12 Things You Should Never Say to a Client

\Most people in business will attest to having some clients that are completely awesome, and some clients that just plain stink. With the wide variety of people out there, it seems like this is a fact of life.

But is it?

The way that you talk with your clients can heavily influence their attitude and respect towards you. If you use the right language, and avoid talking yourself into a trap, it’s not too difficult to rid yourself of bad clients forever.

With that lofty goal in mind, here are 12 things you should never say to a client:

1. “We offer everything you could possibly need”

It’s tempting to try to please potential clients by offering everything under the sun, but this rarely works out well. Chances are that your client will see right through the charade and loose trust in you. Or worse, they’ll buy something you never actually wanted to sell.

It’s much better to offer a specific selection of services related to your expertise. You can expand that selection by outsourcing to other freelancers, but you should aim to be very confident in every product you offer.

2. “Okay, I’ll lower my price to $xx.xx”

Many of the people you come across will try to negotiate a lower price. In some rare instances, this can be okay, but for the most part it is better to offer a fixed price and stick with it. When you lower your price you are almost acknowledging that you aren’t worth what you originally asked for — and that’s not good.

Sticking to your original price shows clients that you are confident in what you offer — and typically you’ll be more respected because of it. Not to mention, you’ll be happier with the project and probably do better work too.

3. “Sure, take as long as you need with payment”

Almost every one of us has been in a position of financial difficulty at some point, so it is very difficult not to empathize with people in the same situation. That being said, you still shouldn’t slide on your payment dates.

If a client hires you for something, they should be prepared to pay you on time. It’s not fair to you if they don’t, and it shows them that it is an acceptable practice, which it isn’t. Of course, you should evaluate your specific situation before deciding exactly what to do.

4. “Yea, we can include that in the project”

One of the most popular past-times of bad clients is the “feature creep” or “expanding scope” game. The object of the game is to get the best deal by slowly adding in little requests and new features to an existing project. If you play along, even a little, chances are you’re going to be ripped off by a client who probably got a bargain in the first place.

The key to winning this game (well, being fair, actually) is to expand on the above line and say “Okay, we can include that in the project. The additional cost will be $xx.xx” This way you are offering to help the client, while at the same time being fair to yourself.

5. “That won’t take long, I’ll do it for free”

The situation behind this line is similar to the one above. A client is basically looking to take advantage of you by asking for a small little favor.

Sometimes you’ll want to do little favors for your clients, but in most cases you should offer to do it in return for payment. The hassle of sending out a tiny bill is well worth the peace of mind you’ll get by having a client who actually thinks before sending ‘favors’ your way.

6. “Sorry, we don’t do that”

While you should never tell a client you can do everything, you should also never flatly tell them you can’t do something. Instead, make a recommendation for another firm, or tell them you’ll see if you can find someone who can do it.

This practice helps out everyone. Other freelancers get more business, your client gets the services they need, and it also makes you more helpful to your client. It’s a win-win-win situation :-)

7. “One time, I had this client who…”

Believe it or not, there are a lot of business people who tell stories about their crappy clients — to their current clients. If this is something you have the tendency to do, you should work hard to stop quickly.

Telling horror stories about old clients only serves to make other people nervous and you look bad. Your clients will wonder why they are working with you, and it is possible they will even get offended at something you say (if they agree with your old client).

8. “Of course, you can call me any time”

Always specify your business hours! One of the worst situations is when a client starts calling you at night or during the weekend — it can drain your time and rapidly accelerate burnout or frustration.

Luckily, there is an easy fix. Always specify exactly when clients can call you, and never answer client calls outside of that window. Your clients will quickly learn your hours and probably even respect you more because of them.

9. “I really need this project”

It’s something about human nature — everyone wants to get the best deal. If you tell a client that you really need more work from them, they are probably going to exploit that fact and you’ll end up at the wrong end of a bad project.

Even if you’re really desperate for work, it’s usually better not to show your clients and prospects. What you can do instead is lower your prices a carefully determined amount before hand and then go out and sell to clients/prospects.

10. “You should do it my way, I’m the expert”

As tempting as it is to remind people that they hired you, and you know best, it simply isn’t good business practice. Instead of telling them they can’t have it their way, try offer a new suggestion along with a reason why you think it is better.

If the client still doesn’t agree, do it there way. If it is something you just can’t do, give them an exact reason why and do it as politely as possible.

11. “It’s not my fault, you didn’t _______”

Even if a client is at fault for a project getting derailed, don’t throw blame around. It’s much better to simply inform them that what’s done is done and on the next project you can both move things along faster.

If a client starts getting angry, calmly remind them that you explained the process before starting (you did explain it to them, didn’t you?), and that you stayed within your allotted time. Unfortunately, there’s not much else you can do.

12. “I can finish that as soon as you want”

Never set yourself up for this trap. As soon as you say you can do something as fast as the client needs it, they will not only set a ridiculously aggressive schedule, but they’ll also expect you to work at that pace 100% of the time.

It’s much better to give them a realistic time frame, even if it seems way too long. Not only will it help you stay sane, but you then have the opportunity to finish ahead of schedule and exceed their expectations.

In the end, it comes down to standing your ground and being fair to both you and your client. Even though some may not like it at first, sticking to your principles will ensure a much better client relationship over the long run.

So, have you used any of these lines before? What was the result?


  1. says

    This is an excellent post. I’ve made some of these mistakes in the past, I’ll admit. I can now say with assurance that some of them will never be made again. ;)

    I see freelancers complaining about their clients with unnerving frequency on Twitter. That must be some people’s idea of social media marketing, I guess.

  2. says

    When I saw this post come up on Twitter I came straight over to make sure that I had never done any of these, the sad fact is that I have, complaining about old clients is something I think a lot of people do including me in the past, nowadays not so much because I don’t really have problems anymore.

    If I cant do something that is an integral part to a project I will tell the client that that is the case and I can outsource it or they can reassess whether they want me to do it. If it is just a small thing I will learn it, I have learnt a lot more by taking on contracts that had little things that I couldn’t do and did a bit of googling and was able to do it. For example, the other day I had a client that needed SIFR implemented onto a wordpress template, I looked at the documentation and was overwhealmed, I then said that I could do it, sat down and learnt it and now I am having clients who want to use specific fonts and I am able to give them advice on this technique and it gives them confidence in me because I know what I am talking about.

    “So, have you used any of these lines before? What was the result?”
    I don’t think I have ever lost a contract over it. If I say I am going to do something, I will even if it means that I am spending 10 times longer than I set for it.

  3. says

    I have to disagree somewhat with point 2. If you’re smart – you can get a lot of business for the price you want with ‘Okay, I’ll lower my price to $xx.xx’. If you’re smart with the way you go about selling your product/service then here’s something you can do.

    Go in to a quote with some leeway – work out your costs and your desired profit and add something like 10% to it. When you bring your quote to the client, present them first with the features of the work first and why it is going to benefit them. This way you have their attention and you are selling the features first. The price (their investment in the project) will be shown to them last – after you have convinced them why your product/service is worth using.

    Upon presenting the final investment (don’t tell them it’s a ‘price’ – because it really is an investment for their business as it should bring them business) & try and close the deal.

    Take a calculator to the meeting. If they have are stuck with the investment needed that’s okay, because you have already prepared for that. Take out your calculator, do a couple of ‘sums’ (you already know you’ll give them up to 10% off) and present a second number to them (within your 10% range). If you’re doing this via email you can just send an interim email of ‘I’ll see what I can do’ and then wait an hour or two before replying again.

    This way you are in control of your value a lot more. Once presented with the second number this is an opportunity for you to close the deal with a discount AND the price you wanted in the first place. It can be tricky – some people are just cheap, and you are (as the original article says) worth what you ask for so don’t go below your pre-determined hourly rate/project rate. If the client never wanted a discount and they take the original amount then more for you!

    Hopefully if you have presented good value to the client (value isn’t the price) then they will be happy to go with you and you can begin the project. It doesn’t always work – but you don’t want to go lower than you’re worth.

  4. says

    @Michael — It’s actually really tough not to do. Sharing war stories is something that a lot of business people do, and it can be very difficult not to let that slide into conversations with clients. Even as aware of it as I am, I’ve still caught myself a few times.

    @Santos — You’re very welcome :-)

    @Simon — Learning through projects is definitely an integral part of being a freelancer, the important thing is to know where to draw the line. I know this one guy in my area who will try to sell just about anything to clients, and as result he’s lost a lot of respect in the community. On the other hand many people very successfully take on projects with new aspects all the time.

    @Andrew — You’re definitely right, as a marketing professional I can tell you that many people use that tactic with some amazing results. Personally, I like the fixed price ‘this-is-what-it-costs’ method of selling, and I think it is catching on more and more. The reason that I usually recommend it to most freelancers is because of the valuation that I spoke about earlier. If you demand respect from your clients from the start, they tend to continue with it throughout your relationship. Of course, it does depend on your business, your personality, and your situation. Have you tried offering a fixed price and not budging?

    Thanks for all of the awesome comments everyone!

  5. says

    Great points… I also unfortunately had to learn a few of these the hard way. #3 is a big one… I now make sure to get a payment installment every week or two for longer projects, and never put in more hours than I am willing to lose before getting paid… a client’s business can suddenly go under before you finish a project.

    Another one: If you are working off of collateral that already exists (such as a re-branding project) Never tell a client that what they currently have is “terrible,” even if it is. They were clearly attached to it at some point, or they made it themselves. Instead, ask what they like, and what they don’t like about what they currently have, at which point you can re-enforce the points they bring up.

  6. says

    Oh Man, Zeke, I can’t believe I missed that one!

    At the beginning of one of my first projects I made the mistake of insulting an existing design, and boy did I regret it. The client got very defensive and told me about how they weren’t a professional but they did put a lot of effort into it, etc… Needless to say I apologized profusely, but the relationship just wasn’t the same after that.

  7. says

    Hey Mason, I think you’re right too – some good stuff to think about and definitely the fixed price model works very well too. I can pick and choose who I want as the web is very much an enabler of choice for my company (doing web design and all). So fixed price isn’t a bad thing at all.

    For many of our products we don’t budge – for some we might. Things like domain names, hosting and lower priced products where my costs are fairly fixed then budging isn’t an option. You pay the price or go elsewhere.

    Other products like a complete website, e-commerce/whatever I often find there can be some to move initially – it really can depend on the day, client and product. There’s always the choice to use one or the other.

    I’ve got to say too – if you want respect, talking less can often just be one of the most powerful things to do. ;)

  8. three says

    a lot of this is bullsh*t. just because you don’t like some of the extra work, doesn’t mean it is smart to avoid it.

    for example, i help start ups on their projects…and in case I would make business hrs for them to call me, they would chose another agency.
    …and those start ups sometimes can’t pay right away, but from my experience they ALL pay sooner or later and then remember who wasnt putting pressure on them.

    so…i am sorry to say, but i do not agree with one single point of this blogpost.
    i am head of a small software company from europe and we do not hire people like you because of their geek attitude.

  9. says

    Well, I read this, and find myself disagreeing heavily on several points:

    # 2: Lowering your prices in exchange for profit sharing and/or references can pay off in huge ways if approached correctly. Here are a few examples:
    – Clients running affiliate/ecommerce websites: Certain types of affiliate sites are almost sure fire successes. Many times you’ll run into clients with good niche knowledge/products and a good domain name, but with not enough money to pay you top dollar, and not enough experience to implement a solid plan. Partnering with these clients and taking charge of the project can be very rewarding if you: A. Stick to niche products/services B. Get paid enough to cover your costs at least C. Establish a plan for long tail revenue
    – A lot of clients have money but can’t justify paying you what seems like an obscene amount. Consider that acquiring clients nearly always costs you money, and offer reduced work rates in exchange for successful referrals – I tell my clients that for every $1 a referral spends with me, I’ll know 50 cents off their invoice.

    #3: Many times I find that being flexible at first with client payments allows you to gauge what kind of client they will be – and whether or not you should put more energy into strengthening that relationship. This also shows that you don’t NEED their money right away…you’re doing well enough that you can wait a while for a check. While this may result in you waiting a few months for payment at times – strangely enough it makes many clients think you’re worthy of much bigger payments.

    #5: I use this tactic often to help build trust – as long as you know the true value of what you’re giving away, and you don’t give away anything too valuable, you shouldn’t run into problems.

    #6: If you don’t have the experience to complete something or recommend another firm, you should ABSOLUTELY tell a client, “Sorry, I don’t do that.”

    #7: You should ALWAYS use past experiences, positive and negative, to set parameters and expectations for projects with new clients. EVERYBODY has bad and good business dealings, and your clients know that right off the bat. If you’re honest and up front, and connect experience meaningfully to relevant situations, you will earn the respect and trust of your clients, and they will view you as a consummate professional.

    #8: While I do agree to this with some extent, I’m a firm believer in befriending clients. Being on more personal terms with your clients will lead to a mutual feeling of responsibility. If you want your clients to ALWAYS call you with any new business idea, if you want your clients to NEVER question the advice you give them, if you want your clients to CONFIDE in you their true thoughts and objectives, then you will pick up the phone day or night. When you’ve got things going on, and can’t talk, pick up and let them know. They’ll do the same for you.

    #10: Clients don’t hire you to be obsequious, they hire you to do your job. Clients don’t want to be coddled, and they don’t want to be subtly manipulated with boot licking and misdirection. If a client is wrong, tell them they are wrong, and give them a good justification, while explaining what a more correct way of approaching things would be. If you care about the success of your clients, you’ll tell them what they need to hear.

    #11: Good management is assigning fault to failure. When you mess up, own up to it and fix it. When your client messes up, it’s your responsibility as a professional to let them know they are jeopardizing their success.

    I know this may have sounded like a pretty harsh response, but I really think that we as an industry need to stop passing self help sonnets around and instead get real and grow some balls. I want to build profitable relationships with my clients, and I want my clients to be successful.

  10. says

    @Calvin — You might be surprised to hear me say this, but I already agreed with several of your points in the article. Go back up and re-read points #5 and #6.

    On your other points, you are correct with a lot of what you bring up. Unfortunately, I think you misunderstood the real purpose of the article — which was to bring up some specific situations you should avoid. I didn’t (and couldn’t) list every possible scenario and tell you absolutely to do this or that.

    For example with point #7, my scenario is for people who are bad-mouthing old clients in the presence of their new ones — something that isn’t good to do. You brought up honesty and being upfront — which is of course a great policy. I just don’t see how your point contradicts mine.

    I don’t know that I can speak for ‘we as an industry’, but I certainly don’t think this article amounts to a self-help sonnet. I think it is friendly advice for people who are getting started with freelancing, and a good laugh for people who have been freelancing for a while. Where’s the harm in that?

  11. says

    Mason, I’ve just started my freelancing career and haven’t had enough time to make a lot of these mistakes – but thanks to your post, I hope not to dabble in them down the road. :)

    Many of these mistakes would probably be avoided naturally if their makers began to think more about the true needs and desires of the client ahead of their own.

  12. says

    Since 1998, I have done literally hundreds of referrals to dozens of other graphics or web design experts when I was too busy doing search marketing (my main line of work now.)

    In all that time I have never received even a SINGLE referral “back” from any of these companies. Not one. When people send you business referrals, you should take the time to return the favor – or at least express your appreciation.

    The only reason I continue is to keep my clients/potential clients happy. I want them to succeed. But it makes you think.

  13. says

    It’s pretty easy and even tempting to fall into some of these traps, the desire to please is stong in many people but you can end up undermining both yourself and your client if you don’t draw a line in the sand.

    #2 I dont think is terrible as people like getting a bargin (and one over you) but as long as you’ve built in some tolerance and ONLY give em a sensible discount for some other return (prompt payment or well prepared content for example) it can work for you.

    If you feel yourself weakening on any of the above simply think to yourself am I going to be a pimp or a hoe about this? Hoes let themselves be dictated to by the pimp … you might not want to be a pimp yourself, but if you aren’t then that only leaves one alternative.

  14. says

    I agree with all specified points, but sometimes you don’t have to forgot that you are in competition with other freelancers or companies. The client have a budget, which don’t means that you gonna work for free, but adapting your prices can be benefical, ex. the client decides that you gonna create and manage his website, well invoicing the setup for the server and emails can be offered, he just signed for a maintenance (regular entries).

  15. says

    Wonderful post. I totally agree with the points

    The rule is “Be clear from the start, be true, and you’ll have only nice surprises!”

    Customers are always looking the way to have things done at their price, in their times, with their ideas and then if there’s a problem you are wrong or made a mistake

    It all depends on how you present yourself during the first meeting, you should emphatize your professionality and gain customer’s trust.

    Again,great post

  16. says

    This is a great list of suggestions. I’ve fallen into a couple of these traps, mostly when I first started out freelancing and was just trying to make a little money. Years later, now that I am working for myself full time, I have learned a lot of lessons, and this is a great list of what not to do.

    I’ve always believed that if you sell yourself short, the client will too. It’s a learning process, and one thing I’ve learned recently is that even the big clients with deep pockets will try to short you if you let them.

  17. Work for Pay says

    Personally, some of this will work and some of this is crap.
    Be honest first and foremost with your clients. Be accountable if you make a mistake correct it. Get any terms of the agreement in writing. Host your client responsible for meeting that agreement.(Any extras cost!) Include prices for everything resist any temptations to be vague .
    Be respectful and if needed demand respect.Be flexible yet know when to draw the line. Your skills are valuable and you have a right to honor yourself and the client.

  18. says

    This article help me a lot. I really mean it. For many years i worked in the office and still had done the same mistakes which are written in the article. So funny to read about all of them now, and very helpful. I’ll use it to help lot’s of my “same mistakes” friends.

    Thank you
    Best, Anna

  19. says

    I read this article it’s very useful and information rich.

    i2V Graphics provides outsourcing services of Image editing, Image processing, Image retouching, Clipping Path, Image Masking, Photo Retouching, Image Background Removal, Image Cleaning, Graphic designing, Image to vector conversion at affordable price. Vectorization high quality, manually hand drawn with fast turnaround time at affordable price.

    Website: i2V Graphics

  20. says

    What a great reminder and yes I have been at fault with some of these too, particularly talking about what another client has done or lower my price, both of which I now totally discourage for myself and in my business.

  21. Derek Mitchell says

    Some very good points. As an architect I learned to be wary of the client who came to me at the last minute and wanted drawings completed and planning approvals in hand in an unrealistic time frame… those who wanted the work completed as fast as possible were always those who took the longest to pay their bill!!!!

  22. says

    827101 437715light bulbs are excellent for lighting the home but stay away from incandescent lamps because they create so significantly heat;; 268954


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>