My Client from Hell: 5 Tips to Avoid Terrible Clients

Sometimes you can run into problematic clients that affect the creative process and can be a pain in the neck. Their constant change of ideas affects the time that you could be using on more profitable projects. We will give a few signs you can recognize in these terrible clients, and how to avoid them to improve your business strategy.


Often in the creative industry, we run into those undesirable clients that tend to be a designer’s nightmare. Once you are already engaged in an undesirable client’s project it is hard as a creative (If you are one who hates to leave things unfinished) to say no. So, the best strategy is to completely avoid them. There are simple ways to try to predict if the client is a good fit or not for your creative awesomeness. There are even ways to be able to accept these types of clients (especially when you are a freelancer in desperate need) and to ensure clear and precise expectations. So in case, everything goes south, as Mr.Trump would say, you can build that wall!


Here are some simple tips that can help any creative to assess and avoid a problematic client:


  • TRUST YOUR GUT! If your creative process starts when you get a new client with some sort of project assessment, design consultation or similar (and it should), make sure you read and listen to the signals unconsciously given by the client. If they don’t know what they want, but also present resistance to your initial ideas, or if they know exactly every detail of what they want but it is not what they need, that means they can be quite stubborn. The opposite case can also happen: the potential client loses attention easily and he/she likes everything about anything and shows up with a mountain of ‘‘examples’’ for you to follow. This means they will tend to be very distracted, changing their minds repeatedly, and can be quite difficult to manage. Every client is different and, in every case, you must pay attention to their overall personality and context to make the most accurate assessment.


  • BEWARE OF THE BARGAIN I assume that, as a creative professional, you offer competitive and fair prices according to your industry, experience, and expertise. If that is the case, a client who bargains for every dollar or makes statements undervaluing your work even before the project starts presents a red flag! This type of clients tends to make statements like ‘‘the cousin of my friend’s friend is great with Photoshop’’, ‘‘I went to (insert online freelancing site here) and the average price for this project online is (insert super cheap unrealistic price here), or ‘‘your professional portfolio would be gaining a great piece by working on my project’’. You should take into consideration the context and the particular situation of the client. For example, if the project is some pro-bono you might consider dropping down your prices a little bit, although it’s not the general case. You should avoid cheap deals with clients. In these situations, it will be better for you to let this project pass and trust they will come back to you later to honor your value.


  • DON’T BE AFRAID OF COMMITMENT Evaluate your client’s commitment. A lot of people decide to follow their entrepreneurial dreams while still maintaining a full-time job or whatever keeps them busy. Yes, everybody needs to pay their bills and not everybody can drop their entire life to focus on their dream but: beware! A client who thinks the project he/she is assigning you is what I call “a passion project’’ can be very unresponsive at times, whether it is a lack of time or commitment. This type of behavior could have a project open for months and you don’t want that on your plate. Having an open project for much longer than it should (especially if you charge per project and not per hour) can be a heavy weight on your mind and block you from thinking more creative ideas, or dedicating time to other clients/projects. Besides the dark cloud on your head, keep in mind these sorts of clients tend to feel entitled to randomly show up with requests and tasks at any given moment since they move at whatever pace their life allows them. Set concrete deadlines not only for you to deliver but also for the clients. A committed client is a good client. Don’t be afraid of commitment!


  • STOP WAITING Sometimes a potential client might have several reasons for not closing the deal on a given project right on the spot, and that is fine. However, as a creative, you need to set a grace period for waiting or to decide to move on. When a client is unsure about working with you it is usually because they don’t see the value of your work, and that is a dangerous thing. Give your potential clients some time to reflect on your proposal (idea, price, timeframe, etc.).  Time varies from project to project and from client to client (this is where you use your gut, check tip #1). If the client takes too long to close the deal, unless he/she has a very good viable reason, then they are a client that you don’t want anyway. Move on and focus on more concrete opportunities.


  • KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR CLIENTS The best way of learning is from previous experiences. Keep some sort of record about your past clients, write down their personality profile, or the situation, and evaluate if it was a good or a bad experience. Many times, you will find that people tend to repeat patterns. Keeping a record will help you to determine a better way to deal with a new client. If you see some not-so-ideal patterns repeating, then you already know how to handle it because you already did it before.


It is quite impossible to be able to read every single client properly and many times you will run into a problematic client no matter what. If you pay enough attention and listen to your gut, most of the time you will dodge a bullet. Consider these tips when engaging with new clients. The more you do, the better you will get at it.

Whether you are a creative or a client looking for guidance or services at Design106 we value every relationship so do not be afraid to drop a call ran email and tell us what is on your mind. Surely we will do our best to help.


Good luck!