For a full-time freelance designer, hardly a day goes by without hearing about or reading some nightmarish client story. Whether I hear about it in person, by email, over the phone or on the web, one thing seems clear: designers like complaining about their clients almost as much as they enjoy taking their money.
While screening out Bad Clients before signing the contract is best, it doesn’t often happen that way. In this article, we’ll go over the warning signs of demon clients, who you should avoid at all costs. You must not only be able to identify clients who will do more harm than good for your business, but also learn how to handle these clients, or you could find yourself living a nightmare.
Putting most of your focus on acquiring a decent clientele is vital if you want to establish and grow a freelance business.
You will always have questions about how to prioritize new and existing clients. Who to focus on? Where to invest your time and money? What strategies will pay off? Here are some things to consider as you come up with a strategy.
Several studies show that the cost of acquiring a new client is usually between four and six times more than maintaining an existing client. Finding new clients costs more, and keeping old ones is usually easier to do. Keep this in mind.
Ask yourself these questions:
Do you plan to live off many clients or just a few loyal ones? Look over your original plans and notes as you consider this.
Chasing potential clients when your hands are already full is not a good idea. Be careful not to get too many projects going; you should always have time to do the work you already have—properly.
Marketing can be expensive, and it eats into time that you could be spending on projects. Obviously, a business requires more than just working on projects, but can you afford to look for more clients if you have projects that you could work on instead?
Knowing how often you can expect repeat business is crucial to staying afloat. There’s no set answer; you’ll just have to sit down and look at your books. If you offer products or services that clients purchase once or rarely—such as logos and websites—you’ll probably need to chase potential clients more often than most other freelancers. If you offer something that clients need occasionally—such as print media, website maintenance, certain types of photography, illustrations, etc.—then focus on those tasks rather than on chasing clients. List your clients and the type of product each buys, and then decide what you can expect.
This could be a huge source of income. Do you realize that most clients need many different services from different providers? Your clients probably have other projects on the go that you could assist them with. The fewer parties they have to deal with, the better for all involved. And if your clients have had good experiences with your service, then there’s a good chance you can expand with more work from them.
Look at how many of your clients have come back and how many you’ve never heard from again. Follow up with existing clients to make sure they’re taken care of.
Communication is vital. Make sure that existing clients know about all of your products and services. Remind them periodically that you’re around. When you launch something, they should be the first to know—and why not give them a great deal on it?
To sum up, do the best you can for current clients before chasing new ones. This will improve both your reputation and your bottom line. When current clients are being handled as they deserve, then you can think about getting new clients.
Check out “New vs. Existing Client: Who’s the important one?” if you’re interested in reading up on this further.
Do you know the characteristics of a good client? Can you distinguish the good clients from the bad before you start working with them? Do you have what it takes to become a good client yourself as your business expands and you’re ready to hire other freelancers?
Here are the characteristics of a good client:
If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you’ve read horror stories about bad clients. Do you yourself spend too much time trying to satisfy impossible-to-please clients, doing countless revisions when the clients don’t know what they want, and doing all this after they have bargained a huge discount? (Meanwhile, you can’t devote yourself to new clients because you’re spending all of your time on one or two extremely demanding ones.) It feels as though a demon has attacked your freelancing business.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that clients tend to fall into certain patterns, which I’ll share here. Personally, I rarely have to deal with a bad client, and I’ll explain how you can avoid them, too.
Here are a few types of nightmarish clients you might encounter in your freelancing career.
There are many more demonic characteristics—I’ve seen almost all of them this past decade—but these are the most important. Many clients are a mixture of multiple characteristics. Study them, and you’ll be better able to keep them coming back for other projects.
Now you know what to watch for, but what do you do if you’re in the middle of it? What’s the best way to react, given that your job as a freelancer is to please customers? Your success depends on good service, which means treading carefully with certain customers.
Will you have to deal with demons forever? One of the best things about freelancing is that you have the privilege to pick and choose clients.
Don’t burn bridges if you can help it. If you can’t help it, then ask yourself these questions:
If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you’re probably in a sticky situation and it could be time to put an end to the project, which is keeping you from being productive. Ending a business relationship can be tricky, though. Below are a few tips.
Ideally, all client relationships would end positively, because you rely partly on referrals and testimonials for future business. Terminating a bad relationship should be a last resort.
Unfortunately, keeping everyone happy is impossible. If you do have to end a business relationship, try to leave on a positive note. You could say something like, “I thought I could do this project, but I no longer believe that I’m the best person for the job. I’ll refer you to someone who I know is better suited to it.”
Will the client be upset? Maybe. Will you get your money? Maybe not. But at least you’ll have your time back, which means you’ll be free to pursue projects that are a better match for your abilities.
Of course, saying those final words is difficult and, depending on your delivery, might come off harsh. Here are some gentler approaches to consider before cutting the tie:
Once in a while you’ll encounter an unreasonable client who won’t be satisfied with any of your proposed solutions, and you’ll have to decide, finally, whether to end it. If the client is completely unwilling to compromise, you’re probably best off avoiding them.
Picking the right clients and building strong relationships is essential to freelancing success. If you work with the right clients, then your reputation will grow and the income will keep you motivated. Get to know your clients, and keep developing the relationships, even when you’re not directly working with them.
Have you ever dealt with a demon client or nightmarish project? How did you handle the situation? Please share your tips and advice with other readers; we’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading, and good luck with those clients!
While writing this article, it’s always a possibility that we missed some other great tips. Feel free to share it with us.