10 Types of Bad Clients and How To Avoid Them

Bad ClientLast week we ran an article about the various characteristics of a good client. This week, we’re going to look at the other end of that: ten different types of bad clients, and what you can do to avoid them.

If you’ve been freelancing for long, then there’s no doubt you’ve read some of the horror stories about bad clients. You may have even run into a few bad clients in your own business.

Over the years, I have noticed that most bad clients seem to fall into certain common patterns. In this post, I share those patterns with you. Keep in mind that none of these bad client types are specific to any one client that I’ve ever worked with. Rather, these examples are a generalization of the many different characteristics a bad client can take. Personally, I rarely ever have to deal with a bad client in my business, and I’ll explain how you too can avoid them later on in the article.

Here are a few descriptions of some bad clients that you might encounter during your freelancing career:

Ten Types of Bad Clients

  1. The free samples guy. Before you can get a gig with this “client,” you have to submit an original free sample for which you will not be paid. No matter how hard you work on your sample, it is never quite up to par for this client. With a few exceptions, I think this is a scam to get free work from a freelancer. Yes, it is important for clients to see samples, but that is why we have a portfolios.
  2. The scope creep gal. The project seems relatively small, so you quote a reasonable (but fairly low) price. Once you start, however, the project changes. Ms. Scope Creep contacts you with this, “I forget to tell you, the job also includes. . .” Even when you’re done, you’re not. There’s still more work that she forget to mention. . . all for the same low price that you originally quoted.
  3. Vague Victor. Vague Victor needs something for his website and he wants you to provide that something. The trouble is, Victor is just not sure exactly what that something is. “I’ll know it when I see it,” Victor says. Unsuspecting freelancers often try to help Victor find out what is wrong. The trouble is, what the freelancer suggests is never quite what Victor had in mind.
  4. Fannie Freebie. The job description sounds like a perfect fit. What an awesome opportunity! You can’t believe your good luck. To think that they would pay someone to do such a fun project and they have approached you! Wait one minute – where’s the pay? You scan the listing eagerly, only to discover that there is no pay at all. It turns out that Fannie Freebie is not hiring freelancers at all. She’s looking for volunteers.
  5. Mr. Unavailable. You have some questions for this client so you send him an e-mail (he hasn’t left you with a phone number). Days, maybe even weeks, pass. There is still no answer from Mr. Unavailable. You’re beginning to wonder if this client is even still in business. Suddenly, without warning, he reappears. “Where’s my project?” He demands. Your questions are still unanswered.
  6. Clingy Sue. Clingy Sue is the exact opposite of Mr. Unavailable. She is so opposite, in fact, that communicating with her take up most of your working time each day. She contacts you several times every single day. She asks for a copy of your initial ideas, outlines, preliminary drafts, rough drafts, and first drafts. If you are late answering a single e-mail, Clingy Sue wonders why.
  7. Revisionist Ronnie. Accepting a job from Ronnie will keep you busy. Unfortunately, this client will not keep your pockets full. No matter how good the work is that you turn in, it is not quite good enough for Ronnie. He always has one more change request, one more fix, one final revision . . .
  8. Gossip girl. At first you might be flattered by this “client.” She seems to have the “inside scoop” on all of your competitors, and all of her competitors too. She’s more than willing to share (confidentially, of course) what she knows with you (especially when it comes to what she knows about other people). Watch out, though! Before you know it, this client will be dishing dirt out about you.
  9. The check is in the mail guy. This is the one “client” that every freelancer dreads. At first, he appears to be a normal client. Then you invoice him and his true nature comes out. Suddenly, he has all kinds of reasons not to pay you (none of which have to do with the quality of your work). He has had a family emergency. He is in a temporary cash crunch. His bank made a mistake. Whatever the excuse, you can be sure that it is not his fault. He will put the check in the mail as soon as he can. In fact, the check may already be in the mail (except that it never comes).
  10. The lowballer. Most freelancers have probably encountered this “client.” No matter what price you quote for their project, they know somebody else who will do the work for even less. “Is this your best price?” The lowballer interjects. “The market rate for this on XYZ site is [insert your quote less 50%].” My answer to the lowballer is always the same: this is a fair rate. If you can get the work done somewhere else cheaper, then go ahead and do it.

How To Avoid Working With Bad Clients

As I stated before, I have great clients. Part of the reason that I have such good clients is because I research each and every client before I accept an assignment from them. I search on the Internet to see if other freelancers are talking about this client. I check with the Better Business Bureau (companies that treat their own clients badly will likely treat you badly as well). I check on the client’s website.

Here are some ways you too can avoid bad clients:

  • Thoroughly research your prospective clients before working with them
  • Discuss and outline all project details before accepting a client
  • Be honest with yourself, and don’t take on new clients out of desperation
  • Follow your instincts, and don’t take on clients that give you a bad feeling
  • Watch out for catch-phrases, under or over communication, and other potential clues of a bad client

If there’s any doubt in your mind about whether the client will be a good one, then I don’t recommend you accept the project.

Share What You Know

Encountering bad clients can be frustrating and discouraging.

Have you had any unfortunate experiences with bad clients? How do you avoid working for such clients?

Let’s hear your stories. (No specific client names, please!)