Bad Clients: Man complaining about website on the phone

Bad Clients: How to Spot Red Flags from a Mile Away

We’ve all had regrettable projects with bad clients. You know the ones I’m talking about here. The one where the client was so awful that by the end, your blood would practically boil every time their name popped up in your inbox.

I for one am guilty of saying “yes” to clients even who I had a feeling were going to be bad clients. My gut instinct is almost always right with a few notable exceptions.

So here are some client red flags to practice spotting and tracking. These tips are especially helpful when you are selling 1 Day Websites but also apply when vetting prospects and scoping any project for your creative agency.

The Unrealistic Client

Red flag: Expectations Don’t Match Budget

This is probably the number one thing we see in prospects: people whose expectations don’t match their budget. If a client says their max budget is $2500 but then they come in with website example sites of Brené Brown or Facebook, this is a red flag.

It’s very common for people to think that because a website is easy to USE then it is also easy to BUILD. People who use phrases like “I just want a simple website” are subconsciously or intentionally doing this to start setting the tone for the budget conversation. They know that the opposite of simple is complex, and if it’s complex, it’s going to be expensive. Almost no one has ever said “I want a really complex website that is difficult to build.”

Sometimes the expectations vs. budget problem isn’t the website functionality but the content probably the design and branding that they admire.

They come in with a horrible logo they bought on Fiverr and photos they took in their garage (this actually happened to us!) and then they show you Taylor Swift’s website as the example of what they want their site to look like. They don’t want a new logo, and they scoff at the idea of paying for a branding package. They just want you to take the shit pile they gave you and magically make it look better. “Can’t you just Photoshop it?!”

There is almost no way the end result is going to look and feel like they want if they don’t invest in better brand assets.

The Picky Client

Red flag: Lots of Bad Experiences in the Past

We all know the horror stories of freelancers who dropped off the face of the planet and left a client high and dry. We have heard of shady SEO companies taking clients for all their worth and tricking them into paying an arm and a leg for no results or proof they actually did anything. These stories are real, and we’ve heard a thousand like them.

But sometimes a client has bad experiences because they are a super picky client.

If someone says they have run through a string of graphic designers and no one is able to design a logo they like, run away. This is often indicative of a person who is difficult to please or who can not explain what it is they want. Perhaps they are very wishy washy and can’t make a decision, or perhaps they are extremely opinionated and go through the world with a bad attitude complaining about everything. Avoid these clients if you can, and definitely avoid fix-price bids. The only way you should work with a person who gives off this vibe is hourly, where they can change their minds as many times as they want, and you can design something over and over again until they are happy.

The other picky clients might be perfectly great people but are the perfectionists and artsy fartsy folks. If anyone is self-described perfectionist, they are not a good candidate for a 1 Day Website. Also, look out for people who are artists, print designers or interior designers. These folks usually have an extremely high-end aesthetic and are used to being able to make things look exactly how they want in different mediums. They may not understand the limitations of web design, and you might struggle to meet their expectations, especially when you’re doing a website mockup in only a few hours and you’re customizing and existing theme. They may need a more custom website process and experience that is billed appropriately.

The High Maintenance Client

Red flag: A Crazy Amount of Communication and Questions During Sales Process

High-maintenance clients might also have a history of bad experiences with vendors. If you’re too high maintenance, your vendors might charge a PIA (Pain in the Ass) fee or just stop working with you altogether. Either way, a super high maintenance client likely won’t have great experiences with many companies.

You can spot a high-maintenance communicator by how many questions they ask during the sales process and how frequently they communicate. If you have sent them all your marketing materials and had a call or meeting about your process but they continue to try to clarify every single detail or make you repeat yourself, it’s possible they are going to be a royal pain in your ass.

The good news is with a 1 Day Website, you’re corralling most of that communication into a single day. But that means you need to be super clear up front about what happens after the site is launched. You don’t want this person text messaging you at 9pm with a “quick question.”

In fact, any time someone sends you an email or text like this: “Quick question, how can I get my website to pop up on the first page of Google?” it is an indication that they don’t value your time and think that a never-ending barrage of emails is their God-given right because they are buying something from you.

My favorite clients are the ones that start out an email like this: “I’m sorry to bug you and I know this might be extra and I’m happy to pay you for your time…” Those are the keepers!

The Shady Client

Red flag: Try to Get Out of Signing a Contract or Pay a Deposit

Sometimes people have legitimately been burned by a bad experience with a past vendor, and this can cause mistrust for future transactions and relationships.

But sometimes people are super shady and will try to get out of paying you even when you did everything you promised to do. If you come across a person who is very hesitant to sign a contract or pay you a deposit, this is a red flag.

It’s like one of my favorite 90s singer-songwriters Ben Folds said, “If you can’t trust, you can’t be trusted.”

Someone who doesn’t want to sign a contract might have a history of stiffing vendors. These folks are often be shocked when you tell them your prices, and they will try to talk you down on the price. They are also the people who tell you stories about hiring a shady SEO company that got them 10,000 backlinks for $99 so their off-brand Cialis website will rank higher on Google.

These clients likely were attracted to you because they thought a 1 Day Website would be “cheap and dirty.” They don’t appreciate the process or truly value your service and will make any excuse to get out of paying you the full amount. Don’t do business with these people! It’s unlikely either one of you will be happy with this relationship.

The Committee Client

Red flag: Too Many Stakeholders / Decision Makers

One of the ways we can build an awesome website in a single day is because we limit the process to organizations that have only a few decision makers, all of whom should participate in the 1 Day Website. The bigger the organization, the less feasible this is. The bigger the organization, the more scope creep there will be.

If a prospect has a board of directors, a website steering committee, a marketing team, sales people and a CEO who all who need to approve the website, they aren’t a good fit for a 1 Day Website.

These clients may be super juicy clients with big budgets (think Fortune 500 companies and large nonprofits). Awesome! Work with them in a different way, expecting that the project will take forever and have a million revisions. Or try to set up a retainer with them where you will work on a certain amount of hours every month, knowing the changes and feedback and evolution of the project will be never-ending.

The last thing you want to do is let a big client talk you into doing a 1 Day Website with only one or two people from their team and then find out a week later the CEO doesn’t like the new site. “Designing by committee” is an excellent way to make sure no one in the group is happy with the final result.

One of the greatest benefits of the 1 Day process is having the decision makers making decision in real time with rich discussions with your team of experts. This is how you get the buy in and ensure satisfaction. If someone is left out of that process, they think their job after the site is complete is to “critique” the website. In other words, they’ll send a huge list of changes like “I don’t like the photos on the site” or “the colors seem too bland.” In other words, the kinds of changes that require redesigning, rethinking or redoing major aspects of the site. I promise. This will happen every time!

If a big client does insist on a 1 Day process, do a 1 Day+ site, and try to keep pricing open ended in terms of what happens after the 1 Day. See if you can get away with charging hourly for all the addition / changes. Or if you have to do a fixed bid to get the gig, a good rule of thumb is to add $1,000 for each additional person involved!

The Emergency Client

Red flag: Need a New Website at the Last Minute

Because you are selling 1 Day Websites, you will for sure have people who drop by your office unexpectedly or call and ask if they can get a website tomorrow. No doubt they have some kind of extremely important event that’s happening tomorrow night that they need a website for.

Unless there is a really compelling reason for this (i.e. their website got hacked 10 minutes ago right before their biggest trade show), these people are surely going to be bad clients. Even if you were able to get them in last minute for a 1 Day Website, there is a bigger problem here. They aren’t going to be good clients if they can’t plan ahead or manage their time.

They will be the clients who you don’t hear from for months at a time, and then you’ll get an email at 4:45pm on a Friday afternoon with the “URGENT” subject line. Even though you weren’t the one who designed their logo, they won’t be able to find the file they need and they need to get something to the printer by the end of the day and can you please forward the file immediately to the printer?!!

Their emergencies become your emergencies, and they will cause you a lot of stress.

The Hail Mary Client

Red flag: People Who Are Going All-in on a Site

I have a hard time taking someone’s money (even when they have a legitimate website budget) if I know their “new business idea” isn’t going to work simply by the way they are going about it. Sadly, people who think they can just put a website on the internet and the money will come pouring in are not going to be successful. If someone is spending their entire budget (or God forbid, their entire life savings) on a website, it’s unlikely to work.

You know as well as I do that for a website or business to be successful, a client needs additional resources to drive traffic to the site and bring in clients and revenue. Especially if SEO is their top strategy, they need to understand that building a website won’t get them to the first page of Google.  Don’t let someone go get a business loan to buy a website from you if that’s all the money they have to spend on their business. If they don’t have a marketing and sales strategy of some kind, they’ll end up failing. Don’t let that be on your conscience!

Share Your Client Horror Stories

Share your worst client horror stories in the comments on our blog article! Get it out of your system! Just don’t use any actual companies or real names. We don’t want any libel suits, am I right?

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *