(I want to preface with a note that this is NOT about any one client in particular- rather a gathering of personal experience and bloopers from fellow self-employables)
Coaches and consultants LOVE to preach about the almighty “perfect clients” and how they will help you know and get them.
And there is definitely a lot of branding work to build clarity around knowing how to position yourself to attract and choose your clients you’d basically want to be wine-night-Thursday friends with.
But, is everyone you ever encounter going to be your next happy hour date? Probably not.
Just like in real life (as opposed to… uh, internet life?), you might not click with EVERY one.
So while there is a lot good coach crack out there to tell you how to figure out the details of who your clients are, I want to talk about how to see the red flags of the bad seeds that will dodge their way in occasionally.
They can be sneaky lil’ bastards.
Bad clients come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They might be racing around with their hair on fire, pronouncing everything an emergency, or contacting you late at night on weekends to discuss insignificant matters. They might make your employees cry with their incessant rants, or they might just be a bad fit for your firm.
Here are Five indicators (that we really never talk about) of a potential bad-match client:
1. They drop something like …“I really wanted to work with/buy from _____, but I can’t afford them. So….hi you”.
I don’t think I need to expand much here, right? This is going to bite in a few more ways:
The obvious, because uh…ouch. They’ve already kind of peed on your work, respect-wise.
They are walking in the door only half wanting to be there with you.
You are now conscious of this fact, and it will affect the work/results/product you deliver.
A simple “Thanks so much for reaching out, but I feel you might be better off saving to hire _____” (<—-if you’re ballsy), or expressing you think you aren’t the best match for them and redirect them to a few other people instead will do. Don’t let it chaffe you.
You know that quote “We accept the love we think we deserve”? Surprise! It works in business, too.
So many times, you’ll mistake someone for a possible client when they’re really just trying to pick your brain for free advice or get you to solve their business problems for free. It was all done in the name of “testing you out.” Fortunately, this kind of behavior has been exposed enough that intelligent consultants can simply refuse to provide free work unless very precise conditions are met, such as getting significant publicity.
2. They constantly express worry, anxiousness (the not good kind) or doubt in both themselves and you (indirectly).
If you’re hearing things like “Ugh, I just am worried I won’t be able to explain myself enough so you GET IT” or a jungle of constant fretting like this little project IS DEPENDENT ON THE ENTIRE SUCCESS OF THEIR LIFE…back away slowly.
Can a good copywriter, designer, coach, architect, etc etc etc help get to the bottom and translate their actual wants? Sure. Help make decisions? Yup. But no matter what you do, if you have a very self-confused client who somewhere at the bottom of it all believes no one is going to actually give them what they want? You’re already screwed, because your job (usually) isn’t to be a mind reader or a feakin’ fairy with magic dust. The end result will always be in alignment with the mentality your client walked in the door with.
3. Nothing they says makes sense.
So, kind of playin’ off numero dos, if whether through email, intake processes, or phone chats…if they are ALL over the place with both their questions and answers, and you just feel like you aren’t even chipping away with a toothpick towards clarity..red freakin’ flag my friend. ALWAYS? No. OFTEN? Yes.
Bottom line: Do they already feel like a pain the the ass? Then they are. Avoid (unless helping pain in the ass people is your thing. Amen to you).
4. They keep asking for advice or help on things that are not your job.
This one is a toughy. You want to help your customers- truly. You never want to say something like “that’s really not part of my service” (but sometimes you gotta).
Because you always want for everyone to walk away happy, and naturally don’t want them to feel like you are trying to charge them or brush them off for every extra questions they ask.
But where is the line drawn?
Because you know what they say about giving the mouse a cookie. And what happens when that advice you give (that isn’t your responsibility to be advising on in this context anyways)…doesn’t work out for them and they are bummed/mad? Then keep coming back to you…and mention to a few friends they didn’t like that thing you recommended…and now you’ve got a wee bit of bad street cred on something that, really? Wasn’t your responsibility.
If you have someone who keeps trying to suck the teets that aren’t theirs for milking, simply explain you aren’t the best one to advise on that in this context of XYZ project, or direct them to another cow with better nipple tolerance.
5. Not paying on time
It’s nearly tough to detect a client who might be a thorn in your side when it comes to payment. Until you submit your invoice, they’ll be easy to work with and responsive. They suddenly cease responding to emails or returning phone calls, despite their repeated assurances that the check has been sent.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid this type of client, therefore you must protect yourself as much as possible from the start. Set out your payment terms clearly in your contract so that if a polite payment reminder fails, you can write a formal letter repeating your terms and conditions.
Some projects will allow you to request part or full payment up ahead, and if this is a reasonable option, I would advocate taking advantage of it. If payment is past due and you fear your client will not pay you, it’s time to look into how you can get what you’re owed.
Lastly, I’m just going to leave you with some woo: Intuition is a very real thing. I know you need the money, the experience, the work… but really? Your best work (even if all you are doing is selling a product to someone) comes with those you feel will truly appreciate it and are coming from a positive, realistic place.
The good news is that there are plenty of great clients out there, and the clearer you are on who your ideal client is, the more you pay attention to their reputation and the overall health of their business, and the better you get at reading between the lines, the better you’ll become at spotting them.
Remember: You choose your people, not the other way around.
(BONUS TIP: Build yourself an “out clause”. If before a project or service actually begins, write it into your contract that you have the ability to cancel the project for full refund. As well as a “kill fee” if you feel like a project needs to come to an early end if already in progress (usually comes with some kind of refund or relief of payments for the client)…no matter how small the project is. Sometimes parting ways is going to be the best for both of you).
TELL ME: Have you had clients or customers you just didn’t end up connecting with? Do you have any particular questions you ask someone when “screening” them (DO you even screen them?!) or ever had the cojones to tell someone, nah…sorry, we aren’t a good match?