11 ways to spot a bad client (before it’s too late)

Clients are people too you know. Somewhere beneath that starched suit and industry jargon is a human being with actual feelings…just like you and me. They’re not necessarily bad people, but sometimes personalities simply don’t gel. This might lead to repercussions at work such as missed deadlines, failed targets, late payments and unnecessary levels of stress. It doesn’t have to be like this. Nip it in the bud right away, just say “no”. Here are a few ways to tell when a client might not be a good fit for you.  

1   They insult you

Some people are just mean. A few scoffs and a “Do you know what you’re doing?” should be all you need to say ‘sayonara’. Your expertise is clearly not being respected. The worst client might even use colourful language. If they’re turning the air blue now, imagine what they’ll be like when tough deadlines are looming.

2   Dissing previous contractors

Clients from hell may start by singing your praises. They’ll trash talk previous contractors and belittle their work, while bigging you up – they’re basically stroking your ego. Okay, maybe your predecessor was a nightmare. If you find the project really appealing, you could reach out to the other worker and see what really happened.

3   They text you on the weekend

An email now and again might be okay, but a text message? That implies they want an immediate response…and during Strictly? That’s a client red flag. In the beginning, try discussing office hours with specific times when you can be reached.

4   Asking for free sample work

Bad client stories usually begin with the uttering of those fateful words: “spec work”. That’s usually enough to send most contractors running for the hills. Sometimes sample work leads to interesting projects, long contracts and high pay. However, nothing’s stopping your client from doing a runner at the end of it…leaving you without work and out of pocket.

5   They don’t know the basics

Can your client answer basic questions like what their budget is, when the deadline is, or what they actually need from you? If yes, this one’s a goer. If no, this is usually a sign that they’re somewhat clueless or not serious about the work.

6   Lacking any direction

You know the kind – the ones with no definite requirements for the job. They constantly move the goal posts, changing requirements and terms along the way. Ask for clear and documented goals before you start the work or just tell them to jog on.

7   They’re a control freak

A client from hell is usually finicky. They like to micromanage your working hours and the technology that you use. They love meetings, at least one a day, and want you to document the most minute details. As you can probably imagine, this can be extremely exhausting and even lead to work burnout.

8   There’s radio silence

Alternatively, the client could be too hands off. You might end talking to a go-between or everyone else but the actual decision maker – that’s a client red flag. This can lead to crossed wires which could impact the quality of your work.

9   Your rates are questioned

There’s nothing wrong with negotiating your rate of pay. However, many bad client stories begin with bartering – this isn’t The Antiques Roadshow. If the clients repeatedly question your rates, arguing that they’re too high then they probably don’t value your time or skills.

10   They want the moon on a stick

You’re good at what you do, but you’re not a miracle worker. If it sounds like the client expects too much, by all means cut ties. Another way is to meet in the middle, set realistic expectations together and see what’s feasible in the given time.

11   Rushing you all the way

If a client wants a job done right, they need to wait or be willing to pay for it. They can’t expect you to drop everything else, including other clients, just to get their job done. Plus, you have standards and rushing work never ends well.

How to professionally break up with a client

If you come across any of these warning signs before a project starts, then it’s important to consider the long-term consequences. A bad customer can waste your time and energy; sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle.

So how do you deal with a bad client? If you’ve already started the job, then it’s always a little awkward to have that parting conversation – but it might not be as bad as you think. Check your contract and make sure you can legally break things off. Don’t leave a client in the lurch. Tie off any loose needs and finish the work that you agreed to do. Once that’s done, you’re free as bird.

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