In addition to the artsy and designery stuff, one of the biggest parts of any designer’s job is working with clients - communicating and negotiating with them, advising them, presenting to them, brainstorming, etc. Literally, every stage of a design project will have a mandatory client sync-up at some point.
Clients come from all backgrounds, personalities, working and personal histories, as well as expectations and moods at the time of the project, which may or may not gel well with yours, all of which affects their approach and your mutual working relationship.
Some clients are great - they are a joy to work with, the experience with them is rewarding. Good clients allow you to grow as a designer, as a person and as a professional.
But then there is the other type of client. The bad design clients.
Bad clients also teach us valuable lessons and they usually affect the change in our creative and professional lives, so that we come out smarter and better prepared for the future after each such encounter.
Some bad clients are bad due to their ignorance or insecurity in regards to design, the kind of service you are offering, what they want, etc. For others, there is just no excuse.
Either way, this article (and the infographic) will go over some of the most common types of bad clients, teach you how to spot red flags and the best ways to deal with each type effectively.
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Whether you are a designer, some other kind of service provider, or just a person walking about their business somewhere in the world, you’ve more than likely met this person at some point or another.
They (and maybe their mother) are subscribed to their own awesomeness and this mindset has spilled over to their work-life as well. The Entitled clients usually consider themselves the Influencers, but can just as easily be found in big companies, amongst the richest and most famous people - the people who, in theory, should have the least trouble paying for a service.
They will, however, expect and ask for extreme discounts or even free services under the assumption that a designer - or any other service provider - should be grateful for the opportunity to be featured on their blog or recommended to their friends. And that this is an acceptable form of payment.
Make no mistake - it most definitely is not.
If the promotion is the only thing that you are after, then by all means, go for it. But this is not an acceptable form of payment if you have a set rate and a contract. Do not budge, no matter how tempting their 100k followers are.
The conversion is never high enough to cover a regular fee and your business cards in the pockets of the entitled person’s friends will not pay the bills.
This type of client is very annoying to work with. They think that because they are paying, they are the boss of you. This is technically true, but even in companies the bosses who behave like these clients are sanctioned. Basically, them giving you money to do a job, in their mind, equals to they can treat you like trash, disrespect you and you work, even yell and curse at you.
Nothing can be further from the truth. More often than not, it turns out that these people are just plain mean and bad - not just as clients, but in general.
These are the people who mistreat waiters at restaurants because their water is too cold or not cold enough because they are the paying customers. And just like they are easy to spot in a crowded restaurant, they are easy to spot during the contract negotiation phase of a design project. Most of the time.
Avoid getting into business with them if possible. If not, get in, do your job and get out.
Just as annoying, but a little bit harder to spot in a group of potential clients is the Great Expander. They are pretty common, sometimes out of obliviousness of the client or them deliberately trying to see if they can take advantage of you.
These are the people who will agree on your every term, even add some of their own too-good-to-be-true clauses, sign the contract and even behave as the best possible client for the majority of the phase one of the projects.
And then, they would ask for a favor. Then another. They will ask for a revision or an alternative version. If you are doing a logo for them, they will ask you to throw in a poster and a set of business cards while you’re at it.
The best way to protect yourself from this kind of behavior is to have a clear and well drafted contract with specified services and prices, as well as the costs for anything extra that you might get asked to do, broken deadlines, expansions, etc. This kind of contract can be used as a shield.
They will either reign in their demands and stick to the initial agreement or they will agree to the new terms and take the additional costs. Either way, you are covered and will be able to continue working.
They say that there is a reason that the rich are rich. They have the ability to stretch a buck, think that their own dollar and time are worth more than another person’s, they also believe that the only worthwhile investment is the one that they consider worthwhile.
Paying a designer to “make a quick little drawing” is definitely not it! I mean, kids draw all the time - how hard can it be?
In their mind, giving their hard-earned money to a “grown up who just likes to sketch little pictures” does not constitute a sound business investment. Especially when they can do it in a couple of hours. So, why should they pay big money for something that a child can do in a couple of hours?
At least, that’s the most common train of thought that they catch a ride on before trying to lower your rates and make you do stuff faster.
A Haggler is pretty easy to spot since they’ll tell you exactly what they think of you and your profession from the first meeting and they’ll try to negotiate down as much as possible.
So, stand your ground! Don’t start feeling bad that you are a grown up with an awesomely incredible and interesting job! You’ve trained for a long time, lost your eyesight reading the design theory, spent hours on end discarding failed attempts and fretting about them.
You’ve earned your right to pay the rates you’re paying for your ability to provide quick design solutions to your clients. If they want to pay lower rates let them find somebody else.
The Experts are probably one of, if not THE most annoying ones on this list and are not just limited to the world of freelance design.
They can be found looking over the shoulders of any hired professionals giving out “helpful” suggestions and unsolicited advice to people struggling to do the work over the incessant buzzing and phone calls coming their way.
The client who thinks themselves a design expert will come prepared. They will read up on the process, they will look up fonts, they will crack open Photoshop to do some light designs and check out how all of it works. This design client will get ideas and fall in love with them, and sometimes even prepare them into a neat folder, all ready to bombard you with from the moment you first meet.
And while getting a sense of what your client’s needs and wants are is extremely important for a successful project, being second-guessed and roadblocked by some half-baked concepts coming in waves from your client can be frustrating.
Most of the time, it seems like their notion of a designer’s job is someone who knows Photoshop a little better than they do and can fully realize their ideas on the digital paper.
It is not! They’ve hired you to give them a solution to a problem that they are having. To answer their needs to the best of your abilities, with the help of your education, experience and creativity. This is your job and you should be confident enough in your abilities not to be swayed.
The best way to deal with them is by explaining the ways in which their ideas misalign with their wants and needs of their business, and by explaining your design choices, preferably during the first concept meeting while you are still in the stylescapes and wireframing phase.
If not, you might find yourself starting from scratch or being replaced, because they don’t like what you did and want to go with someone who understands their vision.
People without an opinion are the worst. They are the ones who end up following dictators because they cannot be bothered to think things through, to get a belief or a viewpoint and stick to it - or have their minds changed if the opposing arguments have merit. But they don’t - they just exist in their complacency, waiting for somebody else to make the decision for them.
This is the extreme case.
In the world of freelance design, things are not that bleak nor are the consequences that far-reaching. But the delays, the frustration, the missed deadlines and lost resources are very real and can be very soul-crushing.
The indecisive design client is not sure what they want. They’re not even sure what they need. They are small business owner and they heard that all the bawlers hire a designer to do the job, but they are not quite sure what they want to be the result. They are waiting for you to give them options.
They are waiting for you to know things. They are basically waiting for you to solve a problem for them that they didn’t even know they had.
This is not your job. There are freelancers whose job it is, but they are not designers.
The indecisive client will only be sure of one thing and that is what they don’t want. They will have you running in circles, bringing a concept after concept for them to reject in a vague hope that something will ‘pop’.
It is up to you not to let them. Inform them from the very start that your time on this project is limited, that you have other clients (who know what they want), and also other projects lined up afterwards.
Be very clear on your rates for all the extra work, let them know that you will stop working if their part of the job is not done and be very strict to enforce these rules. Otherwise, you will just get taken advantage of.
In addition to all the good that they brought - like the availability of information, easy interaction with other people, ready-made entertainment, remote work - the internet and social media have also proven a fertile ground for all sorts of people who may not be considered the best that humanity has to offer.
One of them is the Extorting design client. These people are not that easy to spot. They will probably be very charming and outgoing during your meetings; they will agree to all of your terms and outlines and even seem excited about the prospect of working with you. They will praise and compliment you every step of the way.
And then you will refuse to do “just one small thing” (it is never small), you will have to work with other clients, you will not be available at 10 o’clock at night to make some small adjustments on their project, even not be willing to do their project for free or for a lot less money than initially agreed upon. And the darkness will come.
They will start threatening to “warn all their friends about you,'' that they will “leave bad reviews on social media so that everyone know how unprofessional you are”, suddenly all your solutions will be the worst and not worth the money that they are paying you - which is funny because this kind of behavior is usually brought on by the fact that they just plain don’t want to pay you.
The best thing to do here is not to engage. Do what you’ve come to do, insist on getting paid and let them do what they want to do. One raving angry client will not hinder your reputation or leave you jobless.
There are other clients. Your work is visual and easy to judge. Be calm and patient. These kinds of revenge reviews usually say more about the reviewer than the reviewee, especially if they are bending the truth or outright lying.
This client is very chill and relaxed. The amount of freedom that you are getting in this job is out-of-this-world. They let you “do your thing” because “they trust you”.
Well, maybe. Usually, though, not awesome at all.
Because hands off, means exactly that.
This client believes that because they’ve found a designer, they will now be magically able to solve all of their problems without ever needing to check in, meet or give any input whatsoever, until the project is done. This client:
The best way to deal with this is to make sure to understand what happens during a roadblock. Also, to make it very clear how much time you will spend on the project without extra expenses.
Since this sort of behavior is not that easy to spot right away, the best solution might be to err on the side of caution and draw up a very clear and strict contract at the beginning of any design project.
This list is not a definitive one. There are other types that are maybe not as common or are variations of the same. Or maybe I’ve not encountered them yet.
In either case, situations may arise where the simple ways to deal with a bad client described above may not be enough.
Which brings us to…
The thing is, you cannot always choose the type of clients that you get. There will be times that you simply don’t pay enough attention to the red flags or the client is better at hiding them than you are at noticing them. There will be times when you need a job real bad and are willing to accept gigs that would normally get a hard pass.
Whatever the reason, it is inevitable that you will find yourself in a situation with a client that you will want to escape. So, what then? How to fire a client that is Bad or Bad for you?
First of all, remain professional. Be honest with them as much as you can not to torpedo all the bridges (not just with them, but with anybody else they work with), but don’t leave the door for this project open.
If they are not playing by the rules, there is no reason you should throw the rule-book out the window as well. Don’t leave them out to dry no matter how much of a pain they are. Set a logical milestone and reach it. Prepare everything for the other person coming after you to be able to pick up where you left off quickly and successfully.
Most importantly, don’t be a villain - refund the money that you’ve already taken for the rest of the project. Do not give them any ammunition to kill your career afterwards.
Leave them to continue as they see fit. And you be more careful in the future.