Feedback from the Inferno is hosted by Bryce Bladon, the editor-in-chief of Clients From Hell, a collection of anonymously contributed client horror stories.

Got a burning question for the inferno? Send your questions to contact@clientsfromhell.net. Note that questions may be edited.

This month, Bryce addresses a handsy client, a complicated freelancer-client-boyfriend work triangle, and a freelancer who had his work stolen by another freelancer.

How do I deal with my client’s controlling boyfriend?

My client’s boyfriend insists on attending all of our meetings, business or otherwise.

For context, I’m a male, and my client is a female. We know each other from school, but we recently reconnected when she found out I started freelancing, and she wanted me to build her budding businesses’ website.

My client has insisted that this isn’t a big deal – the boyfriend should be treated as another source of feedback – but the dynamic makes me uncomfortable. I told her that she doesn’t have to worry about me trying anything, but she says that’s not really the issue. She insists that the boyfriend has “her best interests” in mind and just not to worry about it because she “really wants to work with me on this.”
What should I do?

– A third-wheel freelancer

I had to email this submitter back to glean a bit of additional context.

To summarize: the client and her boyfriend have both cheated on one another, and the boyfriend is not there for his business expertise; the client and the submitter hooked up once “while drunk at school”; by school, the submitter means he and his client attended university together.

One thing that immediately set off warning signs for me is that you’re having meetings with this client that fall under the umbrella of “otherwise.”

Working with friends is something that I probably wouldn’t recommend. Working with a former hookup is something I would almost always discourage. Working with a serial cheater (that you have a history with!) while she’s in a troubled relationship (with a controlling boyfriend!) sounds like the motive the detective will give when he finds your dead body.

Point being: none of this sounds like a good idea.

Even if you weren’t involved with this client on the pretense of this being a client-freelancer relationship – and I’m not convinced you wouldn’t be, as you failed to mention you had sex with this client in the past in your initial email – I would still encourage you to get as far away as possible.

It sounds like this client needs to separate their personal and professional life. And I think the same could be said about you.

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What do I do about a client that touches me?

I have a client that insists I do all my work at his office. He insists on this arrangement because he doesn’t really “trust web people.” He admits part of this is just not “getting it” – if I’m there, I can explain things, and he knows I’m honestly billing him for the time.

I really don’t like working at his office: it’s inconvenient to travel to and from there, I have to bring some of my equipment, and my client likes to breathe over my shoulder while I work.

The worst part about this over-my-shoulder work is that he’ll sometimes start to give me a massage. I’m not the only one he does this to, but it’s both literally and metaphorically uncomfortable.

How do I tell him to stop doing this without ruining the relationship?

– A real hands-on freelancer

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The subject line of this email was “my clint likes to touch me - I do not.”

At first, I thought that was a lot of unsolicited information about a submitter’s uncomfortable relationship with a man named Clint, but boy did that stop being funny once I realized that was a spelling error.

I was unbelievably relieved to discover you’re both male and that this touching is seemingly non-sexual. It’s still 100% not okay that the client is doing this, but this dynamic could be far, far worse.

From what you wrote to me, it sounds like you have an out-of-touch-with-the-times client – both technologically and socially. And it sounds like you could do a better job of pushing back and making sure the working arrangement works for you.

Schedule a one-on-one meeting with your client to discuss how you work together. Decide beforehand where you draw the line. I suggest not working in that office altogether, but you can compromise on him simply respecting your personal space.

Do your research and prepare for this meeting. You should try and anticipate your client’s potential concerns, and you should have your reasons on standby.

For example, address why this client doesn’t trust “web people.” By now, you should have established a working relationship, so some trust should be there. If it’s simply a matter of hours, offer to use time-tracking software. If it’s due to a lack of understanding, ask if there’s a contact at the company who would better understand your deliverables – work that is mutually understood is much more likely to meet the client's goals effectively.

Whatever happens, don’t back down from where ever you drew the line. If all you’re going to push back on is the touching – and I encourage you to have more ambition than that – speak to how it makes you feel and try not to accuse or embarrass the client. Do this one on one, and be straightforward; it’s not okay that he was in your personal space, but it sounds like no one ever tried to course correct him, and he’s ignorant about how inappropriate it is.

If you still don’t want to rock the boat, invest in Mad Max-style shoulder pads.

Jokes aside, if you feel genuinely uncomfortable or physically threatened, cut things off with this client. A big part of freelancing is doing your work, your way – and it seems like this arrangement doesn’t empower you on a personal or professional level.

And try to work on sticking up for yourself! It sounds like a lot of your complaints about this situation came from you rolling over whenever your client requests something.

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What do I do about another freelancer who stole my work?

I know you’ve addressed clients stealing work before, but I’m in a slightly different situation. Another photographer – one who I’ve never met – has one my pieces in his portfolio and he’s claiming himself as the creator.

What should I do? Do I have any recourse, or should I just let it go?

– A picture-perfect freelancer

No need to take the Elsa philosophy; there are three things you can do.

Start by writing a polite request for them to take down your work.

After that, you can file a DMCA takedown. Here’s a basic breakdown from the NPPA on how to do that. All you need to do is find the ISP hosting your image and draft your takedown notice.

Finally, you can hire a lawyer to send them a cease a desist. I wouldn’t recommend this one; it’s not going to be worth your time and effort, and attorneys – in addition to being expensive – tend to take cases like this one in very specific circumstances, e.g. if you’ve registered your photo before the infringement.

One thing you should not do is go straight to shaming the perpetrator online; take the high road before you consider the low one. It’s important to stick up for yourself and take necessary steps to protect your work, but it’s unlikely that this will in any way cost you work or somehow tarnish your reputation. Starting an online mob, however, has the potential to do both these things, so tread carefully.

Bryce Bladon runs Clients From Hell, hosts a popular podcast of the same name, and runs a monthly webinar specifically for freelancer FAQs.

Follow him on Twitter. Or don’t. You do you.