Client Management For Nice People: Jaw-dropping client experiences (and how they changed us.)
Client Horror Stories

Web developer turned ugly sweater carrier: How a series of yellow flags could turn into a business catastrophe.

Web developer turned ugly sweater carrier: How a series of yellow flags could turn into a business catastrophe.

This article was based on Episode # 27: Nick Janetakiss Valuable Lesson on Boundaries, generously shared here for us & Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!


“You kind of replay your day, and then you just think to yourself like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?'” – Nick Janetakis

Have you been in a situation where you made a tiny mistake, and you just let it slip because it wasn’t a big deal? No matter how little the error was, you didn’t give it much thought since it wasn’t a huge problem. I believe many of us have this kind of mindset where we tend not to make a fuss about minor mistakes. 

In some instances, letting it go is the best option. But don’t get used to ‘letting a minor mistake slip away’ kind of attitude because if you do, you might end up like our sharer for this episode, Nick Janetakis. Nick experienced the worst client of his career just because he let small mistakes slip away. After that experience, he then learned that a series of yellow flags would eventually lead to one huge mistake that would cost him his time, effort, money, and energy.

Nick’s client-horror story started way back in 2013. Nick was with his friend, who happens to be a general contractor. Nick’s friend was offering contracting services such as tiling office buildings, installing glass, fixing walls, etc. Nick and his friend were close, and they hung out all the time. 

During that time, Nick’s friend needed some manpower to carry a big glass display to his client. Nick’s friend was delivering heavy glass to a vape shop. Nick hopped onto his friend’s truck, and they drove to the vape shop. Nick’s friend knew the vape shop owner, and they also happened to hang out casually. Let’s keep it simple and name the vape shop owner Freddy for the story. 

Nick and his pal delivered the hefty glass to Freddy’s vape business. They arrived at the venue, and Nick helped his buddy carry the large glass. One of Nick’s friends set him up with Freddy, telling him they should converse while doing some contracting work. 

During their conversation, Freddy informed Nick that he was still new to the vape shop business and that his firm was still in its infancy. However, Freddy told Nick that he had a side business selling sports team sweaters. In Nick’s mind, he thought of these sports team sweaters as ugly because the sports teams on the sweaters are not known. 

Freddy showed Nick the sweaters, and Nick described them as “nasty looking sweaters”. The good thing about Freddy’s side business is that he was selling them physically, and it was perfect during that time because back in 2013, malls were still a thing. Freddy told Nick that he would only sell his ugly sweaters seasonally because sweaters are essential during the winter. 

But now, Freddy wanted to expand the reach of his sweaters and wanted to sell them online. Nick saw this as an opportunity and told Freddy that it was a big coincidence since he was a web application developer and that he could help Freddy with his online selling. 

But Nick was wrong when he offered his services on this one, and he didn’t realize the first yellow flag, which is the risks of a side job. 


1. Be cautious when a client asks for help for their side project.

It isn’t always a terrible idea to have a side job, but most people prefer to provide less time, attention, and focus to side projects if they are already working full-time. He had a vape shop as his primary business and sold ugly sweaters as an additional sideline. Other than that, the owners of side projects often approach it as an experiment. 

If they have a full-time job, they don’t give a second thought to what may happen to that side business. The one that is affected if the side business fails is the one who invests all their time, money, and energy into it, which in this case, is Nick. 

The first lesson for this story is to not work for clients unless the work is their main thing and not a side business. 

So going back to the story, one thing that made Nick comfortable about helping Freddy with his side business was the winter season. When Nick offered his help, he knew that it was going to be winter soon because they were in November. Nick knew that they could sell even those ugly sweaters because winter is cold, and people need sweaters to warm themselves. 

But even if the odds were in Freddy’s favor, he still wasn’t giving his full attention to the side business because he was still busy looking after his full-time vape shop business. Even the most skilled businessman would have a hard time juggling 2 businesses at once. How much more for Freddy, who just started to build his vape shop and, at the same time, is also a first-timer when it comes to online selling. 

Nick knew that the online market was difficult, which was why he helped Freddy and took the job as his web developer. Nick helped Freddy create a website to sell his sweaters. Nick’s intention was not bad, but the way he treated that business was not good either. 

At the very least, he should have waited for a formal meeting with Freddy to discuss their terms, work schedule, boundaries, and much more. But instead, they only shook hands on that partnership and made a verbal deal – no contracts, no meetings, just a favor for a friend. 


2. Contracts are important. 

No matter what the circumstances are, before accepting any kind of work, always make sure that a contract is involved. Contracts are your legal documentation, and when everything goes wrong, at least you have a contract to defend yourself. 

Even if you are working for your friends, relatives, or your CEO’s son, you still need to have a contract. If you have been following our previous client horror stories, you have heard how important contracts are. Most of the client-horror stories wouldn’t have happened if they all got serious around their contracts. 

Nick was a web developer for more than 2 years, so he probably knew the importance of contracts. But because Freddy was his friend’s friend, he didn’t bother to let Freddy agree to any contract and proceeded on trusting him instead. Here comes our 3rd yellow flag.


3. Be cautious around working for a friend.

Don’t get me wrong, helping your friends is not a bad thing. But when it comes to business, always remember to avoid mixing personal relationships and stick to business partnerships. There are numerous ways in which a personal relationship can break a business. 

If you are familiar with some negative effects of personal relationships in your business, then you might have read some previous stories that I posted. But if you are new here, let me tell you one negative effect of the involvement of personal relationships in your business. When you work with a client and become too comfortable with them, you tend to accept favors and scope creep. 

Favors are not ideal for your business. Let’s say, for example, your rate is $10 per hour. Your client/friend asked you for a favor to help him finish what he was doing because he had to watch a movie with his girlfriend and the work that he was asking for wasn’t even part of the scope of your contract. 

Typically, if you treat him as your client and not as your friend, you would tell this client that it wasn’t part of your contract and you had to charge an additional payment for that task. You could also tell him about the boundaries statutes in your agreement. But if you involve personal relationships in your business, you would help your friend for free. 

There might even be times when you give discounts to your friend just to help them out. Friendship is not bad, but when you mix it with a business, it turns ugly.


4. Working with friends might jeopardize your friendship.

Another negative effect of a personal relationship is that it might jeopardize your personal relationship. Arguments are always present in the business industry, and it is typical for clients and employees to fight. But when your client is your friend, your fights and arguments might get personal, resulting in your friendship being broken.

Going back to the story, Nick couldn’t see these slight yellow flags because he was also excited about learning new things. This was Nick’s first time helping a client in the online market, and he was thrilled when he used Shopify for the first time. 

Of all those years being a web developer, he only knew how to develop websites and didn’t tap even the slightest thing about online selling. Nick wanted to learn from this experience, so he studied Shopify just for Freddy. 

Nick said, “How hard is it really going to be, you know, I log into the admin, take pictures of photos, upload the photos, attach prices and variants and sizes and things, and really, that wasn’t too bad at all.” But things started to go sideways when Nick began to use Shopify. 

He thought with the process that he mentioned that it would only take him maybe a couple of hours. He thought he would only post 30 pictures, and then they would be done. But he thought wrong because the 30 pictures became 200. 

Around 200 photos were uploaded, and Nick’s job was to put descriptions in all the uploaded pictures, put some prices, and a few edits. Because Nick took longer than he expected, he came up with a way to make his job easier. Before, it took him 80 hours to finish posting, but this new method only took him 60 hours. 

However, in terms of payment, this wasn’t benefiting Nick because instead of paying the original 80 hours, he did it 20% faster with no added charge. This is where the phrase, “Under promise, overdeliver, is better than overpromise, underdeliver.”


4. Underpromise, overdeliver.

“Underpromise, overdeliver” means that you have to promise your client your standard performance that when you overdeliver, they would be glad and possibly give you a raise. 

For example, when you promise your client that you can do the said task for one week and finish the job in under 3 days only, your client would be amazed and possibly give you a raise. But if you overpromise and tell your client that you can finish it within 3 days, but you end up completing it for more than a week, then that action might jeopardize your work or reputation.

Despite the free service, the website became successful, and Nick was able to create a fantastic online store. He was busy the entire month preparing that website, and he only realized after one month of working that Freddy’s office was a 15-minute walking distance from Nick’s office. Again, another yellow flag.


5. Boundaries are often disregarded when you are near your clients.

This yellow flag might also become a red flag, depending on your client. 

For example, if your client is a disrespectful and toxic person, he would go into your office and give you more stuff to do even if you already set a schedule on when and what date you will work for his project. Your client would also rush you even in your free time or lunch breaks just to make you finish a deadline. 

But this can also be a slight yellow flag because maybe your client is not into computers like Freddy and he needs to go to your office to tell you something important. Still not a good thing because boundaries need to be kept, but not as bad as breaking into your safe zone and disrespecting your boundaries.

Again, Nick failed to realize this series of yellow flags because he was thrilled with the work and also, he became attached to Freddy. He genuinely likes Freddy as his friend because, according to Nick, Freddy was fun to hang out with. 

Nick ended up going to Freddy’s office often to make friendly conversation and talk about things. Nick even gave an estimation and shared that he went to Freddy’s office 15 or 20 times per month. 

This might be a good thing for Nick, but if you ever are placed in this situation where you have to go to your client’s office because he wants to talk to you about some things, then you might want to be cautious around it and start including that time in your invoice. If Nick was not friends with Freddy, he could have charged Freddy every time Freddy wants him to be in his office. He already has 30 minutes spent walking and another 30 minutes more for their conversation, and he could have got $10 every time he visits Freddy’s office. 

Nick did this for free. After all, as he said, he wanted to be friends with Freddy because he was nice and fun to be with. Nick even shared that Freddy shared his lunch with Nick and told him that his wife cooked the meals for both of them. This was like Freddy’s alternative or friendly way of paying Nick for his free advice and consultation. 

Nick didn’t even notice that he had already helped Freddy a lot because of their personal relationship. I mean, it wasn’t like Freddy was just using their friendship to gain free consultations and work. It’s not fair to say that because we don’t know Freddy’s intention. But, for the sake of the lessons, we will consider the worst so that the readers and the younger versions of ourselves would become better and wiser businessmen. 

So, going back to the story, Nick and Freddy became real friends. Nick shared his experience with Freddy on his vape shop, where they had fun times together. Nick cited one fun experience, and he said, “One of his distributors was calling on the phone and he didn’t want to pick it up. So he just asked me to pick it up and like I know nothing about this business at all. So like I just picked it up like I introduced myself as Ulrich Von, Lichtenstein like I didn’t know were like that just came out of the blue.” 

They had a lot of great experiences in that vape shop, and Nick was having a really good time with Freddy. Freddy’s side work became successful too because he would get tons of shipments during those winter months and sold about $100,000 worth of merchandise in just 2 months. 

This strengthened their relationship even more until it got to the point where Nick was already carrying boxes of sweaters from his garage onto the truck, carrying the garage down and into his little stall on the mall. All of a sudden, Nick went from being a web developer creating a Shopify store to a hired guy carrying his boxes full of ugly sweaters. 

And before Nick realized it, he was helping Freddy at his little stall in the mall, lifting boxes and moving sweaters from 7 in the evening, being in that small kiosk from 11:30 PM to look for some customers, up until 6:00 in the morning. Imagine helping a friend to lift boxes at 7 PM, set up the stall until 11:30 PM, and wait there until 6:00 in the morning just for the sake of helping your friend. 

Note that Nick wasn’t paid for this because he was doing this as a friend. Nick helped Freddy, of course, because they were friends, but because I am handing out lessons, you should become wary when your client does this to you. This action is called scope creep.


6. Immediately remind your client about your contract when they try to scope creep you.

Scope creeping is when your client asks you to do certain tasks that weren’t part of your deal. In Nick’s case, he was hired as a web developer and ended up lifting boxes for Freddy. 

Maybe in his situation, it wasn’t a bad thing, but if ever your client tells you to do something that is out of your scope, you have to remind them about your contract and ask them for an additional fee to do tasks that aren’t part of your deal.

When everything was done, Nick replayed his entire day and realized what he was doing. Nick realized that he was an experienced web developer, and he didn’t deserve that kind of relationship. He should have been moving forward in his career, but instead, he let the personal relationship move him backward and slow him down. 

Nick wanted no part of it anymore. He had already completed his task and ended the project. He didn’t cut ties with Freddy because, despite everything, their friendship was real. But he told him that he would now move forward and look for another client. 

It ended well, there were no hard feelings, and Nick was able to successfully give his client the website that he wanted. Nick didn’t earn as much money as he would have at his regular rate, but what he acquired was something that cannot be bought; lessons and experiences. 

Because he was a web developer for so long, he was cautious around serious red flags and disregarded yellow flags. He didn’t mind the yellow flags because he thought yellow flags were just minor mistakes. 

And that’s about it for Nick’s client-horror story. It was full of yellow flags and lessons for the younger versions of ourselves. These yellow flags were not that serious at all, but when you tend to disregard one and let these little yellow flags pile up, that alone is enough to let trouble set in. Because Nick let those minor flags slip away, he created his own version of the client-horror story. 

Going back to when Nick and Freddy were still talking about the task, there was that one time when Nick told Freddy his regular rate, and Freddy immediately turned into “haggle mode”.

For those of you who don’t know, haggling is when your client would plead to lower your rate until you agree. Nick doesn’t want to be haggled, but he again lets it slip away because Freddy is his friend’s friend. 

I mentioned this again because when I asked Nick to point out the most important lesson that he would give to the younger ones, he said this:


7. You should be respectful of yourself when it comes down to how you value yourself.

If you have a specific rate in mind, whether it’s per hour or project, you should stick to that rate. You are already losing revenue when you allow your clients to haggle your rate. I mean, imagine going to the doctor, demanding a health check-up, receiving a $500 bill, and you try to haggle and ask them if you can pay $250. 

Haggling is good in some markets, but you should minimize or, better yet, not allow haggling into your career. Stick to your guns with terms of rates. But it is also important to be versatile and adapt to every situation. When you know that the client has potential and you see that in the future that you could earn more money if you help that particular client, then you have to lower your rate and make sure that you earn that client’s trust. 

That concludes the end of today’s client horror story. This story is full of lessons, even at the very end. Make sure to take note of all of the lessons mentioned above and avoid those yellow flags, or you will become the next sharer for the next episode of client-horror stories.


This article was based on Episode # 27: Nick Janetakiss Story, please watch the complete episode here!