Client Red Flags to Look Out For

We always joke about “red flags” clients raise in initial conversations and as we are pitching them business.

We joke that it’s a “three strikes and you’re out” scenario, but in all reality, red flags are important to discover unqualified clients who will be too demanding, will have issues paying, or will procrastinate and drag projects on for months and months.

There are several red flags we look for when interviewing clients and working through the proposal process. Let’s take a look at some of them below…

“I need the project yesterday!”

There are urgent projects and there are urgent clients. Sometimes projects truly are urgent, but many times clients have unrealistic expectations for how long our services take, and they can quickly become demanding when they don’t think we are working fast enough.

We try our best to educate our clients on the branding, design or development process and the time it will take. We stress the level of client involvement and feedback. If they still need something “tomorrow” (and we want the project) we often quote them an emergency rate or upcharge. But most of the time, we simply decline the work, because it would mean pushing back deadlines for existing clients.

“I don’t have any money, but I’ll tell everyone about you!’

This may sound like a joke, but I can’t count the number of potential clients who have said some variant of the phrase above. They want a discount, or pro bono work, but promise to tell all their colleagues who did the project. Or they’ll promise a lot of work in the future, if we just discount this one project.

This is a huge red flag, and we politely state that the price is the price. We may work with a potential client on payment terms, but we rarely discount (and almost never do pro bono work unless it’s something we seek out).

The client doesn’t respond to communication, or misses meetings

Client communication and involvement in projects is key. Often clients have to write copy, provide information, answer questions, and give feedback at every stage of the project. A client that drops off the face of the planet can hold up a project (and final payment) for months, and even years.

I once had a client who dragged out a simple five page website for over a year simply because I was waiting on their page copy and final approval.

Of course I changed my contracts after that project, but a client who doesn’t respond to phone calls or emails early in the discovery phase is a sign of a client who won’t respond when you really need feedback. Be cautious.

They want you to do spec work

I know in the traiditonal ad agency business, a lot of work was done on spec. That’s fine, but we don’t do spec work.

If a client is bidding the project out to five firms, and wants us to do spec creative, we just immeidately decline. It’s not about just the creative—to do quality creative you first must understand the client’s needs. There’s a lot of time in research, planning, and architecture that goes in before we even start the “creative” process. So doing spec work effectively means us doing a large portion of the project for free, in hopes one of the other agencies doesn’t under-bid us.

What are your red flags?

What red flags do you look for in potential clients? I’d love to hear them—let us know in the comments below!

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  • http://www.codesign.cc Brian

    First meeting with a prospect at a restaurant, I let slide her deplorable treatment of the waitress and manager…all over a poached egg…the price of which she demanded be removed from her check. Red flag! Did she want something for nothing? You bet. And 20 months later I had to settle for 75% of my invoice.

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      Brian, I have always found that you can really tell what kind of person someone is by the way they treat the waitor at the restaurant. That’s an incredible way to get a glimpse of the true character of someone.

      • http://imaginekitty.com Mark Boughter

        I always wondered why meetings were held in a restaurant. It seemed to be confusing with everything going on but using it as a psychological screening makes sense. That’s an excellent idea.

  • http://justsay.on.ca Jason

    Here’s one: If after quoting they ask “how can I get this price lower” more than once, know that you’re in for a hellride.

    Honorable mention goes to those who think they know more than they do. For instance, one guy wanted me to “SEO” his site, but did the meta tags himself because that was the “easy stuff” (his words). He ended up doing it wrong. I didn’t take the business.

  • http://brianswebdesign.com Brian Temecula

    I always get a kick out of the client that says they will make me a business partner if I make them the website for free. Ya know, 10% of 0 is 0!

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      I’ve only had this happen a few times, but these are the funniest ones to work with! They always want you sign an NDA because their idea is TOP SECRET!! Then they want you to build them the next Facebook for 5% ownership. Wow, what a deal – where do I sign!?!

      • http://www.brownbearcreative.com Abi

        Haha yes! All of those have happened to me. The Top Secret Idea is usually hilariously bad. Although, sometimes I wonder if it’s so bad, it’ll actually be hugely successful.

      • http://website-in-a-weekend.net/ Dave Doolin

        I turned down work this fall because the “pass-through” NDA had a non-compete clause in it (2 clauses IIRC). First, non-compete clauses are questionable anyway, and second, they don’t belong in an NDA. No way no how.

        I’d sign an NDA if there was money up front and the job was a very large and single client. Otherwise, not inclined.

        Here’s the best part: people who are really pushy about NDAs always seem to insist “they don’t mean anything anyway, everyone just signs them.” Well, if I’m signing something, I mean it.

    • http://brozra.com Russ

      Haha! Yeah, that is my favorite one. It’s not just websites either, it’s mobile apps, or Facebook apps, or something else that they think NOBODY else in the world has done. I suppose ignorance really is bliss.

      @Brandon — the NDA is hilarious. Most of those clients haven’t done enough research on the Internet to realize that their idea has been done, is being done, or is already being done better by someone else. When someone comes to me with their brilliant idea I can spend 10 minutes on Google and find over a dozen websites that have already done it, failed in their attempts or are doing moderately well.

  • http://www.brilliantweb.co.za Brendon Hatcher

    A client who doesn’t want to pin down the details during the scoping process.

    If they are not willing to give attention to, and decide on their web site needs at that stage, and we quote and build anyway, then:
    - they never provide the material we need (because they can’t get it together)
    - they suddenly become VERY specific now that they have something to see and criticize

  • http://www.siworks.co.za Greg

    “If you do this for a good price, or a freebee, i’ll bring LOTS of business your way”
    “This is a really quick and easy project and should not take much time” – Here client hints that because it “should not take much time” that the cost should be cheaper, these projects are generally the most complex.

    Price Negotiation
    Client is looking for a Ferrari, but only has money for a small Ox wagen. Steer clear! it’s only going to bite you afterwards, so I agree with your statement the price is the price. Generally, we offer these potential clients the opportunity to rather get the work done elsewhere.

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      Completely agree on the negotiations. We try to prequalify potential clients by giving them vague price ranges for services — there’s a low-end price for an app or website — to try and get them to say no as quickly as possible. But we still get clients that get sticker shock when they see the final proposal…

  • http://www.utube.bz Bogart

    As a freelance designer, I hate clients with non stop design revisions, and in the end will ask you for a new design concept.

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      Bogart, have you tried limiting the number of included revisions in your contract? Does that help, or is it just a certain type of client that always wants to change things repeatedly?

      • Fernando

        I used to present three alternatives in concept for every design, and clients usually asked for more. Than I started to present only one and in the contract, charged for every revision proportionally. 10% overprice for the first revision, 25% overprice over the first revision overprice for the second revision, 40% overprice over the second revision overprice for the third revision, 70% overprice over the third revision overprice for the fourth revision, and NO fifth revision and no money back either. In last three years no one passed from the second revision, and the only one who passed, also apologized for it, and I didn’t charged him for the second revision.

    • http://www.ReinhartMarketing.com Roland Reinhart

      There are also clients with a preconceived intention (or chip on their shoulder) that they should always reject everything in the first round because it somehow magically gets higher quality work in the next round. I’ve run into many during my career, especially among more junior or less confident clients who’ve been coached by a bad boss to always do that.

    • http://brozra.com Russ

      Agreed. You should have a contract stating how many revisions they get. My service agreement has specific numbers of revisions for certain services.

      Logo design and custom graphics get 5 revisions.
      Website design template gets 3 major revisions.

      Once they reach that point then I tell them that they are out of revisions and further revisions are gonna cost extra. Suddenly they are happy with the previous designs. Haha.

  • http://www.pricklypearmedia.com Angelo

    Very very demanding clients are the red flag clients for me. You can always notice them because they often have had bad experiences elsewhere. When people don’t appreciate your time, you always run into problems, and as such, these clients have problems wherever they go. Attempting to charge them for this time further complicates the problem, as they never appreciated it in the first place.

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      Great points, Angelo!

  • http://www.nicelittlewebsite.co.uk Dave

    “My 8yo daughter did the design”.
    The daughter is seldom available to answer questions on hover state or cross browser testing…
    Red Flag!

  • http://none kp

    I’m in college and I’m starting out so I’ve taken anything to learn for next to nothing pay.
    #1 – No roommates. They’ll expect you to work every second of your free time on their project.
    #2 – No non participatory clients that just like everything. They provided no content, but liked everything I did… weird situation. I knew the design lacked because they had no direction for what they wanted. no logo, colors, (they were a graphic t-shirt company at that), pictures were not professional, they provided no editable formats of their graphic work, .psd or .ai, they didn’t know if the wanted a blog or not, I suggested it they said yea…… horrible.. etc. Not pleasing even though they just liked everything with no input.

  • Siebert Tenseven

    My favorite is “I don’t have any money, but I’ll tell everyone about you”.

    Hey guess what? The people they tell you about have no money either!

    • http://www.expertfingers.com Temidayo

      LOL. I love this. How very true!

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      So true!!

    • http://www.specialapple.com Lori

      I recently got some useful advice about clients who want a discount in exchange for the promise of tons of referrels…for every full Web site I build (for full price and fully paid) from your leads, you get one page free.

  • http://www.danieltwoods@gmail.com Daniel

    Red Flag

    When your client takes advice from a consultant and doesn’t think on their own. You will end up working for the consultant that thinks they know more then you and talks about SEO like its God.

    Why did you even go into business if you can’t make decisions on your own .

    Had to learn this the hard way. Even if the money is there you have to sometimes turn it down.

    • http://www.nine10.ca/corporate/services/web_design/ Website Design Grande Prairie

      A good policy to prevent this scenario is to have your contracts state that you are the exclusive provider / consultant for the services you sell. If the client involves another provider in the project, it is treated the same as them firing you and the contract terminates. Make sure to explain this clearly up front. If they aren’t comfortable with it, there’s your red flag.

  • Jason

    “Hi, I’m looking for a new website. I’m actually in the process of taking my previous web developer to court….”

    Ok, the client may well be the perfectly reasonable party in the dispute, they may genuinely have been wronged by the developer – but I’d be lying if I said that remark (which I’ve heard twice) didn’t set off the alarm bells.

  • http://SimpleFreeWebsite.com Thom Parkin

    The ‘flip side’ of this is a [quite familiar] scenario like this:
    Patronizing a retail business, you get into a nice conversation with the owner. They don’t have a website but admit, “Everyone keeps asking me ‘Do you have a website?’ and I tell them, ‘not yet, but soon’”
    So you try to solicit them as a client. But the response is “I have a nephew/cousin/son-of-a-friend/neighbor who took that in school and said he/she will do it for me”
    Sound familiar?

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      Actually dealing with that right now… potential client was referred to us and doesn’t have the budget to spend on an e-commerce website so they are probably going the “we have a friend” route. Sad, because the time it takes them to realize it was a huge mistake could really hurt their chances of surviving in this economy.

  • Awasson

    The #1 indicator fro me that we’ll be in for trouble is when I hear something along the lines of: “I was working with another designer earlier but he turned out to be troublesome, a jerk, stuborn, etc…”.

  • http://www.futprimitive.com Barbara

    This was such a great post! You nailed it!

    I have found that “interviewing clients” is so important. Ideally it allows one to assess their level of commitment to a project…. in theory that is.

    The “urgency” thing is another biggie – or their sense of urgency. I only had to bill a rush charge to a client once to educate him on urgency. Now he will at times pre-emptively state that the latest project is not “urgent”.

    A recent red flag was a woman reaching out to her network for some tweaks to her site and the realization that she truly had not defined her brand – thus wanting a logo. Further investigation led me to find out that her developer wanted NOTHING to do with her and that she expected me to be available all nights and weekends…… bye bye!!!

    I’m a big proponent of respect and it appears that all to often folks forget that not only are we business owners too, but we actually have lives.

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      Thanks, Barbara, glad you liked it!

  • http://www.autograff.com Richard

    I agree that how a person treats those who serve in restaurants is a good barometer of what they expect from anyone they hire.

    In another vein (and like all of you, I only learned this by experience):
    “I’ll pay you in two months, when our tourist season is going strong.” But you have to get the site finished in time for the tourist season to begin. This means payments are late, less, or never, or you have to deal with excuses from these folks on the order of “our season wasn’t as good as we expected,” “our old site had way more hits this time of year.”

  • http://GreenCouchDesigns Norm

    A client that says “Great! Please send your invoice and lets get this baby live” then a month later says “I hate it. Looks like nothing we discussed”

  • Miles

    Brandon, great piece. You’ve hit the nail on the head on these topics.

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      Thanks, Miles!

  • http://www.sublime-design-studio.com Kim Davis

    I’ve grown very wary of taking on any job that was started by someone else. There is probably a reason the previous designer is no longer there, and it may be that the client is difficult or doesn’t pay.

  • http://www.ReinhartMarketing.com Roland Reinhart

    Huge red flag for me is the prospective client who insists she/he has excellent creative vision. Yet they don’t have the means to bring that to life without assistance. I just know it will mean many rounds of revisions, so best to quote high.

  • http://alignsoft.com Stephen R. Smith

    Our worst experiences have typically been with companies who started a project with another company and that relationship didn’t work out, so we’ve been engaged to solve the original problem. We almost always state up front that we won’t use any of the original suppliers work, and instead start from scratch with our own solution, but the issues here are twofold: First, the project is late before you start as the other client wasted all the time the client original expected to spend. Second, the project is already over budget before you start, as the original supplier already wasted all the money the client wanted to spend. The end result is that no matter how fast you work, how fantastic a solution you create, and how financially responsible you are, the overall project took too long and cost too much, and as the last guy at the table, that always seems to land on you.

    I don’t suggest turning these projects down outright, but you have to manage the client’s expectations far more extensively and far earlier in the project (before taking the project) to mitigate the downsides. It also helps to deliver a minimal solution early and iterate regularly to deflate the client perception that you’re taking too long.

    • David Murphy

      Your last paragraph is spot on. But this should be the case for all projects. Most of the comments I hear here and elsewhere seem to hold the view that the customer is a crook, idiot plain wrong and designers are right all the time. People need to realise that as freelance designers they are in business and in customer services, and need to perform suitably. The customer is paying money for their benefit not the designers.

      that is the nature of customer facing business and always has been and always will be. Most buyers have experienced being ripped off by technical and creative suppliers, and in case often don’t know what success looks like.

  • http://www.ReinhartMarketing.com Roland Reinhart

    There’s a great video made a couple years ago about how client’s devalue everything consultants/agencies bring to the relationship. Go to Youtube and search on “The Vendor Client Relationship”

  • http://mamoo.co.uk Matt Moorhouse

    My ‘red flag’ is for what I call ‘Feature Creepers’ – as the name suggests I mean clients who try add extra features/functionality to their website build for free. So this happens after the price and proposal are agreed. I listen out for the wonderful words “can we just…” or “would it take much to…”. I tackle this by allowing a certain small amount, as at the end of the day we like to keep the client happy and we want the project to sail through, but a line has to be drawn and at that point I suggest either we revisit the quote or look at adding as a ‘phase 2′ – basically so I can quote on it! I had one of those today – a Feature Creeper!

  • Joe Harkins

    I’ve been involved in building and hosting web sites for 18 years this coming January. Also, at 78 years old, I’ve been involved in business, mostly for myself, for the past 64 years, since I owned a newsstand on the street outside a bus station at 14. I think I’ve learned a few things by now.

    The first and most important thing a developer must know is never submit a formal written proposal until you have, in writing, agreement of the cost and terms, as well as an email thread of solid agreement on the major (and not so major) elements of the project, including your expected hours and fees. If the prospect does not agree up front that the formal proposal is the project specification and that you only write one based on written agreement that you will be given at least 50% of the project’s cost at the time you deliver the proposal, or as an alternative, if they are not willing to pay you your time (mine is !00 per hour) to prepare and write it, that’s not jut a red flag. It’s a stop sign.

    Architects do not give away designs without payment and engineers do not create drawings and specs unless paid for that; why should a web developer?

    Further, you want a performance clause in your proposal that binds the client to do their partwhen called on. Mine says, “Client will provide materials, information and/or approvals as required for completion of the Project, upon the request of the Developer from time to time. Should more than ten business days pass without a tender of those materials or an appropriate response and upon notice of default given to the Client together with a reasonable opportunity for the Client to correct that default, the Developer may cease all development work, call the project complete and demand settlement of the account forthwith.”

    Only two weeks ago, after a month passed without the materials needed, I shut down a project and demanded full payment of the 50% balance before continuing. The client (an association of lawyers in a major city), was shook. But they paid and I have agreed to finish “whenever I get the materials.” I am still waiting for the materials and they may never come, but I have been paid.

    If a prospective client does not accept that responsibility, that is one more STOP sign.

    • http://www.uglyfashionmedia.com Eoin Oliver

      Great disclaimer! I have tried doing similar, I also use a project management tool to show lead times, and when the client will provide information, and when I will. It shows both who’s responsibility each part of the project is, when completion should be reached, and also when they are going to delay their own project. Then it makes more sense to them to see it graphically.

      Am I allowed to use your disclaimer? It’s better written than my own!

  • http://www.eldoren.com Gordon Currie

    Red Flags that I have seen include:

    1) Clients asking questions and more questions for what is deemed research or development work. When I ask them to hire me as a consultant, they ignore the question and keep asking more questions. I simply no longer respond.

    2) Clients who send me referrals (not always great referrals) and then expect free work for the referral.

    3) Clients who understand english but then claim language barriers on anything that relates to Money.

    Thats a good start…

    Gordon

  • http://space2burn.com Trevor Lettman

    The cure to most of this things is simple: bill hourly, take only a small amount up front, and do progress billing. We changed our model to do this and bill every 2 weeks. This way if a client needs 4 hours of work, great! 100 hours? Great! Things aren’t working out (see above)? Simply hand off the assets and bid them good day. We were very surprised at how much this improved our relationships with our clients…. tools like Freshbooks make it easy and very transparent.

  • http://www.nine10.ca/corporate/services/web_design/ Website Design Grande Prairie

    Overall I think the best way to prevent problem clients is to spend time up-front deciding exactly the kind of clients and projects you want to work for. When you know precisely what your ideal client is, it becomes much easier to create a series of interview questions that help you identify whether it will be a good fit. These criteria could be anything – industry, number of employees, departments or offices, revenues, age, and of course personality traits of the primary contact and decision makers. One of the biggest filters at your disposal is your pricing. Price speaks the loudest of any qualifier (especially to clients who aren’t qualified.) Generally if you have low prices for high-end work you will tend to attract the wrong kind of client for that project. They won’t have the time, resources, and ability to trust and delegate to make the project a success. If you develop high quality custom sites and are having a lot of problems like these, I would examine your pricing and consider if an increase is in order. Otherwise, if you want to provide more affordable solutions, look at how you can deliver them in the most efficient ways possible. Find better software and adjust your services so the client does more themselves (eg you build the site and set up the CMS and hand the keys over to the client to finish content and everything else.) of course you get paid before keys are given. Then you can charge extra for content work if this is a problem area normally.

    Speaking of content, I would say this is the #1 stall for site designs. Think about offering copywriting services with your sites. It can speed things up. If the client is hesitant to give up that control, it could be a possible sign of lack of trust, ability to delegate, or understanding of your value. A potential red flag again.

    Another thing you could do to test the clients ability to get things done is to have them fill out a website needs questionnaire before they start. Happy Cog for example leaves this as the only option for getting a quote. You can learn a lot about a client from how they go about completing this. Other than the basics (whether they actually do it or do it in a timely fashion), the way they write, present and organize their thoughts, and communicate their vision will reveal a lot about their personality and management style.

    Overall, every situation has to be treated differently. There may be some obvious signs and policies to protect you, but you can’t predict everything. Sometimes you’ll run into wolves in sheep’s clothing, and others, sheeps in wolves clothing.

    • http://www.brandoneley.com Brandon Eley

      Great points! Regarding copywriting, we actually offer (and push) copywriting services but even if we are doing the copy, we still have to interview the client to get key information. If they “don’t have time” to write the copy, they often don’t make the time for the interviews either. Though I do think it’s a little easier to get the interviews than copy.

  • http://www.butterflycopywriting.com Lucy Smith

    Interestingly, you tend to find it’s the clients who are least willing to pay who are also the most demanding. I’ve had copywriting clients that have torn my work to shreds over and over, inevitably weakening it (if you wanted to do it yourself, why hire a copywriter?), asked for more and more and more, had very little idea of what they wanted (“but I’ll know it when I see it”), and after all that getting them to pay is like getting blood out of a stone.

    Anyway, I’ve found the simplest way to deal with any prospective clients that give me bad mojo is to ask for an upfront deposit. (Actually, I do this with all new clients.) The ones that pay it without issue are generally fine to work with, and they tend to be nicer to you anyway because you already have some of their money!

    • http://www.hemisphereone.com.au Ryan

      The phrase “I don’t know what I want but I’ll know it when I see it” to me is the flag that has ‘run screaming for the hills’ on it. I have had a few of these clients and it always ended badly. They never read any documentation we sent them but signed off on it. During the designing phase they would want us to continually change the design until they felt like it “clicked” with them while the entire time they would utter the phrase “I don’t know what I want but I’ll know it when I see it”. Luckily I have developed a sixth sense about these type of clients and can usually pick up on them during the initial meeting phase.

    • http://website-in-a-weekend.net/ Dave Doolin

      “Interestingly, you tend to find it’s the clients who are least willing to pay who are also the most demanding.”

      I have this as well.

  • http://www.sytian-productions.com Sytian

    I see red flags when clients are vague with their site details.

    These clients are normally unsure about what they want, and haven’t given the web design and web development much planning. Usually, once they have a new idea, they ask me to change the project details mid-stream.

    I want to deliver quality work to website development clients, but if they keep asking for changes, a lot of my preparation and work is wasted.

    Now, when I encounter prospects like this, I spend time explaining things to them before the work commences. (After the down payment, of course.) I teach them how web design and web development work together, and how my role as a web designer can be more efficient if they fill out some checklists and schedule a comprehensive website planning session with me.

    I hope you guys who are planning on having a website developed read this. It will save us web designers a lot of time and grief. But, never fear, all things considered, at the end of the day, I want your business.

    I’m a patient teacher. Haha.

  • http://www.astronautdesigns.com Tim Holt

    In addition to all of the above, something I have encountered multiple times is the client that says “I have a couple of websites that I need you to build…” and then after delivering the very first draft concept of website A, they never respond.

    If a prospective client tells me they want more than one website now, I actually tell them that I consider that a warning sign that the first one will never be finished.

    • http://www.sagie.es cesar

      Yeah, it happened to me too. I think this is actually a variant of “I don’t have any money, but I’ll tell everyone about you!’. You know, if you work this time for free, you will always have work (for free, of course, but they won´t tell you :D).

  • http://www.bunkhousemidwales.co.uk john

    We’re in a slightly different market where we maintain our own website to market our own tourist accomodation. However a lot of the issues concerning clients seem to be the same. We very quickly learnt that if a customer isn’t prepared to pay a deposit at the time of making the booking (or whatever) the chances are they’ll end up wasting your time, and possibly costing you other business too. Red flag – now we always insist on the deposit.

  • Val

    The comments are hilarious – and, sadly all very true! I have also noticed that clients suddenly become too busy or avoid you when it’s time for the final payment/installment. With a website, this would be somewhat easier, you simply would not transfer the finished work to their server until payment is received, but with other services, it’s a bit more difficult. Although this circumstance (Deadbeat client) can’t be foreseen, I would advise everyone to get full payment (If possible) up front on everything.

  • http://www.sagie.es cesar

    My favourite is: this project will shine in your portfolio, so it will pay for itself. Haha! :D

  • Joe Greene

    Half way through reading the great comments on this article my phone rang. The prospective client on the other end gave such a massive set of red flags and outright stop signs that I nearly laughed at him. The conversation went as follows:

    Client: I heard from one of your ads that you do websites?
    Me: Yes. We do website design and development. Are you interested in a new website?
    Client: Yah…..I want a multi tiered marketing website… Can you do that for me?
    Me: What do you mean by multi tiered marketing?
    Client: Well….. I want people to be able to sign up…. and be members of the website…. so they can make money by getting other people to sign up…. Can you do that?
    Me: I’m sure we can but what is the purpose of the website? Why would anyone want to join?
    Client: To make money.
    Me: I see..Would you offer any services or benefits to your members?
    Client: Yah. They would be able to make money by signing other people up. They could even get like a $1000.00 bonus for signing up their first ten people.
    Me: What would you call your website? (out of morbid curiosity at this point)
    Client: I don’t know yet… I was hoping you could help me with that too.
    Me: I really don’t think our company is a good fit for this type of website. But I wish you the best of luck. Have a great day.

    This is nearly word for word the conversation we had. I can’t even begin to describe however the thoughts that were going on in my head or his.

  • DW

    Red flag #1 – not pinning down the details and (wishful) thinking that all things will suddenly become clear during development (especially prevalent after all that ‘fragile…’, oops, I mean – ‘agile software development’ mess has got popular). Try guessing who is responsible when things go awry after your client/boss changes scope/requirements for a third time…

  • Jay

    “Know it all” clients are ones I run away from. Not only they delay the project, their actions affect other projects as well. I recently came across such a client who was in civil engineering but kept telling how he knows web design and development, and he can do it himself but has no time. He even told me how to do it, which simply made me realize how little he knew what a website was. It was not a simple HTML site but a CMS with member directory and online payments. When the time came to give me content he started complaining and behave unprofessionally saying that I use “technical” terms he “don’t know”. Basically the “technical” term he held me against was the word “content”. He played that game to keep delaying the content. After 2 months I gave up and asked for the money for the work I’ve done. Luckily my agreement specify that it can be terminated any time by any party and upon termination, all due payments must be paid.

  • http://www.ADDconsults.com Terry

    I’m not sure anyone is still reading this thread, but I just found it while searching for a WordPress designer. I’d like to share the other side of the coin: how the customer might get frustrated with a web designer.

    I hired a company to re-design and re-develop an old site. I had what I thought was a fairly intensive phone discussion with the owner, describing (I thought) in detail what my needs were. It took a few weeks to even have a designer assigned to me after having paid 1/2 of the total fee. And another few weeks for her to get started (“I’m still wrapping up a very difficult project”).

    Now…this is a well known company (I think) and they actually did another site for me a few years back that turned out really well, though it took longer than I’d hoped.

    Fast forward- it’s now one year since I hired (and paid in two installments) them. In the course of our work together, it often took weeks to get a response to my ticket, which usually involved me asking when they’d finish the job.

    As they finally got to the core of the project, they informed me that some of the projects could not be done, yet (unbelievably), they insisted I pay for 50% of it, regardless.

    I will admit that I shut down operations for 2 months while consulting with a business person, but I stated that in writing and they were fine with it. I also admit to having gotten stuck a few times when they needed copy *because*– I had no visual to put words to. Had they put up a dummy page, I would have easily been able to provide text. But I was clueless.

    I also have to admit that once they got rolling on some of the pieces, it dawned on me that they were not offering solutions on how to operate things; they were instead, focusing on the design.

    It has been an awful experience. But my point for posting here is that I wanted to share my perspective and hope that designers would thoroughly discuss every point of the project and be clear on what they can and cannot do. In my case, there were databases and other back-end things that needed to be built but this company kept searching for short-cuts that just won’t work for me. Worse, the scenario discussed earlier: a project that was promised (and written in the contract) that couldn’t be delivered (“oh- that plug-in we found won’t work for you”).

    And yes, I’m still searching for a WordPress expert (probably scared everyone away with this post!) who can fix the problems these guys left on the floor. And yes, I did pay my bill even though they did not adhere to their contract. Bummer all around.

  • http://www.rebusdesigns.com Kris

    The red flag that I am seeing more and more goes something like this:

    Client: “Hi, I would like to get a quote on a web page.”
    Me: “Thanks for contacting us, we’d be happy to put together a web site quote for you.”
    Client: “Super! My business, Hanks Hankies, makes the greatest hankies known to man and we now realize we need a web page.”
    Me: “What are the overall goals and objectives of your website? What do you want your visitors to experience, do, or get as a result of their visit to this new web site?”
    Client: “I don’t know. I was hoping you could tell us what the page should have on it. You’re the expert.”

    As a developer/designer, that statement should send shivers up and down your spine and lead to you running away very quickly.