon on Twitter. Or shoot us an email

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Feb 9, 2017

How to get a client to pay you, how to get a testimonial from a client, and what to do when your work is stolen by another freelancer.

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Freelance FAQ: How do I ensure a client pays my invoice?

Always start with a deposit -- typically 50%. This guarantees your time and services. Before sending over the final project, ensure you collect the remaining 50% first.

  • (You don’t need to do this exact split, but collecting 50-100% upfront is the most straightforward way to ensure timely payment and a quality client)

Use a contract, and in it, stipulate that the intellectual property is yours and usage is illegal until payment in full is received.

  • Clarify your payment schedule and refund policy in the same contract
  • Attaching payment to milestones is an excellent practice for larger projects
  • If a client is curious why you don’t offer refunds, clarify the time investment and that you have to turn down other work to complete this project.

Make it as easy as possible for the client to pay (e.g. Paypal, Stripe, Bonsai).

Automate reminders for the client to pay.

Until the client signs the contract and pays your deposit, do NOT start work.

  • This stage is where you spend your time understanding, evaluating, and explaining things to the client.
  • Once they pay, you should take a more active role.

As always, don’t give them any legitimate reasons not to pay you. Communicate, be on time, and produce quality work.

Clients who have issues paying at the start are likely to have issues paying you at the end of a project. Trust your gut in these instances.

As you get more experience, learn what to charge for, and what to offer as a free bonus.

Friendly emails and phone calls will cover you the vast majority of the time. The more direct the communication method, the harder it is to ignore.


Freelance FAQ: How do you get testimonials from clients?

Ask for one after a successful client engagement.

Reach out to past clients a few weeks or months down the line; see how the project is doing. While you have their ear, ask for a testimonial.

Make it as easy as possible for clients to give you a testimonial.

  • Make your request short and to the point.
  • Offer some light direction
  • Follow up if you don’t hear back within a week.

If a client reveals they’re dissatisfied with your work and they won’t give you a testimonial, don’t treat this as a loss. Follow up; ask about the issues they experienced with you and what you can do to improve.


Feedback from the Inferno: What do I do about another freelancer who stole my work?

(This segment originally premiered over at The Freelancers Union.)

I know you’ve addressed clients stealing work before, but I’m in a slightly different situation. Another photographer – one who I’ve never met – has one my pieces in his portfolio and he’s claiming himself as the creator.

What should I do? Do I have any recourse, or should I just let it go?

– A picture-perfect freelancer


No need to take the Elsa philosophy; there are three things you can do.

Start by writing a polite request for them to take down your work.

After that, you can file a DMCA takedown. Here’s a basic breakdown from the NPPA on how to do that. All you need to do is find the ISP hosting your image and draft your takedown notice.

Finally, you can hire a lawyer to send them a cease a desist. I wouldn’t recommend this one; it’s not going to be worth your time and effort, and attorneys – in addition to being expensive – tend to take cases like this one in very specific circumstances, e.g. if you’ve registered your photo before the infringement.

One thing you should not do is go straight to shaming the perpetrator online; take the high road before you consider the low one. It’s important to stick up for yourself and take necessary steps to protect your work, but it’s unlikely that this will in any way cost you work or somehow tarnish your reputation. Starting an online mob, however, has the potential to do both these things, so tread carefully.


Questions? Episode ideas?

Talk to Clients From Hell or Bryce Bladon on Twitter. Or shoot us an email

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Feb 6, 2017

Bryce helps you decide whether your work is good before discussing the numerous skills a freelancer needs to succeed. 

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Freelance FAQ: How do I know if I'm doing good work?


Freelancing can leave you feeling isolated; soliciting feedback and getting outside of your bubble is crucial.

Join online groups related to your craft.

  • Offer (solicited) criticisms.
  • Request criticism

Solicit feedback from past clients

  • Ask after more than the work itself (e.g. how communicative was I? What would the client prefer I do differently?)
  • You can do this with non-clients do, but if you do it with friends, offer them anonymity (e.g. a google document or a typeform)

Regularly produce work related to your craft.

Regularly try to improve your craft.

Stay up-to-date in your field

  • Sign up for newsletters
  • Follow influencers


 Freelance FAQ: How do you deal with being a jack of all trades?


Your focus should remain on your field or primary skill, but to succeed as a freelancer, you need to learn about business, marketing, and quite a few fields that overlap with your own.

The two best pieces of advice for needing to work outside of your specific skill set is this:

  • Keep it as simple as possible
  • Don’t invest the time and anxiety until you’re ready to address the issue

My advice for the two skillsets every freelancer needs are below:

  • Marketing: Reaching out to potential clients and building steady work should be your foremost concern
  • Business and Finances: Calculate your minimal hourly rate and never dip below it.
    • If you have a lot of work, charge your next client more. Keep doing this until you get push back.
    • One of your first investments into your business should be invoicing or contract software. Bonsai is a great place to start.

Finally, if you have some affinity for it, educate yourself on fields that overlap with yours as soon as possible. This elevates the value of your primary skill while increasing your overall value.

  • E.g. Design + Copywriting / Coding
  • E.g. Writing + Design / Coding / Marketing
  • E.g. Development + Writing / Design / Front end or back end

You don’t need fancy tools or expensive courses to succeed, but you do need to invest the time. Specifically, you need to invest it wisely. Focus on skills that promise the biggest, most immediate returns, and work the rest out from there.


Questions? Episode ideas?

Talk to Clients From Hell or Bryce Bladon on Twitter. Or shoot us an email

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Feb 2, 2017

A freelancer wonders what to do after his best client's best friend refuses to pay his invoice; Bryce offers advice for charging clients. 

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Freelance FAQ: How should I charge my client?

The basic answer is, “if you want to earn X this year, you need to be making Y for every hour you work.”

  • My rule of thumb: Take what you want to earn in a year and drop the zeroes. If you want to earn $45,000 this year, you need to be earning, at least, $45 for every hour you spend on your business.
  • The logic behind this rule of thumb: There are about 2,000 billable hours in a year (40 hours a week x 50 weeks in a year – we’re losing two weeks for holidays). You cut those billable hours in half, because at least 25% of your time will go into business upkeep, and the other 25% will go into taxes, insurance, and retirement (which adds up to 50% of your time – half). Thus, take what you want to earn in a year (e.g. $60,000) and divide it by the 1000 billable hours (e.g. $60/hour). Remember, these are ballpark estimates, not fine-tuned figures.

Besides hourly, there are numerous ways to charge a client:

  • Daily
    • Can begin charging for value (not time) and you get to focus on one thing at a time
    • You can’t be flexible with your day; this billing rate doesn’t work with every situation
  • Weekly
    • More flexibility to charge for value and not time; it is very results orientated.
    • Weekly rates are more applicable to consultants and results-based work; the time investment for some weeks can wildly exceed a typical 40-hour workweek
  • Monthly
    • A monthly rate offers regular income that bolsters a long-term relationship with clients
    • It’s similar to being a full-time employee, with the pros and cons associated with that. Typically, you’ll have to charge more than a full-timer would and it can be difficult to communicate to a client why that is.
  • Per deliverable
    • This style of billing is directly tied to a product or result; your rate and time commitment are completely irrelevant.
    • Scope changes and negotiation are commonplace
  • Per project
    • Your billing purely by value; there’s less need for oversight and micromanagement regarding your day-to-day activities
    • However, there’s an immense amount of planning involved; if you miss something, you eat the cost.

You should know your hourly rate even if you do not intend to charge by the hour. Your hourly rate informs all other forms of billing, typically as a bare minimum you need to be making.

Experience will teach you how you like to work, and how you like to work will influence the ideal way for you to bill your clients. Despite weekly billing having a higher potential income attached to it, monthly billing works better for my clients and me.


Feedback from the Inferno: My best client's best friend stiffed me – now what?

(This segment originally premiered over at The Freelancers Union.)

My biggest client referred his best friend to me. That friend stiffed me on my invoice. What can I do without ruining the 15+ year relationship I have with my client?

In a nutshell, my best and biggest client referred me to his close friend for some IT work. It came as an emergency. I did my best, and I got my client’s friend up and running again.

Over two visits, the friend accumulated $1600 worth of time within a few days. Both of his checks bounced. His business went bankrupt, and he claimed creditors to be relieved from, but I wasn’t one of them. I got his word he would pay me and that he appreciated the work I did for him.

Time went by. Nothing happened. I asked my client about his situation and from what I saw, my client was also one of the people his friend borrowed from. I’m unsure if he was someone he was relieved from.
When I asked my client if I should pursue it, he said I should drop it that I would probably never get the money back.

That $1600 isn’t chump change. With the economy like it is, I could sure use it. I don’t want to alienate my client, but it burns my ass that his friend got off, especially since he’s rich and lives in an exclusive neighborhood, nice cars, has another business which is flourishing, etc.

Additional context: the freelancer who wrote in has been in IT since 1994, and he started his business in 2004. There are no contracts involved in most of his work, as most of his clients have long and personal relationships with him – often spanning over a decade.

– A freelancer with a burnt butt


Honestly, it seems like you've already reached the conclusion on this: it's frustrating, but that money is likely gone. A lot of time has passed, and there was no contract in place. It's certainly possible there's a route you can take to regain that lost $1,600, but I don't see a way that's worth that amount of money – almost all of them will cost you in much more damaging ways.

I respect the crap out of the style of work you offer – close relationships, time-honed offerings, constant support – but it's a style where a contract-free experience should only be offered to proven and qualified clients. As you stated (this was in a separate email), it's the newer clients that take advantage of your stalwart offering.

I'd suggest taking a look at how you qualify these new clients and if there's a way to offer an expedited contract or down payment.

Here's how I deal with this: I have a simply-worded and short contract template that I use for clients I'm unsure about. I fill in the blanks with the client, and that ensures we're both on the same page regarding it (e.g. what results do they expect? what services do they need? who's my main contact? who's in charge of payment?).

My first meeting or two with the client is spent gaining an understanding of their issue, offering my solution, and engaging them for the work. My third meeting is a 5-45-minute engagement where we fill in those contract blanks and ensure we understand each other. I'm protected, my client is protected, and we’re both clear what I'll be doing with them. Plus, that contract-creating experience is my built-in client-qualification system.

I also suggest you check out the Freelance Isn’t Free act. I think you’ll be interested in supporting it.

Otherwise, I wish you the best with your future clients. I know a principled business (with such a remarkable pedigree) will do just fine in the long run, so my final piece of advice is this: don't sweat the crappy experiences. They seem to be few and far in-between.


Questions? Episode ideas?

Talk to Clients From Hell or Bryce Bladon on Twitter. Or shoot us an email

Clients From Hell on iTunes | Soundcloud
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