My friend is an excellent graphic designer. She really nails it when it comes to making images talk, and consistently delivers quality work.

But just like someone who chooses bad relationship after bad relationship; she seems to be stuck with awful client relationships. The current one being yet another client who micromanaged her work, constantly complaining about her rates, and whatnot. Basically being a… well, you know what.

Now, this was far from being the first time I heard her complain about “Clients from Hell”. Self-employed professionals encounter bad clients all the time. The problem is that they fail to see that there is only one people to blame here: themselves.

The First Interview

Have you ever been on a first date, and knew 10 minutes in that it was probably not what you expected? But you decided to stay even if the red flags were all over the place. Those nights hardly end up being something more than a regretful funny story, and never a second date.

Potential clients also come with their own set of Red Flags. And trust me, they show them early enough if you know how to ask the right questions and pay attention. Never underestimate your first interview: it’s the moment roles are defined in a business relationship.

Clients from Hell: the Cast

The Lowballer

Signature phrase: “I just want to know the price”

How to recognize them: This client seems innocent enough at first. After all, asking for the price is a valid question. But if you hear it in the first 10 minutes of the conversation -and constantly repeated afterwards-, you can be sure that this client is just hunting for the cheapest provider out there.

Characteristics: they want to save money no matter what. They are not interested in the value you can bring to their business, or the problems you can solve; their only goal is to spend as less as possible.

How to deal with them: be sure to focus your first interview on the value of your services. The price should be a no-brainer if you can successfully convey why working with you is the solution to a real problem or pain they have. People gladly pay for quality, but it’s your job to deliver that since the moment you exchange that first e-mail.

The Easy Peasy

Signature phrase: “it shouldn’t take you long, is very easy after all!”

How to recognize them: they seem to think that everything takes no more than a few minutes of your time. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a book, designing a logo, or creating a Facebook marketing campaign. After all, all you have to do is click on “create new” and that’s it, right?

Characteristics: their attitude comes from ignorance. And it’s ok, as professionals we need to understand that clients hire us because WE know how to do something. They may think it’s easy -even if it’s not- but is not their place to know how to do your job.

How to deal with them: a huge part of your time will be spent educating clients, and this is one of those situations. Try to explain to them what work goes behind the results they see, and why what something that may seem easy is usually not.

The Scope Crawler

Signature phrase: “Can you please do this little thing too?”

How to recognize them: this type of client will always ask for more than what you originally agreed to. It may seem like it’s not much at the beginning, but the truth is that they don’t respect your time or effort (otherwise they would also offer to re-discuss the price).

Characteristics: similar to the Lowball, they want to save money by asking for things that weren’t in the original contract. Sometimes it can come from a place of innocence and they ask without thinking that it’s outside the scope. Other times, is just the way they work with freelancers.

How to deal with them: re-negotiate your fees. More work means more $. And if they refuse, remember that “no” is a full sentence.

The I Need it for yesterday

Signature phrase: “Why are you not answering my 3am emails???”

How to recognize them: you know the type, the ones that expect you drop everything to cater to their every need. Everything is an emergency in their eyes. Constant emails, Skype chats, and phone calls. No respect for your time or your other projects. They want everything for Last Week, and you are already running behind schedule before you even sign the contract.

Characteristics: usually they are overwhelmed about everything going on in their business, and expect that you care as much as them. They don’t understand that you have a life other than be working on their project because well, they don’t either. They tend to project their insecurities in the work you make, hence why sometimes they can be so annoying.

How to deal with them: the key here is to manage expectations. Be sure not only to define the scope and deadline, but be sure to be the pro you are and stick to them. Place healthy boundaries including working hours, and an estimated project timeline. And if they decide not to respect that, stand your ground and don’t pick up the phone.

The Missing Person

Signature phrase: “…”

How to recognize them: they seem to be super involved in the process and then one day…puf! They are nowhere to be found. They don’t answer emails, phone calls, anything. They may disappear for weeks, or even years (true story).

Characteristics: sometimes the project falls through or gets canceled, and they just don’t know how to communicate it. They rather disappear than to face you and basically “fire you”. It may also be that they found someone else for the job, or that they just didn’t valued your professional relationship enough.

How to deal with them: sadly, is very hard to get ahold of someone who is actively ignoring you. The key is to work on prevention: be sure to charge a % of the full price upfront in case this happens.

Don’t be afraid to say “no”

It’s an awful common myth between self-employed people that you have to take absolutely every client that comes your way. Clients are not always right.

The real downside of working in projects with people that don’t respect you is not the bad experience that you have while working there. It’s that eventually it takes a toll on you, and before you know it you end up hating your business.

Saying “no” is healthy. Placing boundaries is healthy. Don’t be afraid to exercise your right to turn someone down, you won’t run out of work if you don’t take every client that comes knocking at your door.

Remember to focus on value, and be sure to communicate that to your clients. Everything else will come second place if you successfully establish a professional relationship with your customers.

At the end of the day, is all about taking responsibility. Remember that there are no bad clients, only professionals who decide to work with them


Have you dealt with clients from hell? Tell me in the comments!

 

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