How to Manage the Worst Clients Ever

No matter what the profession, most of us have to deal with clients and customers on a regular basis. While most of the interactions are pleasant, mutually beneficial and may even result in friendships, everyone has a client from hell story. If you don’t, you will one day. So what are the worst types of clients and how do you handle them from the start? 

The Only Client in the World
These clients think that the world, your industry and your job revolves around them. They will call you off hours, demand ridiculous amounts of your time, bombard you with “urgent” calls and expect you to go above and beyond the scope of work that was initially agreed upon. They may even realize that they are annoying, with every little change or additional work being “easy” and “quick” and “one last thing.” They may try to entice you with promises of referrals or repeat work. For this client, you must not be a pushover. Be clear that you have other clients as well that require your time, enforce strict office hours and avoid succumbing to their beck and call from the start so the same behaviour is not expected. To weed out these clients in the first place, it may be wise to put in place a project review request form on your website that asks clients questions concerning time requirements and project requirements and goals. 

The Penny Pincher
These clients expect the most amount of work for the least amount of money and will often try to cut corners with costs, pay invoices late and perpetually negotiate rates. The Penny Pinchers believe that, because they have paid a fee for one of your services or agreed upon services, they should be entitled to all of your time, including hours that are not billed back. This client may do things like ask for additional changes and alterations after approving the final work. Upon initial meeting, look out for clients who question your rates and try to negotiate them from the start. Let’s face it: times are tough and there is nothing wrong with a client telling you that what you have quoted is beyond their budget. But that is quite different than them undermining your services by telling you it shouldn’t cost so much. To avoid this, be very specific from the beginning and specify any rights in the contract, the types of services to be produced and what may require additional fees. Depending on your field, provide a job that they can modify or update on their own.  

The Houdini Client
For all the persistent, “urgent” need clients, the other extreme is the disappearing client. This is especially frustrating for jobs that are dependent on client communication for things like input, approval, materials and information. The worst are the clients who “conveniently” disappear when the invoice is due. What are the warning signs of this breed of client? Early on, gauge whether the client responds promptly to calls or emails or whether you have to wait and follow up with them for answers to questions. This may reveal what is in store and that they are too busy to commit themselves to the job. If you sense a potential problem (and perhaps even if you don’t) include a project schedule in your contract that specifically outlines deadlines for the client, complete with cancellation clauses and measures for assessing progress. Enforce strict measures on invoice deadlines. 

The Scatterbrain Client
The scatterbrain client can be summed up in two words: disorganized and flakey. They may miss meetings and phone calls, forget to bring key materials to meetings and over-promise and under-deliver. In some professions, to complete a project on time and on budget, both you and your client need to be organized, on the same page and able to communicate. To handle clients who may be disorganized from day one, make sure their tasks and project outlines are clear for the client and include a detailed timeline and perhaps even checklists. Make email reminders for meetings and set up shared online calendars and, if need be, check in with them from time to time to make sure all is on track. 

The Inappropriate Client
The inappropriate client may make inappropriate sexual advances, comment about their sex life or ask questions about yours, or inquires to your relationship status. They may also ask inappropriate questions about the inner workings of your company, or spill confidential information or company politics about their own company. Upon initial meeting, make sure professional boundaries are clearly defined by meeting in an office space or a members club, refraining from alcohol and keeping the conversation strictly business. Let the other know the time confines you are working in so that there is not an opportunity for the conversation to venture elsewhere. No matter how nice the other person is, a hug is never appropriate upon first meeting. A firm handshake will suffice just fine.