How To Be a Terrible Upwork Client

Let me start by saying that the overwhelming majority of people I have worked with and for have been superb, a pleasure to work with. Sadly, there are those whose standards of professionalism are nowhere near as high as our own. We’ve all had them – the nightmare clients who act as if they are doing you an enormous favour just because they have work for you.

The worst type of client certainly possesses…


Entitlement Attitude

Sorry, But What is a “Weekend”?

“Hi Matt, I hope you are having a good Friday? I have a 3000 word report that needs writing and I need it back and finished by Monday morning.”

This will happen from time to time and one of the drawbacks of freelancing is that you can sometimes expect to have to give up your weekends. For the right client, you’ll probably be happy to do so. The problem is when you have a client who expects this sort of delivery all the time. Every piece of work is sent to you on a Friday afternoon and they always expect it back by Monday morning and they will not budge on their deadline. Freelancing is give and take and you can’t really do 9-5 Mon-Fri but these people take the P.

What Do You Mean “You Were Asleep at 2AM”?

Another problem client is he or she that is blissfully unaware of the things called “time zones” and the human need for sleep. They’ll message you at 2AM (your time) asking for work that needs doing in the next three hours. By 4:30AM they have either sent you a begging email asking if you are nearly finished because they have been put under pressure by their boss, or they will send an irate one asking why you haven’t given them the courtesy of responding with a simple “yes” or “no”. I am doing one thing and one thing between 2 and 4:30AM and no, that is not checking my work emails.

I Know What You Said, But it Needs Doing Right Away

It doesn’t matter how busy you are, how much work you have or how urgent it is, their work should take priority every time. It may be they think they are your only client or it may be that they naturally assume their stuff is more important than everybody else’s. When push comes to shove, you need to consider which you would rather lose – your pushy client or some of the others you are letting down in validating pushy behaviour. Be upfront about how soon you can get the work done and be clear. That way, they have no excuses. If it’s that urgent, they can take it to somebody else.

You usually find that those who push for work to be done urgently, usually expect discount rather than being prepared to pay you extra for the inconvenience. Which leads me to…

Money Issues

I Want Discount Just Because

They just want a discount. They want to know how low you will go. Apply discounts at your discretion and define a set of rules for yourself on when you will or will not relent and give discount. Big jobs may sometimes warrant it in order to clinch the job, but never offer too much. Tell them that your “final offer” is just that. Giving a discount simply because somebody asks should be a no-no. If you relent the first time – trust me, they will expect it all the time. You’re running a business, not a charity. I have honoured rates for ongoing clients who pass me on to other contacts; I’ve also given discounts to clients who have given me large volume work in the past and rehire me for a similar large volume – that’s because I know they are reliable and it’s an act of goodwill. That’s my personal rule. You may feel differently.

Poverty Pleading

They really want to employ you but they can’t afford your rates. Please will you take their lower rates? Well, I would very much like an Aston Martin but right now, I could probably afford (at best) a five year old VW Golf. What I don’t do is go to the local Aston Martin dealer and ask if they would let me have one for £4,000 because “I really want one”. I can take a good guess at what their response would be should I try my luck.

Which reminds me, don’t let non-profits tug on your heartstrings. It’s a common tactic to hear “but we have a limited budget, we’re a charity!” Remember, they hope and expect to make a lot of money from whatever you are doing for them and the chances are you won’t receive credit for the work anyway so you couldn’t even go with the exposure angle. I’ve written content for about three non-profits and none of them have attempted to knock me down on price.

Our Regular Freelancer Charges Us XXXX. Why Are You More Expensive?

Assuming you are telling the truth about a “regular freelancer”, I don’t know who they are or their personal circumstances. They might live in a part of the world where the cost of living is lower and can afford to charge lower rates. They might not be top rated. They might have fewer clients. They might have a regular job and this is a side job. They might not have my experience or knowledge set. They might not be a fluent English speaker. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. My rates are my rates and people are happy to pay them.

So there we are; that’s my list. What are some of your indicators of bad clients?


4 thoughts on “How To Be a Terrible Upwork Client

    1. Since Upwork introduced milestone funding and Escrow, I think that’s far less common than it once was. I had two clients last year not pay me. In both cases, I got my money but never thought I would. It was only because I was persistent and pushed to have their accounts suspended that they eventually coughed up.

      1. N. E. White

        Good for you. Sadly, I’m sure those clients do that often hoping the freelancer will say it is just not worth the hassle to collect (like I did). Just to be clear, my unpaid jobs were acquired outside of any formal website. A handshake isn’t what it used to be…

      2. Indeed it isn’t. I think I’m just too bloody minded not to pursue such poor sportsmanship. I’ve filed (and threatened to file) DMCA claims against non-payers in the past too.

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