5 Types of Clients to Avoid (And Why)

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

About 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.

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I’ve actually written a similar post to this. You can click on my name to view the post.

Here are some other clients you should avoid:

– Clients that say if you do free work for them, it will lead to paid work

– Clients that ask you to create free mockups for them so that they can “see what your work looks like”

– Clients that try to haggle with prices

– Clients that try to avoid signing a contract


I understand the article, but most of the clients I know are one of these types. Do you recommend stopping to work with 80 % of your client, and continue to work with the 20 other %, which give you 80% less trouble ?


Excellent article. I agree with Rahat above and submit that I am wary of any client who tries to dazzle me with how much work they will be able to refer IF they are happy with my work. It is a manipulation that an eager freelancer is tempted to believe and might go the extra mile to please this client only to find that the referrals are never forthcoming and the client is a problem client who wants something for nothing. Every time someone boast that they can get me more work beyond the project under discussion it sends up a warning flag that I should refer them to a compteitor and save my self the headache.This is almost always a trick.

Peter Tough

This blog is a reality, most clients wants your service, and they want it for something unreasonably just like the one i encountered lately he said
“We have found someone who wants to do the same job for less than 50% of your charge” then i replied you should know there are standards am not changing my quote thats when he found out am sedulous with my skill. And he certainly wants a standard job he must surely get back to me.

Steve Struemph

Thank you for the post. I’ve had enough clients to be able to recognize and relate to all of these types. It certainly can save you a lot of stress to say no sometimes. The hardest part is during the famine times. But every single instance when money was tight, I needed the work so I said yes when my gut told me no ended in a drawn out stressful job the ultimately distracted me when things started to pick up again.


Thanks for the post admin.
And I appreciate sam’s comment here.
I would like to give you a case brief happened with me similar to your comment.
I got so many clients saying that they have more work once we will get started and I always use a line “Sir, I will assure you that only this time I am charging this amount same as quoted otherwise, for your other projects, I will give you discount and if he really gives you more work, try to quote more than your profit amount because extra money is going to be discounted for him” and trust me this man will give you project and will be happy to your work.
I request you guys to please visit my website
And suggest me changes.
Thanks in advance,

Pinaki Pillai

Hi thank you guys for sharing your thoughts. Let me add something regarding Indian SME clients. Most SME clients are eager to engage startup companies for the following reason.
1)To get new ideas and prototypes to enhance their business.
2)To see what is happening in technology side related to their industry
3)To get the startups involved to such a extend so that finally they are forced to work for fraction of the actual cost.
4)Collect enough materials so that they can engage their in house team to implement the work.

How to identify these people
1)They are not anxious to know the actual cost of the work and will not bring up the subject for the inital couple of meetings.
2)They won’t reveal their actual budget for the work in consideration.
3)They keep of giving indirect hints that they are a Treasure Island of the future.
Stay away from such people since their actual aim is to have the work done in a throw away price.

Igor Mateski

There’s another type, I just got rid of a few hours ago. It’s the type of client that wants to do some financial schemes of money laundering or who knows what. They’ll over-pay the project before you even lay out the project requirements, from various payees, and then ask if he can get that extra money on hand through your bank account. While most of the time clients are slow to part with their money, if you find a client that’s a bit too eager to pay and overpay, without even understanding the scope of the project, walk away. I had to make it clear that I’m in web development and SEO, not in the business of moving funds between countries, and I’m definitely not interested in lending money to a startup that doesn’t have a product, no website and no funding, even if the ROI is 50%. In all my years of work this is a first one. Lesson learned: never make decisions on the fly with a person who changes his story with every single phonecall. Hope my experience helps out the community here.


This is SO true! When I started out as a freelancer I said “Yes” to everything. That’s definitely not a good strategy. The key here is: Set healthy boundaries (read the bullet points under Summing Up again). Be up front. Don’t back down. If you’re setting the scope and terms of the service, including the “Value” you’re providing, most of these types of clients will either be weeded out, or in some cases, will be happy to have you help them set a clearer scope and objectives based on your expertise. And no matter what, always be nice! Even if you’re saying goodbye. That’s essentially what it means to be a professional.

Brent Harrison

Hey guys. Great article. I have recently had to change our process so i understand the pain. Your gonna work with these types of clients. The thing is, no matter which one you sign with, cya. Thats all you can do. If they dont do contracts with you, then run way. If they do not care enough about their business to follow a good work flow, then we don’t need it! Hope this helps

Lauren Perfors

I agree that those 5 types of clients are overly difficult to work with, and most of us probably have amusing stories (or current stresses) from working with each type, or worse, a combination!

However, I think we also need to recognize that none of us are perfect at communication skills either. While we are always (hopefully….) working to improve our own methods for communication and project management, especially those that are client-facing, our clients must also tolerate our individual or company’s imperfections, and pay us while doing so.

Marie-Brigitte Souci

I agree, though some clients have a very pleasant disposition it is necessary to weigh the pros and cons whether they are a good fit for both businesses and long term dealings.

Some clients end up becoming good friends but not good business partners.
Policies on our websites or verbally outlined is not enough, a soft or hard copy must be passed on to clients, and must be reinforced regularly.

If it does not work out, keep them as business, professional friends.


Excellent post. It takes a lot of courage to turn away clients. The more experience one has as a consultant however the easier it becomes to identify clients that should be turned away.

Sandy U

In reality , it really hard to categorize client too early ..because most of the things you discover when you are actually executing project…I may be good for notes but practically I believe every client has some of above characteristics..that doesnt mean not to work with them..sometime we also do mistake and couldnt understand them…yes! its difficult to explain and ask client to to agree on..especially for IT project…
I am not on client side!! but sometime good turns to bad…while worst become best!!!


This post is very real. I could speak of this from the perspective of my sales experience in small business. I had those who told me if I sold at a certain certain price they would buy in very large quantity later once the product moved fast. The product moved faster than I or they expected but they never did keep their promise. Always wanted just a single pack and AT THE VERY SAME PRICE, SOME EVEN LOWER. The calculation I made then was to let them try the product out at a compromised price and reap bigger later by selling wholesale. I should never have sold such minor quantities at a near wholesale rate. Learned the hard way. But how could one know the outcome in every case? Like it was said in the post, you may be tempted to do such in lean times because you want to sow and reap bountifully at a better time. Such moves I made only worked very, very rarely. However, the impact of the wrong decisions affected my bottom line. In the end I clearly tried to avoid such buyers the best I could and of course defined my price structure better. Thank God it paid off as I discovered that a buyer that does not boost your bottom line but rather eats into it should be forfeited most happily and quickly. I never regretted dropping the ‘canker worms’. Respectfully!

Benjamin Jones

Fantastic Blog!

Wish I had known this early on in my career.
It’s only taken me 3 years working with these people to learn that writing down your ideal client is one of the best ways to converting 95% of leads into paying customers. It is because if you are only approaching these clients you will both understand where each other is from the start and be able to maintain a close working relationship. The second thing is actually asking for payment up front. You will be surprised at how effective this can be especially based upon the rapport built through interaction with your ideal client.


Somewhat different issue:

This year, two clients have not provided the approvals and/or materials to complete their sites.

They have signed my proposal, paid deposits, and paid for “work to date” when it was clear the project was not moving (30 days with no client input). While I’ve been paid for my time, it’s frustrating not to be able to show these sites in my portfolio.

Any ideas on dealing these type of clients to help move the project along and make their sites live?

David Caffey

I’ve experienced persona no. 1 quite a bit. When the main focus of your campaign changes every month, it’s often pretty hard to deliver on anything. Just my two cents.

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