20 of the most insulting business requests

Has a client ever asked you to lie or take a drug test before they bought your product? Check out this list of bizarre requests from people who have seen the worst.

Out of college and eager to make it in the business world, I did practically anything just to get recognized: menial tasks, working for free, promoting someone else’s work for free, and involving myself in projects that didn’t seem all that ethical.

As I grew older and more experienced, the “I’ll do anything for your approval” excitement died down. Once you’re established in your industry and know your worth, you don’t need to jump through hoops to get praise.

That doesn’t stop others from making requests that step over the line of good taste, professionalism, or what your business and time is worth.

Insulting business requests come in many forms, but you’ll often find, as Amanda Coolong of TechZulu notes, they often begin with the words “Can’t you just…”

I put out a call to the community to get their best examples of insulting requests. In all cases, the party making the insulting request is anonymous. I’ve parsed them out in categories of different types of insulting requests. Who knew there were so many different ways to be rude?

Inappropriate requests

1. I know I’m not on the editorial masthead, but…

Journalist and editor Jesse Stanchak of SmartBrief on Social Media thinks it’s inappropriate when an interview subject demands quote approval.

I can see how that insults him, but I’ve agreed to quote approvals mostly because the interview subject refused to do the interview unless I did it. For me, quote approval has never changed anything in an article.

Where I see interview subject meddling really going over the line is when PR people ask if they can review an article before it’s published. That one blows my mind. It’s as if they’re assuming editorial control of the magazine, which they know they shouldn’t have. I guess their attitude is, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.” Or maybe the client pressured them to make the approval request. Either way, it damages the relationship with the journalist.

2. If we have to do it, then so do you

Writer Scott Byorum tells the tale of a buyer asking the seller to have their employees submit to a drug test before buying the product.

3. Can I push you even more?

While helping out on a side project and spending lots of sleepless nights, coder David Rajchenbach-Teller returned to the office only to hear the client say, “You’re not working enough.”

4. This is going to sound weird, but I need you to lie about something

While consulting, Larry Chaffin of Pluto Networks was asked to lie to employees about what kind of car he drives and not having a girlfriend.

Too much for too little

5. I’m guessing this is how much it costs

Someone once asked Web designer Laura Christianson, “Can you design and program a high-end website for me for $150?” She wanted to respond, “Sure, and while I’m at it, I’ll write your copy and do your laundry,” but she held her tongue.

While insulting, I can see how such a request could happen. I’ve often heard clients ask what a website costs, which is akin to asking how long a piece of string is. The cost of Web development is one of the most misunderstood areas of production.

Five years ago I put out an RFP for my business site, in which I detailed exactly what I wanted. I had an explanation of all the elements and a flowchart showing the relations of all the pages. Even with my detailed scope, the 17 bids I received ranged in scope by 20-fold from the lowest to the highest bid.

6. Will you do it for what’s in my wallet?

Aforementioned journalist and editor Jesse Stanchak once had someone ask if he’d edit a 100-page master’s thesis for $20.

Make my life easier

7. Yours doesn’t look like mine, change it

Cindy Nicholson had another boss’s new secretary ask her if she would redo her more than 30-column job tracker spreadsheet so it would match the secretary’s job tracker spreadsheet.

8. I have a social life, but you don’t, so could you do this?

Joy Powers had a coworker ask at 4 p.m. on a Friday, “I need to go, but can you get this done for me for my meeting on Sunday?”

Powers actually agreed, cancelled her evening plans, and finished the work.

Upon submitting the work, Powers said, “This needs to be the final last minute request.”

The requester responded, “I’m sorry, I’ll make it up to you by buying you a tub of popcorn the next time I see you at the movies.”

There better be a wad of cash at the bottom of that tub.

9. I’m so confused, I just can’t handle it

Consultant Patricia A. O’Malley didn’t change her last name when she got married. The woman who manages her husband’s health insurance asked O’Malley to change her name to make her paperwork easier.

10. I don’t think it’s too early or too far away

Eager to please a potential client no matter how extreme the initial request, David Burk agreed to meet the prospect at 7 a.m. at a location 60 miles from his home. Once he arrived, the assistant’s response was, “Sorry, she’s not here and won’t be all day.”

When Burk followed up to ask where she was, the assistant didn’t respond.

Work for free

This was the most common “insulting request” I heard. It aggravates everyone. Unless you’re a nonprofit or you’re asking a close friend to do you a favor, don’t ever ask someone to do work for you for free.

11. We want to pay everyone else except you

Dave (The WireMan) Maskin is a live event artist who creates personalized sculptures out of wire. Someone recently asked Maskin to do a gig in New York City free of charge at a very elaborate function. The requester tried to ameliorate the lack of funds by explaining, “There will be lots of lawyers there.”

“Are the caterers, 12-piece band, and the very posh event space offering their services for free,” Maskin asked.

“Of course not,” the requester said.

Maskin declined the gig and the potentially free legal advice.

12. We’re not a charity, but…

Executive consultant Martin Thomas was asked to work for about one third of his fee on the basis of “we do a lot of charity work.”

Thomas’ response, “So do I; but not for big multi-national corporations!”

13. Ads cost money, bloggers are free, right?

Blogger Candice Broom has been approached multiple times a day by paid “social media experts” with the request to “share this information with your readers” for free.

This aggravates me to no end. This has happened to me multiple times, and most notably from a well-known social media expert.

14. But we’ll say really nice things about you

Digital marketing and media relations expert Jaime Palmucci turned down one potential client who wanted her to discount her rates in exchange for them talking about how wonderful she was on their website. Palmucci had access to their site analytics and knew with certainty that the only visitors were the very rare person using their outdated product or family members.

Now that you’ve done the work, we don’t want to pay

15. If I can’t make up my mind, I shouldn’t have to pay

Christopher Mitchell‘s client couldn’t make a decision. After endless back and forth changes, the client ultimately asked, “Could you not charge for this because it took so long?”

16. I thought that was included in the price

Aforementioned Scott Byorum had a situation where a client thought an add-on service was included with the basic service, even though it was clearly noted on the order form and in the contract that it wasn’t. That didn’t stop the client from requesting that the add-on be included for free on the past 189 orders. For future submissions the client promised they would “remember” to order the add-on with the basic service.

“I liken it to walking into a burger joint and ordering a burger, and then demanding a soda and fries because that’s what you saw in the picture,” Byorum said.

I’m a moron, help me

17. Do the math for me. No seriously, do it.

The accounting department of a major Fortune 100 company contacted Luis Rodrigues’ company, Occu-Med Health Services, to inquire about some Canadian taxes. Rodrigues’ team explained that they have some medical services that are billed “tax in” (13 percent) in order to comply with an interpretation from Revenue Canada.

The person on the phone wanted to know how to see the cost without taxes (a.k.a. “back out the taxes”). Rodrigues’ team once again explained that you simply divide the number by 1.13. The client asked, “How would I know to do that?” and asked Rodrigues’ team to write up a memo explaining how to do the math.

They declined, realizing they shouldn’t be teaching fifth-grade mathematics to a Fortune 100 company’s accounting department.

This request doesn’t add up

The one element that’s consistent with the previously mentioned insulting requests is there’s a clear motive behind them. Sometimes the requests are so odd or misguided that the motives are in conflict or make no sense.

18. Want a raise? Join my book club

Mark Bromberg‘s former boss announced that bonuses for that year would be tied to those who read various self help books he recommended.

19. Do what I say, not what you’re supposed to do

In a past job, Michele Wilcox of Vineyard Virtual Services suffered bullying from someone who was not her boss. The non-boss told her to “just do your job and get it done” even though the “get it done” request flew right in the face of what her real boss wanted her to do.

20. You’ve been so good to us, help us leave you

When Elisha Tropper was president of a packaging company, one of his largest accounts decided to put their business out for bid. In the process, the company asked Tropper’s company, the incumbent for 10-plus years, to assemble the artwork, production specifications, annual quantities, and order history for the entirety of their purchases so they could solicit bids from Tropper’s competitors. They explained that the job was so complicated and cumbersome that they couldn’t do it themselves, and would Tropper’s company do it for them out of “loyalty.”

Got a story of your own? Have you ever been guilty of making an insulting request?

David Spark is a veteran tech journalist and the founder of the media production and consulting firm Spark Media Solutions. Spark blogs regularly at Spark Minute. Follow him on Twitter @dspark.


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