The Warning Signs of a Trouble Client: Real Emails of Lunacy and Horror!

Speider Schneider By Speider Schneider  |  Oct. 04, 2012

Sure, it’s happened to all of us. A prospective client contacts you and something just doesn’t feel right. The hair on the back of your neck stands up, you feel a cold chill in mid July or you just say to yourself, “this person is a wacko!”

Of course, you need money and you hope that it’s just a bad smoothie you had for lunch and you agree to take on the project. You think that if you stick with a contract and get a 50% upfront fee for the work, you’ll probably get through the project for what must be just a colorful character, and they may end up being a fun, and regular client. As the project progresses, you realize the person is not colorful or quirky… they are certifiably insane and you wish you had listened to the hair on your neck or that the smoothie had been fatal.

Let’s take a look at a recent horror show I experienced with a client and the steps I took to protect myself from the growing insanity and nightmare ending. All email content guaranteed verbatim! The names and contact information has been changed to protect… me!


The project begins…

The first email contained this short, simple message. Naturally, I wondered why someone would word the subject in such an… odd way, using foul language while not knowing what kind of person I was. The typo in “resipond” or grammatical error didn’t really bother me but the whole thing just put me on guard. I didn’t call him, choosing to keep all communication in writing just in case my suspicions were founded.

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 27 10:06 AM

Joe 000-000-0000

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 27 11:15 AM

Short and to the point! So, hit me with some details (what is it you need written, frequency or project base/aim, budget, etc.).

How are you familiar with my work?

Subject: WRITING?

Jun 27 11:07 AM

Hi Spider Man,

I don’t recall where I came across you except on the web. I thought your work was rather engaging though. I sell men’s hairpieces. OK you say–that’s a new one. That is of course unless you wear one! LOL

Anyway, here’s my site is After 25 years in business I’m just stumped–I have writers block.  But worse yet I can’t seem to figure out how to relate what I want to writers. I need fresh eyeballs.


PS I stole the “shit line” here:


*I don’t know why he didn’t respond… or resipond to my original message response and started a new email. My dread grew with his admission that he has trouble communicating. My first thought was he should pay 100% up front.

Subject: WRITING?

Jun 27 1:23 PM

I take it you want new home page copy or do you want the entire site rewritten? Are you starting a blog or staying with the format you have?

Subject: WRITING?

Jun 27 1:37 PM

Homepage. And ultimately the entire site. Format is what stumps me the most. My biggest problem as I see it is my name–XXXXXXXXXX. I’m NOT in XXXXXXXX anymore. And I’m trying to get business–men–within a 25 mile radius of my location.

Subject: WRITING?

Jun 27 1:48 PM

It looks like you need a rewrite AND some social media outreach (which includes traditional advertising). You will also need to rearrange the tag lines on your site. The most important draw information is lost on sidebars and at the bottom. Are you considering a site redesign to accommodate new copy?

Basically, my fees start at $X. To rewrite everything on your home page, I could do it for $X, which includes showing optimum placement on the page. Payment is upfront, via PayPal.

Let me know if you are interested in moving forward.

Subject: WRITING?

Jun 27 2:05 PM

Send me a PayPal invoice. I’ll pay and then well talk by phone. I don’t type but I do phone.


*Hmmm, I thought. He must be a fan of my work to just want to fork over that sum of money so quickly. His business was a long-established company with a really horrid web site and if rewriting to home page led to rewriting the entire site, it would be one hell of a payday for me. Yet another lesson on why greed is a deadly sin.

Subject: WRITING?

Jun 27 2:11 PM

Thanks! I’m heading off to a client meeting for the afternoon, so let me give you a call tomorrow and we’ll discuss your needs before I bill you (I want to make sure I can supply what you truly need). After we chat, if I can give you what you desire, I’ll send an invoice.

What would be the best time to contact you (PST)?

Subject: WRITING?

Jun 27 2:28 PM

Sounds Good.

*So, he didn’t answer my question about what time to call. I figured it just didn’t matter.

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 27 11:44 PM

Hey Spider,

Attached is just a bunch of things I threw together just in case you could find any “pearls” before we talk tomorrow.




*Misspelling my name is a cardinal no-no in a business correspondence but at this point, I didn’t expect much from him. He had attached nine pages of free-flowing thought about his business and none of the “facts” he included matched from page to page. One claimed 70% of a certain client used his business, another page claimed 80% and yet another claimed 90%. Still, I knew I could distill it into something useful but I had the sinking feeling that I was headed for trouble. I thought I would give him an easy out to extricate myself from the situation.

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 28 12:32 AM

To tell you the truth, I think you’ve got all you need right there. The big problem I see is that your site is cluttered with needless material and it looks like it’s from 1987.

I don’t want to take your money if I can’t solve a problem for you. It looks like you have a handle on the copy and the important things you want clients and prospects to know — you just need to get people to see the site and feel the need that you can fulfill. I think you would do better with a professional site redesign, use the new copy you’ve written (sparingly) and invest in cable TV advertising to draw in local clients. That’s my honest opinion.

Here’s a link to an article about working with a web designer. You should think about a small web design firm that can also help you choose the best copy to fit the site. I wouldn’t even bother with social media. In the case of a product/service like this, you need TV with the proper placement.

Naturally, I’d be happy to take a stab at tweaking your copy into something a bit more compact but I think you can get better value in hiring a small, local firm to do the entire package (including some new photography).

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 28 12:47 AM

How about all of the below? You stat with looking over what I sent and organizing into a cohesive and compelling homepage copy and Ill start working on the rest–with a few pearls of wisdom from you of course. Does that work for you?


Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 28 12:55 AM

No problem! Do you still want to touch base on the phone tomorrow?

*When will I learn? He just seemed… too eager. Is that wrong? A client should be excited and eager. Perhaps it was just my inner voice telling me that this was strike one in this game.

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 28 11:43 AM

I’ll try calling you mid-day California time and see if you’re available.

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 28 12:19 PM

I won’t be back in my studio until after 5PM PST today, but feel free to call after that and I’ll give you a try, too!

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jun 28 1:17 PM


Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jul 2 8:46 PM

My deepest apologies for not getting back to you today. I was awoken by the power loss when the local transformer blew due to the triple-digit heat we’ve suffered for the past thousand years (or so it feels) and the area internet provider was down, too.

I’ll give you call tomorrow, God of electricity willing.

*I was gritting my teeth, trying to be upbeat and friendly with a situation that grew more frightening with each contact. Between my feeling of dread, power outages, internet failure and his ever-weirdening emails, I think a higher power was trying to tell me something!

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jul 2 9:09 PM

I hope the Gila Monsters are doing OK! Arizona–summer–no thanks cowboy! LOL


*I don’t live in Arizona!

Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jul 9 11:15 PM

Yet another power loss day but I’m up and running (and sweating) again. I sent the invoice to your email address via PayPal. Once the payment is made, I will have to completed copy to you within 3-5 business days as we discussed.


Subject: I need somebody that writes good shit that people read–and resipond to.

Jul 10 12:54 PM

Thanks for the quick payment. I’ll start working on it today and shoot you the first draft later this week. Once you’ve mulled it over, we can tweak from there but, if you’re like my other clients, you should be knocked over by what I write for you.

Subject: Update

Jul 12 5:28 PM

Just a note to let you know things are progressing very well but as I look at the pages of your site, I see a hierarchy problem. Some of your key sales information is on a secondary page as well as home page placement (i.e.) call to action buttons are mid page, which might have people miss the information below that.

As I mentioned, I will give you a jpeg image of maximum impact copy placement on the front page with minimal redesign. We did discuss a need for site redesign down the road (as well as introducing/replacement of your other site eventually but I thought you might want to discuss a quick redesign with someone with whom I work on some projects. She is a fantastic designer and her rates are more than reasonable. A small investment in your site now will bring a better ROI in the long run, but that’s just my professional opinion.

If you would like to contact her, you can email her and have her take a look at your site and make some suggestions and give you a quote (it’ll be free, so what have you got to lose?).

I’ll have the finished copy for you tomorrow, barring any more power loses ;) and we’ll go from there.

Subject: Update

Jul 12 6:49 PM

Thanks Spider,

You’re right about the site–it’s old–and it’s tired…


*Another red flag. He knows his site is ineffectual but is starting with copy content. While the proper copy, at least in this case, would help, his bad navigation and jumble of unrelated content was killing his SEO and confusing visitors… if he had any.

Subject: Update

Jul 12 7:19 PM

I think the biggest problem is that there’s so much on each page, it makes the viewer work harder to understand which information is pertinent to their needs. If they get confused or frustrated, they’ll click away. Internet patience is very short. Have you noticed that the links at the bottom of the page, although very important, blend into the background and can’t be read unless you get right in front of the screen? It’s information that has great sales potential but may be missed.

The material I’m building on for the copy, is the made in the USA, special treatment, family not client, expertise, Hollywood film quality and caring (not just being a number). I thought of Jaye because (aside from being reasonably priced, easy to work with and reliable) she designs with simple impact and that’s what your site needs for easy navigation and a warm, friendly feel.

It’s a small investment in success but I understand you might want to wait for your secondary site to replace this one. I’m just looking out for a client…family! ;)

Subject: Bottom

Jul 12 10:28 PM

Hey Spider,

I had my web guy intentionally hide it at the bottom because it’s really just key words and BS that has nothing to do with what I do. I’m not looking for “first time” xxxxxx guys–let xxxxxxxx [competitor’s name] suck them in. I’m looking for experienced xxxxxxx–they REALLY appreciate our work.


Subject: SITE

Jul 12 10:45 PM

Hey Spider,

The girl you referred a for site re-design seems to be a hair salon–not a web designer??? Did I get it wrong?


*Yes, he did. A simple link and he got it wrong. I thought it best to take the hit and say I must have been mistaken. I was having big doubts about his ability to understand web technology and the impact it can have… or not. I figured he was in his mid seventies, so the web was probably a bit strange to him as it was never part of his business and he obviously went cheap with his web design.

Subject: SITE

Jul 12 11:07 PM I must have gotten it wrong. Sorry!

Subject: SITE

Jul 12 11:09 PM

I just thought about it and it is kismet that the wrong email was for a hair salon? ;)

Scream woman

*I threw up after writing this because it’s not easy for me to take the blame for someone else’s idiocy.

Subject: SITE

Jul 12 11:26 PM

I’m confused–what’s her web site address so I can see her work.

Subject: SITE

Jul 13 12:13 PM

I don’t know what her present site is but she’ll be happy to present you with the URL or send some examples of her web design.

Subject: Copy and Layout

Jul 13 3:38 AM

Hey, Joe!

Attached is the MS Word Document with the home page copy and a few tag lines for your consideration and a jpeg of how it will look when plugged into your site, with a couple of suggested adjustments.

The call to action/link buttons should ideally be at the bottom of the page, after visitors finish reading the sell copy. Buttons should also be flush center. I would also suggest using a sans serif for copy, as it is easier to read.

Look at the copy, mull it over, show it to a customer or two and get their opinions if it speaks to them and feels warm and inviting and give me a call with your reaction. I think you’ll agree that the use of certain keywords plays on emotions and trust and speak to your target customer. The keywords are also for maximum SEO for your site and should help you when people search our your type of business, including the area.

Give me a call if you have any questions.


Subject: Receipt of email

Jul 13 4:36 AM

Just checking to make sure you received the copy and jpeg layout this morning. If not, I will resend it.

Have a great weekend!

Subject: Got It

Jul 14 1:36 PM

Hi Spider,

I’ll look at it this weekend.

Stay cool,


*As I knew he was tech-inept, I wanted to make sure he got both attachments. Sure enough, however…

Subject: WEIRD…

Jul 14 7:42 PM

OK Spider,

Did you send me a puzzle? The copy totally is disjointed–am I supposed to put it all together or did you forget to send me a “readable” homepage?


Subject: WEIRD…

Jul 14 8:58 PM

Is it that I included the original copy on the word document that is confusing? That’s why I sent the jpeg of how the rewritten copy will appear on the page.

Each paragraph is a rewrite of the current home page content but punched up with keywords and a more personal and effective sell copy based on the pages of notes you sent. I wrote the copy for maximum recognition of the need to interest the visitor in your service and draw them into the site so they will go to secondary pages. There is repeated information placed in areas of the page for maximum attention and to cover those who glance at areas but may click off the site before reading the entire page.

Please expand on your concerns.

*I had to find out what was confusing him. I sent a Word document showing his original copy and how I rewrote it. It was all clearly marked, “original copy” and “rewritten copy.” He also didn’t see the attached jpeg, showing the new copy plugged into his home page layout.

Subject: WEIRD…

Jul 14 9:46 PM

It just occurred to me that perhaps you didn’t receive or couldn’t open the image (jpeg) I sent with the document to show placement, which would explain the puzzle confusion. Did you view the image file?

*Again, I took a bite of the poop sandwich and asked if he viewed all of the material I had sent.

No Subject

Jul 14 9:55 PM

This is what I got:

*He sent back the Word document.

No Subject

Jul 14 9:46 PM

Okay, I now understand. You should have gotten this (attached) jpeg file (an image of your homepage with the new copy plugged into appropriate places for your web master/designer to follow). It’s over 3 MB in size (475K compressed), so perhaps your email server won’t allow it through. Let me know if this file arrives and you can open it.

RE: (no subject)

Jul 14 10:07 PM

That’s better! You put the puzzle together! Send me the copy in WORD so I can play with it and correct a few parts. Then I’ll send it back for your “polish”. OK?

Thanks Joe

*I rechecked my sent email and both files, including the jpeg were both attached. HMPH!

RE: (no subject)

Jul 14 10:10 PM

Great! Here’s the word document.

RE: (no subject)

Jul 14 10:21 PM

I got the puzzle back. I mean the Doc WITHOUT my stupid “before” crap. I can’t edit the jpeg file.


*His “stupid crap?” Nice! I edited the document so the section marked “original copy” wouldn’t confuse him. The terminology of “original” or “copy” must have driven him insane.

RE: (no subject)

Jul 14 10:35 PM

Here’s the revised document…

Subject: Your Shit

Jul 15 9:48 PM

Well Spider,

I’ve read what you sent me over and over and it’s the biggest bunch of dribble I’ve ever read.

All those companies you list, as having worked for must be fake. I should have known better than not check your references.  And that’s what really pisses me off.

Just refund my money because I’ll never use your copy.



*Ladies and gentlemen, the inevitable lunacy has landed! It would be one thing for him to say he didn’t like it but as we covered his desired copy in phone conversations and he was excited about my direction, this was quite shocking. The inclusion of accusing me of faking my client list was really out of left field and the reference checking was odd as he claimed he knew my work from the internet.

I was not about to return his money but I knew I had to remain calm and professional in case he was bipolar or off his medication and would snap back into reality the next day.

Subject: Your Shit

Jul 15 10:22 PM

Well, I’m sorry you feel that way and if you expand on your concerns, I will be happy to rewrite the copy more to your liking. I assure you that my clients are quite real and I assume that it was one of the reasons you approached me.

The problem with a refund is that the work was rendered as to what we had discussed and I laid out my approach to rewriting your copy and you were in agreement. Please take a day or two to reflect on what it is you don’t like about the copy and formulate a well-considered critique with notes of what you believe to be the weak points or the points you don’t want covered/points you do want covered and I will be happy to resubmit a new draft.

I pride myself on not only my professionalism but also on building a stronger web presence for my clients, all of who are repeat customers.

*I was sure this would not come to a good ending, so I stated my case for any future legal actions or collection attempts on his part. Again, I bite my tongue and gave him a chance to review the work for the “polish” he had mentioned the day before. This also took place on a Saturday, so it was odd he wanted immediate responses. I would have waited until Monday but was afraid he would stew all weekend and be a total monster by Monday.

Subject: Your Shit

Jul 15 11:37 PM

Spider, you’re just a scammer. Take a day or two? Send you a well-considered critique? You arrogant prick!

I’ll take this matter up with my credit card company. When they read your emails and copy you wrote I feel confident they’ll agree that I got screwed. So, save your re-writes for them.


PS ANYBODY can make up a phony list. If your references are truly real then name 3 contact people at any of the US companies you note. Don’t, and it will be proof positive to anybody that reads this that you’re just a fraud and you ripped me off.

Give me a refund or prepare to spend a lot of time honing your letter writing skills to Pay Pal, B of A etc.

*Legally, he had no right to ask for a full refund. The work was delivered with the understanding it was a first draft and revisions were included in the fee. Still, when dealing with PayPal and credit cards, there are twists and turns that can occur that won’t happen with checks or bank transfers.

Subject: Your Shit

Jul 16 12:04 AM

I’m sorry you feel that way and I certainly don’t agree with your accusations. Service was rendered as promised and the product was delivered. I have offered to do revisions to satisfy you but obviously that isn’t what you wish and you refuse to discuss the matter.

I cannot refund money paid for delivery of an intellectual property that you now possess. It is always a possibility that you are asking for a refund but still plan to use the copy on your present site or the other site you mentioned you are building, which puts the ball in my court to collect from you for copyrighted material. It is also possible that faced with the costs of updating your web site to place the new copy, you have decided not to go ahead with that cost and are asking for a refund.

You may file a grievance with PayPal as well as your credit card company but I am confident that our emails, as well as the fact that my professional list of clients are real and they will corroborate my abilities and successes for their sites, will speak of my professional handling of this project.

Despite the language and insults in your last few emails, I am still willing to rewrite the supplied copy as soon as you provide comments on your concerns for what was delivered.

Subject: Your Shit

Jul 16 1:52 AM

Naturally I have reviewed our email exchanges and see the following from Saturday:

That’s better! You put the puzzle together! Send me the copy in WORD so I can play with it and correct a few parts. Then I’ll send it back for your “polish”. OK?

Thanks Joe

I certainly consider that an acceptance and continuation of our agreement. You can continue to work on this project or attempt a refund as you have mentioned, which I must contest.

I am curious about why you think my clients are fake when they are all not only listed on my esignature but also on my blog with links to the actual articles that appear on those client’s blogs? Originally, in your email of June 27th, you said you had seen my work on the web.

As mentioned in my previous email, I am willing to continue on and give you the edits (“polish”) you requested on the 14th.




In conclusion…

When dealing with credit card or PayPal payments, there is still an out a client can take of which you must be aware when using those payment methods.  Mr. Looney has sixty days to file a complaint with PayPal and state his claim for a refund. PayPal will then contact me and ask for my input. They prefer that both parties work out a suitable compromise. They also want to know the reason. In this case, did I not deliver what was promised? I did. Did I not offer to work out the problem by correcting the alleged problems? I did. PayPal would insist the client give me a chance to edit the material through their mediation process, meaning all material would be submitted to a site of theirs for such cases.

I have yet to hear anything from the client or PayPal but that doesn’t mean he’s disappeared for good. When accepting payments via PayPal, you should be aware that the client has sixty days to file a complaint. However, as he used a credit card to pay via PayPal, he has six months to one year to file a complaint through the card, ergo his threat of my having to deal with BoA (Bank of America). PayPal will not, in favor of dealing with credit companies over individuals, fight very hard for my rights no matter what evidence I submit and I will be charged back the entire fee paid. Time will tell if the client has given up or is just procrastinating his claim.

While PayPal assures quick receipt of funds, it would be better to ask for a check and wait the two or three days for delivery through snail mail. In the future, I may just not answer odd emails from even odder people.


How do you handle unreasonable clients? Do you stay professional? What safeguards do you put in place when accepting clients to ensure you don’t get stung? Let us know in the comments below.

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