5 Telltale Signs Of A Terrible Client

April 12, 2017

As a constant reader of Excellence Expected, you know how much I advocate the notion of keeping bad money out of your business.

But it’s not that easy, is it.

After all, if someone was to give us £10k extra for a job that we didn't want to do, we'd still consider it.

Of course we would.

There's no sense in pretending otherwise, especially during the first couple of years. Cash flow is so very important and that's the reason that bad money can seep into our business.

The key thing to remember that we’re all going to do it, or have done it.

Our job is to mitigate the effect that bad money has on our long-term and in particular, we owe it to our business to make sure that we build upon a solid bedrock of quality revenue, sustainable relationships and ultimately, we owe it to ourselves to build a business that we’re happy working on.

One of the most infectious sources of bad money through any business is the bad money that comes via the wrong type of client.

The funny thing with bad clients though is that they typically come dressed in nice clothes, saying all the right words and with big promises.

And sure, for a while, all stays sunny. But then something happens that typically causes that client to throw their toys out of their pram, stamp their feet and think that the only way around it is to either send a 240,000 word email that you won't read anyway or to start becoming mean and nasty.

Sound harsh?

Believe me, it happens.

But why does it happen?

Simple, those right words and promises only stay like that if the client gets exactly what they think that they’re deserving of.

Sounds fine, right?

Here’s the kicker: what they feel that they deserve is typically 500% of what you’re getting paid for and 900% of what you actually agreed.

The effects of this? Simple: you sell out. You begin thinking to yourself:

“Just think of the money.”

But think about this first, did you really set your business up just for the money?

No, of course not.

The 5 Telltale Signs of a Terrible Client

Here are five things that, individually, can be managed but that when compounded, will bring with them heartache, worry and frankly not enough money to be worth anything to you.

1: Everything is urgent

Let’s be honest, sometimes things really are urgent. And a lot of the time, because it’s nice to be nice, we can rearrange things to get something done for a client.

Life simply does happen, of course it does.

But trends begin to appear with a bad client. Everything is urgent, everything must be done “right now” otherwise it’ll cause [insert catastrophic, out of proportion result of it not getting done] and ”I’ll have to find someone else”.

This does happen all too often and it’s alright to deal with it every now and then, but remember: client relationships are not master/servant relationships, they’re partnerships through and through.

At least the right ones are.

And the right partners not only understand that you aren’t their servant, just because they’re paying you (read: buying a limited amount of your hard earned expertise that they need) and that you have a life to live, but they also understand that other clients exist, that lead times may exist and that production schedules exist.

What’s worse though is when clients project that it’s you doing something wrong by not dropping everything for them and then being surprised when they may have to pay for something expediting.

When was the last time that you DIDN’T pay extra for same day delivery on something?


2: Not respecting that money is involved

Regardless of what we say, money matters more than most things in business. I mean, you simply aren’t a business without it.

It’s that simple.

So why do people forget that?

Worse, why don’t they respect it?

There are so many different versions of this lack of respect that I’m sure you’ll come across at least one of them within one week of your first business.

  • Too much negotiation. Don’t get me wrong, negotiating is part of the game, and it’s fine. But there becomes a point where it is startlingly clear that the client doesn’t value the job, they just want it done cheaply.
  • Creating their own payment terms. If your terms are 7 days and they take net 60 to pay, well, just… well.
  • Dictating what they think the price should be. So this happens, really it does. I’m as shocked as you are. Let’s be clear: at no point is it OK for a client to tell you a) what your time is worth, and b) how to do the thing that they can’t do, which caused them to hire you.
  • Do it for me cheaper just this once, because I know there’ll be more work for you later.” Ok here’s a funny one. Sometimes this is actually true, but the moment that you’re tempted by it, build something a little differently into the deal: charge the client the full price for this job, and discount their next job if it materialises. Wheat and chaff. Wheat. And. Chaff.
  • Disputing the agreed price after completion, even when you over deliver. The cheek, right? This is when bad clients feel like they hold the power over you. It’s up to you to create payment terms that are fair and amicable for everyone, yourself included.

Combined with point #1, any of the above becomes a clear game changer if it becomes a trend.


3: Promises, promises, promises

I briefly touched upon this in the last point, insofar as bad clients are always promising more work “if you just ‘sort me out’ on this one”.

Here’s a thing: good clients don’t do that.


Because they’re as keen to see what you can really do when paid fairly, as you are to show them what you can do when you have the time and investment balance right.

Remember, good clients are here for the relationship, bad clients are here for the job.

Work is just work. You should stand a good chance of being considered for the next job based on what you deliver, not on how much you charge.

Remember this because in the early days, bad clients swoop like vultures ready to prey on the cash-needy new businesses that are hungry for cash and unwilling, or at least finding it harder, to say no.

But promises of new work aren’t the only promises that bad clients make.

Promises of prompt payment of overdue invoices, promises of delivery of assets that you need from them, promises of all sorts or “benefits” of working with them.

You get the picture.

The bottom line is, promises do not equal cash flow. Be wary.

4: Not living up to their side of the bargain

I mentioned above that the best client relationships are viewed and respected as partnerships by everyone involved.

Well, partnerships require some give and some take. From everyone.

The challenge with bad clients is that their version of “give” is usually late, not right or rushed.

And the challenge that stems from that is that where a good client understands the impact this has on the final product, a bad client doesn’t.

Bad clients still want the deliverables on the original schedule, despite them delaying the project and usually, your billable dates.

And usually, they’ll not even understand what the problem is, because if we miss the deadline that we both agreed to, then [insert catastrophic, out of proportion result of it not getting done].

This is a HUGE cause of stress for you, as it can really pile on the pressure and is based on something that frankly, is totally out of your control.

Again, things do happen. Real life does get in the way at times, but if this becomes a regular occurrence that really affects the cashflow/happiness within your business, then you need to have an open and frank chat with your client to discuss the effect that it has, and how to rectify it before it’s too late.

Because if you don’t, you’ll start resenting the client. And from there, it’s a slippery slope.

5: Slating other people/past suppliers and moving around a lot

“My last guy was terrible, he really let me down towards the end.”

Honestly – that’s probably because of the “last guy” recognising one or more of the points above and not being able to resolve it.

If a client walks in and starts slating a previous partner, or supplier, ask yourself why.

Don’t simply dive in with a

“Oh, you SO don't need to worry about that with us, heck no!”

Think a little more clearly and don’t be swayed by the promises and excitement of a new client.

Rather than simply letting this wash over you, consider enquiring about the last project that was worked on with the prospect’s last partner; ask for specific behaviour that the prospect had particular issue with; be really clear on what values the prospect looks for when “selecting” a new partner; let the prospect know early what your values are and what you will and won’t “stand for”.

Simply put: make sure it’s the right fit.

You simply do not have the time for bad clients. Really.

That’s the real truth right there, bad clients are simply a drain on your time.

But, proceed with caution: you owe it to yourself and to your prospects to give everyone a fair chance and to assess each of the points above honestly and with a degree of effort.

Most people make great clients, and demand far less of your time than the bad ones do, all whilst being willing to pay fairly for that time and your expertise.

So really get to know your prospects before trading with them. That little bit of effort will be noticed by the good ones and repaid by avoiding the bad ones.

What experiences have you had with bad clients? Let the group know!

Don’t forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel.

Mark Asquith

That British podcast guy, Mark is co-founder of Captivate.fm, the world's only growth-oriented podcast host. A Harvard, TEDx, Podcast Movement and Podfest speaker (amongst many more!), he's a wildly approachable Brit and Star Wars/DC Comics geek.

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