Can You Relate to This Worst Client Ever Story?

Freelancers have some of the best bad client stories ever. Well, next to the IT industry maybe. Can you relate to this one?

Unfortunately, it comes with choosing this difficult path to self-employment. No matter what type of freelance work you do, whether photography or illustration and everything in between, there are so many relatable bits of information that can be learned from each. So, why not get some meaningful insight while also getting a good laugh from someone else's stories? 

Humorous Illustrator Brad Colbow has a bunch of very clever animated stories on his YouTube channel that both educate and entertain all about his journey into the world of freelance. This particular video talks about one of his very first and possibly worst clients. There is so much in Colbow's story that I can relate to, and I've heard similar tales from fellow photographers. As photographers, we spend a lot of time researching and learning from others, but there is a world of resources out there dedicated to freelancers of all types that we can benefit from. However, mostly, this is just a good laugh to break up a long session of editing or a good way to unwind at the end of the day. 

Here is a bonus funny animation about working for exposure with one of the best Chipotle comparison lines ever. 

Do you have a great worst client story? Let me know in the comments.

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25 Comments

Todd Boyer's picture

I had a guy ask if I'd shoot a car show for exposure. I asked what he did for a living. He was a welder. I replied, "Great, I need the frame for my hotrod welded together. If you do it "for exposure", I'll shoot your show for free." I'm not sure if he was insulted, or if he got it, but that was the end of the conversation.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

You should just have proposed a service exchange... that is if you really need an Hotrod frame welded.
Exchanging services work well in my book, as long as both partie receive something they need... that's good business. Isn't it?

Michael DeStefano's picture

In my experience, they were probably insulted haha

Mike Schrengohst's picture

In the past I have told people who wanted me to shoot for "exposure" - sure no problem - I will own the photos. I will post them for my own exposure and I will be able to use them for stock photo purposes with no compensation to you.
I will require that any people in the photos sign a release. Any photos you use from this "exposure" shoot will require a watermark with my name and website on it......
That pretty much shuts them down. But I did a few shoots like this and the client afterward wished they had just paid my day rate. One shoot I remember the client ended up paying me instead of letting me use the shots for stock.
So instead of saying no, just see if there is something in it for you.

Douglas Turney's picture

Doesn't just happen in photography. My wife has her own business specializing in luxury travel to Italy. Of course people contact her and they discuss ideas for the trip and after a bit of discussion she asks for the sale. When she asked for a deposit from one lady the lady was taken back and said "I thought you were a helpful blogger." Yeah people just always plan your vacations for free. And this was going to be a rather high end trip at that so this person had money to spend but didn't want to pay for the work to plan the vacation. People are weird.

Damn of course not... I make about 15 % of my income taking pictures the rest of the time I work at the hospital as a physiotherapist. We're all treated the same. We get people asking anytime of the day for evaluations, diagnoses, advice, prescriptions etc... All of it for free. People barge in in the middle of a lunch break saying it'll be just a second. The main difference between that and free photography is I'll waste half an hour to an hour of time seeing patients for free vs hours working a photoshoot and editing. However I personnally get way more requests for free physical therapy consultation vs the odd free photo job making them ultimately equally bad. I love Brad's video. It doesn't matter what you do in life, we all have to learn to respect ourselves and ensure we get proper compensation.

Christian Santiago's picture

As creatives, what are we doing wrong? Why is it that practically every other service provider on earth is viewed as a legitimate business (barber, plumber, gardener, lawyer etc.) who you would never presume to get free work from? Meanwhile, we're constantly battling to justifying our right to make a living from our own set of skills. I feel like 30% of my time is spent educating people on why they can't just steal my work.

What is it about the creative entrepreneur that implies we're so willing to work for free? And why do so many people feel entitled to our work for little or no money?

And while we're at it, why is it that the creative professions give up so much influence to the client in determining price? You wouldn't dream of trying to negotiate for a TV at best buy, or for a steak at a restaurant, so why is it ok to question the value of my services?

If a guy walks into a Ferrari dealership and threatens to go to the Honda dealership across the street if he doesn't get a better deal, they'll just laugh him out of the lot. But for w/e reason, potential clients are always threatening to go with my "cheaper" competitors.

I just don't get it...

Jasmin Bataille's picture

This is not our fault, Christian. It's the society that we live in, which had been depicting artists as marginal losers, and lazy bums, who most people are jealous off because they "get to do what they love" - as if this was gonna but bread and butter on the table!

But, more and more this change. With internet, this is changing a lot. People have access to a lot of free content and are really picky with what content they wanna pay for. This means you need to be amazing, but it also means that you can rely on fewer clients with a particular taste for your style.

The services become more and more customized and specialized, but then, the same clients also come back more often. People look less and less for general services which they feel can be mostly provided by themselves or a friend who gonna charge for free.

But other entrepreneurs understand *very* well what our business is all about. Partner with young brands, start-ups, fashion designers, cinematographers....

A lot of new compagnies have this exact mindset of making people pay for extreme quality in a world where everything mediocre is free. And it *works*! Trust me.
We can read *so many people* on internet that the point is trying to reach only the people who gonna be interested by our work. *They are here outside waiting for us*. And they are easy to spot.

With over 3 billions internet users I guarantee that if you get your niche right, you can find enough collectors, small businesses, and young brands, to make yourself a living for years to come with mostly the same regular customers, or at least staying in that kind of customer "roaster" where entrepreneurs talk about you to their friends and you get healthy customers rolling regularly.

At the end of the day, complaining means nothing. You show what your work is worth and if the client doesn't understand, then tell them they're entitled to get mediocre shit instead of supreme quality, and that you "get what you pay for" in this world.
They will understand, trust me.

Christian, I think it is the way photographers market themselves as artists and photographers and how people perceive photography. Most people can take a photo with a phone and see it as easy, so why pay you (or anyone else) a lot of money to shoot photos?

One of the best articles I ever read was "Survival in the Photo Jungle" a three-part piece that was published in Popular Photography over 30 years ago. Written by a successful commercial photographer in New York City, one of the things he said is that he does not shoot photos, he provides a solution to a visual problem. When you put it in that context, everything changes. You are no longer a person pressing a button, you are solving a problem using your creative and technical abilities.

Christian Santiago's picture

I agree to a certain extent with your point. But I don't think it's entirely "it."

Afterall, I can cook my own steak (and a pretty good one at that). It's actually pretty easy to do. But I would never barge into Morton's or Shula's and start haggling over the prices of their steaks and threaten to go to Outback if they don't drop the price.

Marlo Smith's picture

Sad but people have to be reminded...if they are not doing it themselves than it is a service..and we have to pay for services regardless of what service it is. Eating in a restaurant it's a common thing, people expect to pay and they know what goes into the process. People are not hiring photographers on a regular or semi regular basis, let alone understanding what goes on to achieve that look or feeling etc... Ever since Kodak or whoever was first to cater to the masses, everyone can be a photographer, right? Lol... Everyone can take photos, but it takes passion and looking beyond what is there to see what it can be...what your feeling and seeing.

Michael DeStefano's picture

I have always felt it was perceived value. We all have things we penny pinch on and others we don't hesitate to splurge. I have refused to buy a $10 item because I know I can get it somewhere else for $8. while easily dropped $100 for a comic book without hesitation.

Like others have mentioned putting your work into a context that allows them to see the value often helps, but at the end of the day ask any plumber or electrician. Ask the people at best buy or the Lambo dealership. People do always come in and try to haggle on the price or try to threaten a better deal.

Michael Holst's picture

Supply and demand. Some kid out there will get excited and do the gig for free. There's WAY too many photographers. There's very few barriers to entry so a lot of us are in the game expecting that our good work should get paid for but you need to look at it from the clients perspective, they're just going to move on and ask others until they find what they're looking for. Without scarcity it's hard to charge a high rate in many cases.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

It's the society that we live in, which had been depicting artists as marginal losers, and lazy bums, who most people are jealous off because they "get to do what they love" - as if this was gonna but bread and butter on the table!

But, more and more this change. With internet, this is changing a lot. People have access to a lot of free content and are really picky with what content they wanna pay for. This means you need to be amazing, but it also means that you can rely on fewer clients with a particular taste for your style.

The services become more and more customized and specialized, but then, the same clients also come back more often. People look less and less for general services which they feel can be mostly provided by themselves or a friend who gonna charge for free.

But other entrepreneurs understand *very* well what our business is all about. Partner with young brands, start-ups, fashion designers, cinematographers....

A lot of new compagnies have this exact mindset of making people pay for extreme quality in a world where everything mediocre is free. And it *works*! Trust me.
We can reach *so many people* on internet that the point is trying to reach only the people who gonna be interested by our work. *They are here outside waiting for us*. And they are easy to spot.

With over 3 billions internet users I guarantee that if you get your niche right, you can find enough collectors, small businesses, and young brands, to make yourself a living for years to come with mostly the same regular customers, or at least staying in that kind of customer "roaster" where entrepreneurs talk about you to their friends and you get healthy customers rolling regularly.

At the end of the day, complaining means nothing. You show what your work is worth and if the client doesn't understand, then tell them they're entitled to get mediocre shit instead of supreme quality, and that you "get what you pay for" in this world.
They will understand, trust me.

Mike Schrengohst's picture

When people ask me to shoot for exposure - I first ask them - do you have an iPhone or an Android phone? They always say yes - then I ask - why don't you use you camera phone to shoot some photos so you can give me an idea of what you want - with a puzzled look they usually say - I can but that is a lot of work.
I look at them with a puzzled reaction and respond - you don't say?

will remember that one !!

Michael DeStefano's picture

I always start asking detailed questions on what that exposure will look like. ROI, # of views, etc. I get real technical after that they get the point that what they think is exposure really isn't anything.

Love this one, will keep that so much in my mind. I send them out in the bush or in the Arctic to take pix with their phones lololol. Way to good. Thanks so much Thumb UP

Ciao Anette

I had a realtor ask for some shots of the towns that their office served, in exchange for credit.

I said I would do it, as long as we could sign an agreement upfront that said their office would list and promote my home whenever I was ready to sell it, in exchange for credit -- say, a sign on my front lawn with their listing agent's name on it -- in lieu of their commission.

Can't figure out why they didn't go for it.

Michael Holst's picture

Because someone else was willing to do it for free

When I get emails with such "freebee" question, I delete it right away or send them the price back. That's it.
Everything else is wasted time in my eyes. Also many come and would like to have an interview for free, they will send 10-30 questions and I have to fill them out. My reply: I tell them my Skype name, ask them to give me a call and have a chat. They need to write, as I have just not the time to sit at the desk to fill out a "form" for exposure, pfffff. They do nada just copy paste and publish where ever.

Real good magazines..etc. Give me call and have a journalist chatting with me for 1-2-3 hours. He/her sends me a draft of her article, I go over it and give my okay for the interview, which on top is paid for my yada and for each image I hand out for them to accompany the article.

The "freebees" do not get far with me, done dusted, exposure or backlink, give me a break. It gives you just nothing. It does not sell your images, it does not make you famous (if you are looking for such) it just makes you a slave of the "freebee" chasers!

Sadly to many are out there still in the hope when giving a image away for free to be famous as it is printed in a magazine or on a website...etc. But it doesn't! They are SO proud that they post in any social media the print, but they did actually got nothing back in return, just a post they do, which drowns within 5min in the social media streams!

Hello, how many images are in magazines? How would a magazine, newspaper...etc. look like without ANY image. Think about that. So ask for your money!

Nevermind :D

Have everybody a great day or evening

Ciao Anette

Brian Carpenter's picture

deleted.

Try working as a performance artist.
People will bald-faced come to you "Ive got this great opportunity for you. There's no money but it'll be great exposure." Expect you to provide them with as much material youself (staging, lighting, props, costumes), expect to be invited to preview the work in a private showing and still be pissed at you for saying "No" like they are doing you a favour by offering you slave labour.
Then you find out that they are the "entertainment manager" who spent their entire budget hiring their sister's aerobics group to give a dance performance.

First of all this is probably one of the best reads I have read in Fstoppers. Not only is this a great topic but I love the response from fellow photographers. Well "worst clients ever" me no..... yeah right.

I shoot commercial product advertising mainly but there was this incident where a chain Japanese restaurant asked me to shoot their menu. I wasn't too busy at that time so I accepted. Before the the shoot began they made a big ordeal for me to meet everybody from the higher end of the kitchen crew (executive chefs, sushi chef etc...), to the marketing team, to the design team, and then their's truly their owner. So I thought good, they must respect the photography work. Which is something I really appreciate from my clients.

We met in between service and I couldn't help but notice people smoking away in the dining area (yup including the owner). I thought it was only gonna be one or two cigarettes but basically the marketing team and their boss must have unloaded a pack or two in front of me the whole time. Talk about fog machine.

Anyways, we took the photos the executive chef (who was a great guy, very passionate about his food and getting the job done right) well he loved the photos and so did the marketing manager. I think they were one of those companies that kind of relied on these part time photographers that came in with a speed lite and an umbrella and once they saw a photographer with flags and a lighting setup with more than three strobes they were kind of impressed. So they paid me and I thought that was that.

A few months later, the executive chef calls and asked me to do another shoot for me. I went in and then the executive chef asked, "Hey you mind giving me a discount this time? I am paying this out of my own pocket." The first thing I asked was "oh, is this your own personal thing." He replied "no, my boss won't pay for it. He asked some juniors in marketing to shoot the new menu themselves with a DC. In my mind that was a joke cause I wasn't gonna let some kid ruin my menu" Apparently their boss said that after my shoot that he doesn't understand why they need to spend money on food photography and that they can shoot it themselves. I felt so sorry for the chef that I gave him a discount, but I also told him that I would never shoot for their company again because their boss didn't deserve what everyone else was putting in. Not my worse client but definitely the worse boss you can work for. Poor restaurant staff.