Not all clients are created equal. Some are dreams come true, and others can turn into nightmares. For other marketing folks and those who do web-related services, we probably have bumped into the same set of scary clients with unreal expectations, misinformation, tight budgets, poor practices, and all-around ignorance. And some of you may be the actual clients that make the rest of us cringe. So what are the client red flags to run from—or the behavior you should change if you want to do business better?
1. The customer who is always right
According to them, they know it all when it comes to content, social media, Internet marketing, SEO, or whatever it is they want to hire you for. They want to bring in a pro, but instead of deferring to your expertise, they are going to tell you how to do everything—and not budge an inch when you tell them their way goes against best practices or could be to their detriment. If it’s their way or the highway, you will surely be frustrated quickly by their inflexibility, and you will be frazzled by the time they fire you because their shitty strategy didn’t work…and it’s all your fault.
2. The customer with the big ideas and a small budget
Your potential client wants a new site with a cool blog, all sorts of social stuff built in, and custom graphics up the wazoo. They’ve shopped around and know how much this sort of thing costs, and they weren’t the least bit fazed when they realized their budget is half of the cheapest estimate they’ve found so far. Even if you think you’ve talked them down to something more modest, they probably won’t be happy until you deliver their dream for just pennies on the dollar.
3. The time traveler
The Internet constantly is changing and evolving, but some clients don’t seem to know that. They may have worked or trained in something web-related over a decade ago, but in their minds not more than a few days have passed. They may want to spend a bunch on banner ads, have a glitter background for their blog, or build their homepage with Flash. If they come to you with a highly outdated, ill-advised ask, try to talk them out of it first. If that doesn’t work, head for the hills, as they won’t understand why their cool “new” site isn’t a success—it must be something you did!
4. The negotiator
We all want to get a good deal, and you can’t really fault someone for asking for a discount now and again. But when someone is trying to challenge your prices around every corner, he or she may not just be budget-conscious—this client may not have very much money and may not be able to cover the invoice if a project takes a minute longer than he or she initially expected. And even if they are nickel-and-diming you just because they are cheap, is this something you really want to deal with?
5. The silent type
They contacted you, asked for an estimate, and told you that you were good to go. Once you’ve gotten started and asked for feedback, it takes days or weeks to get a response—meaning you are sitting on your hands and stalling their project (and your profits) while you wait. If someone’s communication lags out of the gate, you may want to pass on sending a proposal.
6. The social butterfly
Your client knows all the benefits of social media and they want you to do it up big for them. They think business will boom for them once they are really rocking Facebook, Twitter, and every other network their teenage kids talk about. However, their website, blog, and basic branding is all lacking, and they don’t want to do anything to bring it up to par. Sure, they can get a social following, but once visitors click over to their site and don’t convert to clients, can you guess whose fault that is? The same follows for someone obsessed with SEO, convinced they need lots of videos or anything else that will drive traffic to a deficient site.
7. The virus
“Viral” is sure a buzz-worthy word. Everyone wants their marketing to go viral, and if they hired you to make or promote something, their hope is you can make it happen. However, there are those who understand that the masses make stuff go viral, and there are those who think there is some magic ticket to making something go viral—and usually that is directly correlated to how much they pay you. If someone wants you to make something viral, you should make yourself scarce.
8. The student
You don’t expect your clients to be experts in the things they hired you for, because they hired you for a reason. But there are some clients who don’t seem to know about anything related to business. It’s one thing to educate them about what you do and related fields, but if you are a marketer and they are asking you questions about the basics on how to run their business, you should get out of there. If their lack of business acumen causes an issue, you might end up a scapegoat for all their issues.
9. The rule-maker
It’s your business, so you choose accepted forms of payment, billing, terms, and other policies and procedures that those who do business with you should expect. Now, if you are a vendor for a big business, you may have to play by their rules, but those contracts are generally lucrative enough that making these concessions is a pleasure. If a small client wants you to jump through hoops to do business with them, playing by their rules may not be worth your while.
10. The hurried customer
Everything has a tight timeline. Sure, they are excited about their new endeavor and want to get the show on the road, but an extensive responsive website in under a week is quite the tall order. Maybe they have no idea how long things take, are really impatient, or just procrastinated a lot. But does the reason really matter? Trying to meet their expectations will be nearly impossible, even though you may run yourself ragged trying to make them happy.
11. The perfectionist
They gave you only the vaguest of instructions, but they want whatever it is you do for them to meet their exacting standards. This would be so much easier if they would let you know what their standards and expectations are, but it seems like they are making them up as they go along. With infinite revisions, you better be billing by the hour—until they see their invoice, because you can almost guarantee they will wonder how you managed to burn through so many hours on their “easy” project.
12. The critic
Feedback is good—negative feedback on everything is not. Specific critiques are helpful, but the hypercritical client just tells you what he or she doesn’t like without telling you why. The list of things they don’t dig grows longer, and as more things end up on the “no” list, you realize they are making things up as they go along.
13. The borrower
There are a lot of folks who think the Internet is a free-for-all. They may want lots of slick images for their website, and thankfully they can find all the images they could ever want with Google—they just need those pesky watermarks cropped out. The same thing goes for text, as someone did such a good job explaining something, why would they reinvent the wheel when copy and paste exist!? You can explain to these folks what intellectual property is and what stealing is. Some will get it, but for others, it just won’t sink in or they won’t care one bit. If you work with someone who borrows liberally, your name could end up associated with a lawsuit. And even if they don’t get caught, it would seem that they don’t value other’s work greatly—and that could include yours.
14. The deal maker
You do what you do for money, and your client presumably does too. For some reason, they don’t want to pay you in money, however. While a trade can be beneficial, particularly between individuals, it gets tricky with businesses. You can’t quite enter a trade on a ledger, which is good for tax time, but it’s bad when it comes to tackling overhead or paying any of your team members who helped you on that client’s project.
15. The control freak
This client is a pro when it comes to micromanaging. They ask their team to copy them on every email—even if they don’t read those messages—and remind their employees to do every task well before the deadline. You can hear the control freak mumbling about how they have to do everything themselves if they want it done right, and they aren’t only talking about their employees when spouting off. According to them, they are the only capable one in the crowd, so they are pretty sure you are going to be incompetent too. Expect constant project updates, regular meetings, and slow progress since all the extra steps they require will slow you down substantially.
Other types of clients to avoid?
Did I forget any less-than-cool client archetypes? Please comment! And maybe even leave share some horror stories. #sorrynotsorry