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Clients from Hell: How to spot ‘em & how to deal

Updated: Aug 18, 2019

Chances are if you’re in any service-based industry you’ve had the wonderful experience of dealing with the client or customer from the 9th level of hell.

Now I’m not referring to a demanding client or one that may or may not think the earth is flat, but the truly hideous and always time-consuming clients that ask for your guidance and then proceed to second guess and jackknife it throughout the process. The kind that have you create 1,001 iterations of their logo to land back on the first one you did. The clients that tell you to take the wheel and then reach from the backseat and whip you right off the bridge. Those clients.

So in a perfect world we would see them coming a mile away. With a big red, pulsating warning symbol overhead. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a Grand Theft Auto game and sometimes, even against our better instincts, bills still need to be paid.

However, if you’re mindful of your surroundings you can avoid some potentially life altering clients. So here we go:

One really big, in the face, stepping on your pressure points sign is this: they will come at you by unabashedly going after the “last designer.” Like a bad first date that continually talks about their ex, this is a sure fire sign that this person may be a lunatic and not the best fit for you. They’ve got an ax to grind and more likely than not, it’ll be on your nose. There are a few circumstances that I’ve encountered that aren’t like walking into a nightmare, but it’s pretty rare.

Another pretty on point sign is whether or not they know what they want. Seems pretty standard, I know. But indecision is a time suck. Literally. Because while these clients don’t really have an idea of what they want, they will indelibly know it’s not anything you will create.

And thirdly, they wanna chat. All. The. Time. Now, I’m game for a good chin wag. I‘ve got the gift of gab and I’m not afraid to use it and a lot can be sussed out in a nice chat to kick things off. BUT these clients want to talk about everything. And it’s not just details, it’s everything. They will call you to schedule a chat to go over the next round of edits. Instead of merely texting or emailing what they’d like to change, they’ll want a call. A billion calls, to be exact. And when you don’t answer their call the first time? They’ll leave you with a lovely, threatening voicemail. “Kate, I really don’t know what’s going on. It’s 3:30 am on Thursday and I can’t get a hold of you. Please advise.” I wish I was kidding.

So, you’re nodding and feeling it. I can tell. But hey, money is money and bills don’t care if you can handle crappy clients, so what to do? Well, if the client is unavoidable or, ahem, well-paying there are some tips I like to use to make sure I’m not getting yanked around.

1. Set your operation hours ahead of time. And make them realistic to life. When I first started I thought it would be more convenient to my clients to say “open 24 hrs.” Thinking, like a blind wombat that no one would call me at 3 am to go over their logo edits. Pahahahahahaaa! Rule one: never assume the sanity you have is the sanity everyone else shares. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb for life in general, really. So set your operating hours wisely. They will be used.

2. Let your clients know straight away what your estimated completion date is. Make it realistic and make it fair. And pad a bit beyond what you can do. This will allow them to have your timeline in mind and may take some of the pressure off.

3. Have a consultation chat. You can learn a lot from a short 20-30 minute conversation and it will allow you to gauge your willingness to work with them and also gauge how much you should charge. If you’re getting the heebie jeebies at all but need the cash, raise the rate. Your gut never lies. Unless it’s telling you to eat that third Cadbury Creme Egg. Then it’s a bastard and it’s lying.

4. Don’t oversell what you can do. I’m terrible with this as I really love to help my clients as much as possible but sometimes, promising the moon only gets you left in the dark. Don’t do that. Hold your poker hand a little and feel out what they need/want and let them know how you can help but don’t overhype anything or grant wishes. You’re not Will Smith.

5. Don’t be afraid to hold your worth. I’ve thrown the “you hired me to ... so let me do it” bit out there more than I can say. It’s a 50/50 response you get back but at least it’s out there. They need your help and you’re trying to do the best you can for them. So let them know it. With authority.

6. Fake your own death. Make it believable like being mauled by a koala. Something that will really make them take pause. Have your assistant send the email and maybe you’ll be home free. Maybe.

Hopefully, this helps a little and can avert any real disasters that lay out there but don’t worry... clients from hell are few and far between and make the awesome clients shine that much more.

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