October 16, 2012

15 Warning Signs Of A Problem Client

Let me preface this article by mentioning the vast majority of my clients whom I adore, whom have been a joy with which to work, and whom have been with me (usually) for years. Their work got me through the recession, when no one was hiring any designers or web developers, and all the local designers were scrambling for a handful of clients. I take care of my clients, and they take care of me. It’s a lovefest.

But then there are the clients I am not heartbroken to lose. Here is my list of the 15 warnings signs of a problem client.

  1. “I usually don’t like anything I see, so we may never get this project finished.” I’ve actually had a client say this to me. While his honesty was refreshing, uuummm, we didn’t last long.
  2. “I have no experience in the business I’m starting.” This client often needs much more education than someone already in the business. They tend to be very insecure and extremely focused on one way of doing things – a way that might not be the best way of doing things. I often find these people have not run a business before. One potential client was an older woman and her friend (I am an older woman) who were going to open a t-shirt printing business, and they had never done anything remotely graphic. I had to explain what the different graphic files were, and what “centered” text meant. They also handed me a logo created by elementary-aged grandchild to “clean up” and use.
  3. “I need this brochure designed and printed in 2 weeks for a conference.” Unrealistic expectations are crazy to work with. In this case, unless the brochure is going to be copied, I usually plan on two weeks for the printing alone, let alone design, review, design changes, and change reviews and sign off for the printer. They have a hard time hearing, “Then you should have started this brochure 3 weeks ago, at least. Can we talk about how to dial back what you need to get this done in time?”
  4. “The last 3 people I’ve hired to do this have been terrible!” Maybe the problem is not the last 3 people. Even if I hear that the last person was a big disappointment, I take it with a grain of salt, because I don’t know the whole story. When I was young and stupid, I used to think that if the last person was so awful, I would be the superhero designer coming in to save the project. Not so much, anymore, because chances are, a frequently disappointed client won’t like anything I produce, either, and they won’t like anything that anyone else comes up with.
  5. “This is what I require for my project – I think.” I’m so leery of doing Requests for Proposals (RFPs) or Requests for Quotes (RFQ) because the person putting together the requirements often doesn’t know what they’re asking for, like a counter for their website (seriously, no one does that anymore), or the legal requirements if they’re government funded. You put so. much. work. into one, and it wasn’t what they needed anyway. Some clients kind of have an idea of what they want, and then partway into the project, they change course, requiring a “Change of Scope” agreement or a new contract. Don’t get me wrong – many people I’ve talked to can be steered into a more cohesive direction with some judiciously worded questions. This is just a warning.
  6. “My directions to you are going to be cryptic, and I assume you’ll figure it out.” Unless you can crawl into this person’s head, or they’re open to many clarifying questions, move along.
  7. “This is what I want. Make it so. I don’t want to discuss anything else.” Unless they’re an advertising or marketing firm, or have experience in that, this one is likely to be a big problem. This kind also tends to hand you artwork from their small children to incorporate the corporate piece into what you’ll be building.
  8. “I’m sorry I haven’t responded to your phone call or email in a month. I’ve been so busy.” I have a clause in my contract saying that if the person is very busy, they might want to appoint someone authorized to make decisions or their project may be removed from my production schedule. I have two clients who are really lovely people, but I’ve been waiting 6 months for their web content. I’ve even offered to help them create it. They’ve paid nonrefundable deposits.…Their projects have been removed from my schedule, and I periodically remind them of their job. If you have someone with a tight deadline, impress upon him or her the dire consequences for their project if they don’t respond promptly with what you need to complete it.
  9. “I’m a programmer [or fill in the blank] myself and set everything up.” Then you find out they don’t know anything about the details of doing what you do. But they try to tell you how to do your job. If they do know, I’m happy to have a conversation and take their lead. If they don’t know, I sure wish they’d get out of my way and let me work. I’ll even explain to them in mind-numbing detail what I’m doing and why, if they’d like. On the clock.
  10. “I know every project of mine has been a rush, and this project is a rush too! Can you squeeze my job in?” I don’t mind the occasional rush job, and won’t even charge a rush charge, but if every job is a rush, my other clients are not going to appreciate it if I keep putting this client’s jobs to the head of the line.
  11. “I don’t have much of a budget on this, and your price is too high.” And then they try to bargain you down, sometimes even with the promise of a bunch of work later. Run away, run away. If you have a history with each other, maybe negotiate. I’ll recommend the local art school’s students if they want something that cheap.
  12. “You are going to get direction from me and another person in the organization.” Except you end up answering to 3 or 4 and the secretary, and you get asked to changed things back and forth.
  13. “I’ll trust your judgment.” No, they won’t. Be extra careful to have them sign off of everything.
  14. “I’ll take care of you.” They never do. Unless someone who has been with you for a while says this; then they always do.
  15. “This will be easy [or quick].” No, it won’t be.

There is no such thing as a perfect client, and there’s no such thing as a perfect designer (see my next blog post) – including me, but in 40+ years, I’ve made many mental notes on “What have I learned from this horrible experience?” I have a fairly comprehensive contract (that’s another blog post), but there’s just not enough paper in the world to protect against everything that can come up. Communicate, state and restate your expectations in a loving tone, and make sure you work with a net (your contract).

Image Credit: Photos.com

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