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How to Spot Trouble Clients

How to Spot Trouble Clients

For any creative, dealing with clients is a fact of life. Good ones come few and far between and the bad ones can really make life miserable. Not to mention put a dent in your wallet. So here are some things to look for so that you can spot bad clients before you start to work for them.

I’ll start off with my personal favorite.

They Designed Their Own Logo

Major red flag right there. As a creative you know how hard it is to let other people critique and revise your projects. It takes a few years in this field to develop tough skin.

Guaranteed your client is going to be sensitive about their work. Many times you can be dealing with an aspiring artist who believes they know how to design.

“I tried to do it myself. I just need someone to put my idea together…”

As an example, even if you are dealing with a turd logo, the client is still not going to let you change it and they may fight you on every little design choice you make. Even if the design the client made is terrible they will have an attachment that prevents them from being reasonable. Which effectively prevents you from doing your job.

From my experience, no matter how hard you try, these projects always turn out looking like crap. If you expect to get a portfolio piece out of these kinds of projects… it isn’t going to happen. But on the flip side if you really need the money, and don’t mind the headache, this may be a client to take on. Just remember to charge a little extra if you can.

They Want You to Finish a Half-Finished Project

Any time a potential client comes to you with a half finished project you should be leaning towards not taking the job. Listen very carefully to why they weren’t able to get the project done the first time.

If they badmouth their previous designer, don’t take the job. The only time I might consider taking a project like this is if they had gotten scammed somehow by a previous designer, who took their money and produced nothing. If they say that their previous designer just stopped working, there is probably a good reason why. Think about what it would take for you to quiet on a client. They would have to be a pretty bad client right?

Handles these cases with extreme caution. It could be a quick project for some decent cash, or you could be inheriting someone else’s nightmare.

They Don’t Want to Pay Upfront

Cut and dry. Never do work without getting paid first.

Money is no problem. I’ll pay you as soon as you’re done…”

make clients pay up front

Trouble With Past Designers

Similar to the one above. If they are coming to you because they were unhappy with their previous designer, I would suggest contacting that designer and ask how the relationship was. It can’t hurt and the worst thing that can happen is they hang up on you.

Client Contact Doesn’t Have Final Design Approval

This is one that can catch you off guard. You meet with a client contact and everything goes amazing. You communicate well, find out what they need and produce the work. The contact loves it but says they have to run it by their boss. Uh-oh. Bosses are notorious for being completely out-of-the-loop. Your contact might have emailed or even told them about the project but chances are they didn’t read the email and/or they didn’t listen, because that is what bosses do. But they still love making decisions (its why they get the big pay checks).

More than likely the boss will come back with some major changes. This is the time you have to be tough. Refer back to the contract and hope you put everything in there. Explain how long these changes will take and why they are a bad idea (in most cases they are). If they insist, and it is outside of the contract, then make sure to charge them accordingly. The client contact would have never gone over their given budget but the boss probably will, in order to be right.

Murky Deliverable Details

Getting deliverables in a timely manner is critical to finishing a project on time. Especially if you are a freelancer, you cannot afford to have a project go two extra weeks. So if the potential client who had to reschedule your meeting two times says they will be providing the content, be wary. If they are too busy to meet with you than they will be too busy to get you the deliverables you need.

This is another case where you better have a great contract ironed out. Put in place heavy monetary fees for delivering content or signing off on proofs late. Sometimes money is the only thing that will get people motivated.

Design by Committee

Sadly, many of the biggest projects end up being in this form.

“A camel is a horse designed by committee” or “Too many cooks in the kitchen”

When you take on large scale projects many times you have to deal with multiple client contacts. These contact often have competing ideas and don’t always communicate with each other, resulting in you being the intermediary. In these cases you have to weigh if the money from the job is worth the headache, because there is no good technique to deal with these situations.

design by committee

Flake Clients

These come in two forms. 1) They were told they need this project done by someone else but are really not sure about it. 2) They think they’ve come up with the next billion dollar idea. Which translates to, they haven’t done their homework and don’t really know what they want or need. Or they know what they want but it isn’t what they need.

“My Friend told me I need this done…”

With number one, they client may lose interest in the project or simply want something a lot simpler than they originally let you to believe. Client number two has unrealistic expectations about their business so they probably don’t have a good grasp on what they need for you. These types of people also tend to not have a lot of money but would be happy to work out a partnership… no thanks.

Flakes are best simply to avoid.

How to Protect Yourself

protect yourself from bad clients

Even knowing these signs you still have to protect yourself. Having a solid contract is an absolute essential for any job. I haven’t writen any posts about contract yet so here are some resources that can help you on your marry way.

Well there are a couple. I’m sure the ol’ Google machine can turn up some more useful information if you still need it.

Well I hope you found this post somewhat useful. And if you didn’t notice, this blog is pretty new, but has some good stuff. So take a look around, kick the tires some. If you like what you read spread the good word with your friends, subscribe to my Twitter or RSS feed, or leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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Couchable is a web design blog created by Tyler Herman. Not really updated anymore because I'm busy doing freelance design work and busy launching my little WordPress theme shop Real Theme Co. You can read a little more about my at my personal site