Ok, I have a confession to make. Obviously, bad clients are a thing. I chose this title to get your attention. And it worked. You’re here, aren’t you? The title I should have chosen is If you do your job right, you should never have to deal with bad clients. But it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
I bet if I asked you to recount an experience with a bad client, it wouldn’t take you long to think of one. Heck, there are entire websites dedicated to stories of bad clients designers have had to endure. Be warned. Once you start reading the stories, it’s hard to stop.
Every designer has their own definition of what makes a bad client.
To some, it’s their personality. They’re demanding or obnoxious. “This is how I want you to do it” or “That’s not what I asked for. What’s wrong with you?” Or they’re too timid and uncommitting, never able to give a firm opinion. “I can’t decide. What do you think?”
Maybe it’s their inability to visualize. For example, “I have no idea what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” or “can you try it like this, and like this, and like this and perhaps like this so I can see what each way looks like?”
Bad clients also come in the form of people who reluctantly or flat out don’t pay. They don’t realize, or they don’t care, that as a freelancer or small business, you rely on every bit of income to make a living, and their refusal or tardiness in paying can drastically affect your way of life.
Then some clients want something for nothing. They assure you that the exposure you’ll get from working on their project will be more valuable than any sum of money you would charge them.
The list of bad clients continues with clients who change scope midway through a project. Some do it innocently, asking you to add on small extras, not thinking anything of it. “Can we add an extra page to the website that talks about all the philanthropic work we do?” And some do it not so innocently, trying to squeeze in extras without paying for them. "While you’re making the header for our website, can you also supply us copies to fit our Facebook Page, LinkedIn Profile, Twitter and YouTube headers? It’s a simple matter of resizing what you already have. It shouldn’t take you any time at all."
Don’t forget the clients who make strange demands. You know the “can you make the logo bigger?” type clients. Or those who expect too much “I searched for ‘car dealership’ and our brand new website isn’t showing up on the first page of Google, what are you going to do about it?”
Some clients think they know more about design than you do. Some clients wait until the last possible minute to supply the content you've been waiting months for and still expect the project to be delivered on time. And some clients are so disorganized that you don’t know how they’re still in business.
I could go on and on. There are no shortages of “bad clients.” However, there are ways you can minimize, if not eliminate, your interaction with this less than desirable clientele. It all comes down to experience.
When you first start in the design field, you will encounter bad clients. It’s inevitable. Call it an initiation or rite of passage.
Treat these bad clients as a learning experience. You have to experience bad clients to be able to spot bad clients.
Whenever you work with a bad client, make a mental note of what was undesirable about working with them. Then use that knowledge to help your future self. This could simply be adding a new clause to your contract or starting to use a contract if you’re very new. Or you could use that knowledge to spot the red flags and weed out potential bad clients before you start working with them.
If you find yourself working with the same type of bad clients over and over again, you’re doing something wrong. And that something wrong is not learning from your mistakes.
With enough experience and by putting that knowledge to use, you should be able to spot a bad client a mile away and steer clear of them.
Don’t get me wrong, not all clients who appear bad are actually bad. Some, and I would even hazard a guess that most are uneducated clients. That is, uneducated in the ways of working with a professional designer.
Many clients don’t understand what creative professionals do, and they don’t realize why their requests are so crazy. In these cases, instructing the client on how you operate can turn a potentially bad client into someone who is a pleasure to work with.
If you haven’t already, I suggest you listen to my seven-part Client Onboarding series. In my Client Onboarding series, I explain the entire process of acquiring a new client, explaining how you operate and laying the foundation for a strong and ongoing relationship with them. Following the steps I outlined in that series can help steer a client from the dark side and turn them into a great client.
When a client hires a designer, they have a goal in mind. But they don’t necessarily know how to reach that goal and sometimes not even what that goal is. That’s where you come in. Through proper communication and an understanding of their problems, the two of you together can set out on a plan to reach a solution.
Show the client you understand what they want, and let them know what you need to make it happen. Some clients will get it right away, and others will require a bit of handholding before they understand. Either way, you need to draw clear lines so that both parties know what they’re getting into.
Remember, most clients don’t think like a designer. They don’t have the same creative process you have. That puts you in the unique position to lead and educate them on a process that works and results in success for both of you.
In the end. Any client who lets you do your work, no matter how demanding, impolite or fussy they are, and who pays you fairly for the work you provide, is a good client.
Not every project can be creatively satisfying. Sometimes even the best clients give you boring and mundane projects, and there’s not much you can do about it. Unfortunately, that’s par for the course.
What you can do, however, is chose who you want to work with. Through acquired experience and knowledge gained over time, the day will come when you’ll be able to weed out and pass on the less desirable clients who approach you and identify those who need to be educated on how the process works. That should make what you do all the more satisfying.
Remember, the only truly “bad clients” are the ones you take on despite your better judgement. Trust your gut. It won't let you down.
Resource of the week Nested Pages.
Nested Pages is a simple and yet useful WordPress plugin that provides a simple and intuitive drag and drop interface for managing your page structure and post orders. It allows you to add multiple pages and posts to a site quickly. And, if you want, it can automatically generate a native WordPress menu that matches your page structure.