5 Types of Clients to Avoid (And Why)

by Tom Ewer 6 Minutes

lineupWhen you’re in business it’s tempting to accept as many offers of work as possible, especially during lean times. We’ve all experienced the aptly-named ‘feast or famine’ cycle and trying to stay on an even keel can be tricky, but taking on every client that comes your way is not the answer.

As I’ve discussed previously, some clients are simply bad for business. Regardless of how great your website is or how many social media strategies you put into place, your business’ success is still, in part, reliant upon the clients you have. Ensuring that you only work with the clients that are right for you can mean the difference between success and failure.

In this post I’ll be looking at five types of clients you should avoid and why. I’d guess that most of us have come across a client who falls into one or more of these categories, so I’ll also be suggesting some of the ways you can avoid them.

1. The Indecisive Client

A client who is indecisive about a project or is unsure about what they want to achieve is probably the most common of all the headache-inducing customers we face.

Clients who start out being uncertain about the major details of a project are more likely to change their mind halfway through and request that you start again from scratch. However hard you try to please this type of client they will be in a constant state of dissatisfaction caused by their own inability to pinpoint their specific needs.

Clarity from the client in terms of the project’s outcome is important to avoid confusion or unhappiness with the final deliverable. A client who is clear and concise with instructions will make for an easier working relationship. A lack of direction can result in hours of wasted time trying to ascertain exactly what a client wants, when in reality you’ll probably never find out because even the client doesn’t know.

The best way to avoid this situation is to clearly define a project’s objectives before commencing work. Agree what the scope of works includes, what the desired outcome is and write any extra terms into your contract. Include every detail regardless of how insignificant it may appear. Setting the project out in writing is beneficial for both you and the client.

2. The Elusive Client

A client who is particularly difficult to get hold of can be a nightmare in terms of timescales and deadlines. This type of client will keep you hanging on for days, even weeks, and suddenly appear announcing that the deadline has been brought forward or demanding to know where your initial draft is.

If you are waiting for something to be signed off so you can continue working, or are constantly checking your inbox in the hope that they have replied to the urgent email you sent a week ago, then it is time to readdress your position on the project.

The best way to avoid an elusive client is to consider their communication skills during the early stages of you working relationship. If they are timely in responding to your emails or telephone calls during the negotiation process, this is a good indicator of how they will behave during your time together. If you are left feeling frustrated by a lack of response in week one, accept that it may be a warning of difficult times to come and act accordingly.

3. The Obnoxious Client

We’ve all endured clients who can be difficult (to say the least!) to work with. It can be frustrating when a non-expert tells you you’re doing it wrong or when you are expected to produce top-dollar work while operating within a paltry budget. However, there is a fine line between being challenging and being obnoxious.

If a client is continually rude or overly-critical of your work you will be left feeling deflated and unhappy which will zap your motivation and in turn affect the quality of your work. Any client you work with should treat you with respect, and there is no excuse for a client treating you poorly.

The solution here is to always have confidence in the service you are providing. If you know your work is the best it can be and you project an image of total self-belief, it will be more difficult for your client to disagree.

Maintaining a professional stance at all times is vital, and any unhappiness should be aired and dealt with swiftly so issues are not left to fester. I always recommend you discuss any differences or difficulties by telephone. Email is not only impersonal but the tone and meaning of your message can easily be misconstrued. And if you really are unable to find common ground and can’t stand it any longer, then cut your losses and walk away.

4. The Full-On Client

Working with an elusive client can be tough, but working with a full-on client can be downright exhausting. They’ll take over your day as well as your evenings and weekends if you let them.

There’ll be a constant string of emails and phone calls and demands to know why you haven’t responded immediately to simple (inconsequential) queries. At every point of the project you’ll be micro-managed and requests made for drafts, updates and reports on how things are going.

This can become extremely frustrating as it hinders your flow of work and implies a lack of belief in your ability to deliver the end result. The easiest way to avoid this is to set out clear parameters for communication before commencing work. Agree to a response time for emails and define your after-hours and weekend availability.

When drawing up your scope of works agree on milestone points where you provide an update or feedback for the client on how things are progressing. Submitting weekly status reports which chart the project’s development are also a good way of quelling any worries and preempting any queries the client may have.

5. The Late Paying Client

A client who may be troublesome when it comes to paying is practically impossible to spot. They’ll be easy to work with and responsive at all times until you submit your invoice. Suddenly they stop replying to emails or answering calls and they tell you time and again that the check has definitely been sent.

We’ve discussed late and non-paying clients previously and it is true that sometimes late payment is an oversight, or typical of the pace your client works at, rather than a blatant attempt to avoid payment. However, you have the right to be paid for the work you have completed.

Unfortunately, this type of client is difficult to avoid and therefore it is crucial that you protect yourself as much as possible from the outset. Clearly set out your payment terms in your contract, so if a polite payment reminder doesn’t work you can proceed to write a formal letter reiterating your terms and conditions. Some types of projects will allow you the added protection of requesting part or full payment up front, and if this is a viable option I would recommend doing so.

Finally, if payment is way overdue and you believe your client has no intention of paying you it is time to research how to recover what you are owed.

Summing Up

While it’s quite clear that some clients should be avoided at all costs you should also remember that you play a significant role in how successful your working relationship is. Before considering any work you need to define your ideal client and think about the way in which you approach new contracts.

Having a definite idea of your working methods and preparing your contract in advance can help in reducing the possibility of scope creep, general unhappiness and unnecessary confusion. You should always be mindful to cover items such as:-

  • The scope of works
  • Deadlines
  • Deliverables
  • Number of revisions included
  • Your fees for additional work or services
  • Your payment terms

Not every client is right for your business, just as you are not right for every client. Being selective when it comes to accepting new contracts is important and if something just doesn’t feel right then trust your instincts and walk away. Turning down work that you suspect may become problematic or difficult will save you time and money in the long run.

So now it’s over to you! Which of the above types of clients have you had the pleasure of working with? Do you have any tried and tested methods when it comes to spotting less desirable customers? Let us know in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.