By John Tabita

7 Qualities of a Good Client

By John Tabita

They say a business partnership is like a marriage. And a bad one can have repercussions that lasts for years. So, just like a marriage, you ought to make sure the qualities and characteristics of your business partner are compatible with your values.

A bad client is more like a bad vacation—miserable but not life-threatening. Still, it’s a good idea to avoid them whenever possible. And the best way to do that is knowing what a good one looks like. So here are 7 Qualities of a Good Client.

Good Clients Have a Realistic Budget

I’ve written before about the “magic number” I always seemed to encounter: $300. It was what most people thought a website should cost.

The average client is most likely clueless about the cost of a website. But good ones understand that they must spend money in order to make money. They realize that marketing is an investment not an expense, and are willing to spend money if they’re convinced of a good return on their investment. Bad clients focus exclusively on what they must spend.

Good Clients Rarely Haggle on Price

Good clients rarely haggle on price. While they expect good value for a fair price, they also realize that under-paid vendors seldom provide quality service.

For some people, however, no matter how cheap you are, the price of doing business with you will simply be too high. It always amazes me when people who are in business to make money can’t grasp the concept that we’re in business to do the same.

Good Clients are More Concerned About Finding an Expert They Can Trust

Good clients are more concerned about finding an expert they can trust than about getting the cheapest price. That’s because their biggest fear is picking the wrong person for the job. Prove you’re the right man or woman, and they won’t hesitate to hire you.

A bad client’s biggest fear is paying too much. That in itself doesn’t make them bad. But have you noticed the cheapest clients tend to be the most demanding? That’s what makes them bad. Very, very bad.

Good Clients Are Willing to Take Advice

In a perfect world, all business owners would have mission, vision, and value statements, a brand strategy, and a unique selling proposition (USP). They’d also have a clear idea of how they’d like their website to look and how it fits into their overall business objectives.

Welcome to reality, where “doing quality work at an affordable price” is what most business owners think sets them apart from the competition.

I’ve found that good clients are only too eager for some unbiased advice, because most of them aren’t savvy marketers. Oftentimes, consultations about website strategy turns into a discussion that helps the client in all aspect of their marketing. The questions you ask during your needs analysis should inspire your client to start thinking about value statements and brand strategies—especially if they have none. I think that’s called “added value.”

Good Clients Have a Single Point of Contact

Ever have a client website designed by committee? In his humorous cartoon, How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell, Matthew Inman describes how a client involved his mother in the feedback process because “she designed a bake sale flyer back in 1982”.

Good clients may ask a spouse or business partner for feedback. Bad clients will show your mockup to their entire staff.

Good Clients Participate in the Process—but Not Too Much

Even the best of clients will struggle to deliver content on time. Kelly Goto, author of Web ReDesign 2.0: Workflow That Works, quite accurately writes that receiving client content on schedule is “perhaps the most difficult and least-predictable part of any Web project.” She goes on to say:

Clients often have an unrealistic view of what they ‘already have ready to go’ and also what items they need to create. The myth is that the content will arrive on time. The mystery is that no matter how organized both you and the client are, the content will inevitably arrive late.

A client who’s late with content isn’t necessarily a bad one—just an overworked one. But good ones will deliver content in a timely matter, respond to phone calls and emails, and do their part to ensure the project is completed on schedule.

Bad clients will do none of the above. But they will open your mockup in Photoshop and redesign it.

Good Clients Pay on Time

Client who engage in all the bad behavior I’ve described above, and then don’t pay you on time are really, really bad clients. Try to avoid them at all costs.

Unfortunately, you can’t often tell ahead of time whether a client will turn out to be a bad one. But once you’ve had a few, you’ll begin to spot the early warning signs. Remember, every bad client is a learning experience. Don’t let them go to waste.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add to it in the comments below.

  • Anonymous

    I found myself with a grin across my face as I read each one of these. It’s nice to know you’re not the only one to have experienced each scenario. Clients which participate in the process too much are the ones that drive me around the bend the most. The ones that hire you as the expert and then try to tell you how to do your job!

    Great list John – Thanks for putting a smile on my face on this dark and gloomy Thursday.

  • Daniel

    This is more like ‘7 Qualities of the Perfect Client’. There aren’t many, if any that actually cover all these points.

  • Anonymous

    OMG – did you write this from my brain?
    –>Bad clients will do none of the above. But they will open your mockup in Photoshop and redesign it.
    My “favorite” bad client experience?
    Me: Okay great, site is live! congrats
    Client: But I can’t find me in google.
    Me: Would you like to discuss an SEO plan?
    Client: If I ordered a site, I obviously wanted it found in google, what good is a site that isn’t on the front page in google? That was obviously a condition from the beginning.
    Me: I think I hear your planet calling…

  • Stefano F. Rausch

    I do fully agree with you John!

  • Anonymous

    Web designers need to protect themselves from bad clients with more comprehensive contracts. If you allow your client to have 13 iterations of a design then you’re going to end up in serious trouble sooner or later. Your contract should clearly state that the client gets n number of revisions of the design after which point they will end up being billed by the hour. As regards payment, you should state that the client will be billed n% of the value of the contract for each week late that their bill is settled. If you end up dealing with a committee, state at the outset the terms of project management (e.g. single point of contact). I’m amazed at how many independent web designers and small web firms still allow this to happen. Some simple policies and procedures, along with a binding contract, will stop you losing money hand over fist.

  • Tadeo

    Excellent article John Tabita, as always.


  • Hirsch Fishman

    You should add one more trait: good clients pay promptly. :-)

  • Anonymous

    Agree! :)

  • Christopher Clover

    The problem to address is not necessarily the qualities of the client, but those of the web designers out there, some of whom simply lack creativity and true talent…..and wants the client to close his eyes and accept what he provides…. Try addressing the problem of the good client who ends up with the inept or uncreative web designer!

  • Pam

    Great list. I can certainly relate to each one of these. Now if only I could fine more clients who posses these traits…. Maybe your next article could advise where to find these people!

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.