What You Need to Know Before You Expose That Bad Client

If you’ve had a bad experience with a client, you may have thought about using your blog or social media to shame them.

The practice of client shaming seems to be growing. Just in the past month, I’ve seen at least four blog posts and social media complaints about companies who did everything from not paying the freelancer to using the freelancer’s work without permission. And let’s face it, it some cases making a client’s transgressions public can feel pretty good to a frustrated freelance web designer.

Of course, there’s the popular Clients from Hell website that could also be fueling the trend. While the clients are not identified on Clients from Hell and the stories are posted anonymously, I always wonder if clients ever read it and recognize themselves.

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While the decision to publicly expose a bad freelance client is a personal one, you should be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of doing so before you decide to do it yourself.

In this post, I share three reasons why some freelancers choose to expose a bad client publicly and three reasons why you might not want to do it yourself. I also list five alternative to going public with your client problems.

If you liked this post, you may like How to Evaluate Prospective Clients and Choose the Best Ones.

3 Reasons Why Freelancers Expose Bad Clients

Personally, I don’t recommend publicly shaming a bad client in most situations. My own opinion is that shaming is usually unprofessional and can easily backfire. That being said, I also understand why some freelancers do it.

Here are three of the most common reasons why a freelance web designer or developer may choose to vent publicly about a bad client:

  1. Puts pressure on the client. Some freelancers hope that the pressure from publicly shaming a client will pay off–literally. They want to embarrass the client into paying them the money they are owed. Sometimes the tactic works, but not always.
  2. Warns other freelancers. This is the altruistic reason why a freelancer might shame a client–because they don’t want others to have the same bad experience. This could be a valid tactic when you believe a client has behaved in a fraudulent manner.
  3. Feels good. The plain truth is that venting publicly can feel pretty darn good to a frustrated freelancer. Getting “even” by exposing the bad client may even feel like a form of justice.

You’ve just read some of the reasons why freelancers decide to expose a bad client. You may feel tempted to expose a bad client yourself, but hold on. There are some definite negatives to calling out a client publicly.

3 Reasons Not to Expose a Bad Client

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Venting about a client in social media or on your blog may feel like the only solution to your client troubles. But, in some cases, exposing a troublesome client could actually bring on even more problems than it solves.

Here are some negative results that you should consider before you expose your bad client in public:

  1. Ends relationship. Calling a bad client out publicly is almost certain to end any relationship you have with that client. So, it’s not a good strategy to use if you want to do business with that client in the future. Also, remember that what you put online is there for a long time. Even if you delete it, someone else may have made a copy.
  2. Could have legal repercussions. In some cases, companies have sued people who shared negative content about them on social media or blogs. The article, 5 Easy Ways to Get Sued for Social Media or Blogging, from Deb McAlister on the blog Marketing Where Technology Intersects Life has some good information. So, unless you want to be sued, be careful about what you say.
  3. Scares away prospective clients. Many freelancers don’t think about this, but publicly shaming a client can scare away other clients–and not just the bad ones. A potential client may wonder if the company you are shaming had a justifiable reason for not paying. Or, the prospective client may think that you are a troublemaker.

It’s a good idea to take these reasons into consideration before doing something rash.

5 Alternatives to Exposing a Bad Client

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Fortunately, there are some alternatives to publicly humiliating a client who doesn’t keep up with their end of the bargain. Here are five of them:

  1. Pester them. You have their email, their phone information, and maybe even their Skype address. If they are seriously late with their payment (usually over 60 days late), or if they are using your work without paying you, start to ask for the payment often. You can contact them at least daily using one or all of the above methods of communication.
  2. Charge in advance. I’ve always recommended collecting at least a partial payment from new clients before beginning work. Due to how common the problem of non-payment has become, many freelancers have adopted the practice of requiring clients to pay for 100% of the project before work begins.
  3. Small claims court. Depending on where you live and where your client is located, you may be able to take a non-paying client to small claims court. The advantage of a small claims court is you don’t need a lawyer. Dollar limits for small claims range from $2,500 in Arizona to $25,000 in Tennessee. (See this chart at Nolo.com for more information.)
  4. The Freelancer Payment Protection Act. The Freelancer’s Union is supporting a bill to help freelancers and other independent works get paid. From what I’ve read, the bill would only apply to freelancers in New York–but it could also pave the way for national legislation.
  5. Use an attorney. It’s expensive, but if you are owed a great deal of money suing your client could be worth it. Just make sure you have good documentation (such as a written work agreement or contract) documenting your grievance.

Your Turn

Personally, I’ve never shamed a client. In fact, in all my years of freelancing, I’ve only had one client who didn’t pay me for the work I did (because they went bankrupt).

What are your thoughts on exposing a bad client? (Please don’t leave any client names in the comments.)

Published December 30th, 2013 by

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