You start working with someone even though you have this nagging feeling that something is not right. There are minor problems along the way, but nothing important. Until this very nice person turns into your worse nightmare. They don’t like anything you show them, they want you to do more work than you agreed on, or they might just disappear and you won’t ever hear from them again.
When you deal with difficult clients, it’s often tempting to place all the blame on them. In reality, you get to choose who you work with. While you’ll probably find yourself in many difficult situations that are hard to predict, there are also warning signs that can help you spot difficult clients early on.
Poor communication is either too little or too much communication. If your clients don’t answer all your questions in your first meeting, they probably won’t answer your following questions. It’s very frustrating to send the same email over and over again because you can’t get the answers you need to move on with your project.
People that will fill your inbox with emails without waiting for your answer are also very exhausting. They usually are very demanding and have unrealistic expectations. Clients choose you because you have a good portfolio or good testimonials so they should trust that the work you do for them is just as good.
Doesn’t pay attention to your emails or documents
After a client contacts me, I send a welcome email with details about the process, links to my website, and a design form if they are still interested in working with me. It’s easy to tell when they don’t read your documents because they keep asking questions that were already answered.
Design forms also tell you a lot about a potential client. One of the things I ask is to give me three examples of websites they like. I obviously don’t fire a client that sends more examples, but adding ten websites instead of three is a clear sign that they don’t have a good idea about what they want or like.
The way they answer your questions will tell you a lot of things about the way a project will go. If they can’t list three sites they like, they might not be able to tell you what they don’t like about your designs.
Tries to get a discount
Budget is a very important factor to consider when you hire someone. That’s why I decided to package my services, display prices on my site and give discounts to returning customers.
When someone you haven’t worked with tries to get a lower price, they either don’t value your work or they are speaking to more than one person and are trying to get the best deal. From my experience, clients that pay you the least are also high maintenance. That’s because they don’t understand how much time you spend on the project and how important it will be for them.
There’s a difference between people that can’t afford you and those who are not willing to pay you. You don’t want to work with the latter. Dream clients recognize the value of you work and are willing to pay.
Wants you to work without a contract
Contracts protect you and your clients. Unfortunately, there are still many people that don’t understand the importance of having a contract. It’s your job to explain why you should never work without an agreement and even make small revisions if your client asks. Though you shouldn’t work with them if they refuse to sign your contract or ask you to make big changes.
Asks you to do impossible things
Sometimes clients ask you to do something that is outside of your specialty. This is not always bad and there are times when you will improve your skills by taking on a project that is outside of your comfort zone. Though if you build WordPress sites and your client wants you to use a CMS that you aren’t familiar with, you should refuse the project or recommend a designer that specializes in that CMS.
A very important part of your job is to educate your clients. A lot of your potential clients might not be very familiar with what you do and they might ask impossible things. It’s better to explain why that isn’t possible than to create unrealistic expectation.
I often receive emails from people that are very excited to work with me, only for them to stop responding to emails after a while. Or their emails are few and far between. This is a clear warning sign that the rest of the project will go on like this. It’s also a sign that they are speaking with several different designers at the same time.
A lot of these people do want to work with you, but because of lack of time or other important activities, they don’t make your project a priority. If you do want to work with them, you should add deadlines to your contract.
They give off bad vibes
I often feel that I am not a good match with a potential client. I love to work with people I can connect with and I can tell from the first emails if it will be a good relationship. There are times when people I thought would not be good clients turned out to dream clients, but it’s not always like that.
As a designer, I had my fair share of bad clients. I also know how hard it is to say ‘no’ to a client when you are working so hard on promoting your business. Though if you learn to spot these signs early on, you will be able to focus all your creative energy on your dream clients.
Did you ever work with a difficult client? How do you decide if the potential client is a right fit?