Spotting Problem Clients Rant!

Often people ask me ‘how do you spot problem clients’, well, I want to give you all my experiences to help other spot them before the come.

It all has to do with your gut feeling from your initial emails. If you feel that the client is way too demanding from his/her initial email correspondence then it’s likely to be a problematic client.

Selective memory is also an issue. There is no such thing as a stupid client, they are all pretty wise to know they need a website. It’s just sometimes they play stupid, or better yet select things they prefer or it’s within their interest to remember.

The biggest issue with any client is of course the unsettled invoices. Some clients pay them instantly other’s wait for months. Some just won’t settle them because they don’t feel they have to. This would tie into the selective member and choosing not to take on-board what you’ve told them about your industry.

It’s all about selecting the right customer, you’d regret it if you choose to take on a wrong client, as in the end they would almost always leave or be fired due to unsettled invoices.

Just to add, if they ask for a small price they are gonna be a pain in the a**.

Mmm… exactly! It’s just the way the industry works. No point taking somebody who will eventually decide to quit your services because they are too tight.

This may be a cultural thing in the UK but if someone rings me on a weekend—especially if it’s a Sunday—that puts me on alert. Other things are:

  1. Asking to sign a NDA before even giving an overview of the project (usually means they are over confident about it)
  2. Offering a share in the business in lieu of payment
  3. Saying that their project is <insert big social media site here> but for <insert slightly different demographic here>
  4. Refusing to give an idea of budget
  5. Not putting your name in the first email to you (means it might be a BCC bulk email)

It’s funny but I’ve been freelancing for a long time now and I’d say my sixth sense to sniff out a time waster has developed a lot faster than my web design/development skills.

Good thread!


I refuse to sign those NDA documents. They literally mean nothing to me, and having to swear myself to secrecy of something I’ve not seen or heard about is really crazy. One of my ex-clients made my sign a NDA to show me his secret design. I thought I’d be getting some uber-cool design I needed coding. Anyhow, the guy send me a powerpoint slide. I was like “You’ve got to be sh*tting me!”.

Anyhow, I called the guy to let him know this was not a proper design. In either case they thought their powerpoint slide would make an excellent website. This was the point I dropped the client.

4. Refusing to give an idea of budget

They view web design like you’re a painter, and it’s just a case on going for somebody who will do it cheaper as the job must be the same. So if they give you the budget they cannot barter or go for the cheapest person. They really know nothing about web design. I just let them know a website can be 500 GBP or 50,000GBP, what will it be? They almost always say 50GBP instead. :slight_smile:

  1. Refusing to give an idea of budget

I have a corolary to that one.

Client doesnt understand the relationship between scope and budget ( or worse … says the words ‘scope’, ‘range of services’, and ‘content’ are to jargony for him/her to understand and wish designer would speak the ‘language of regular people’ )

I want to point out that this client’s tone of voice was ‘respectful’ and nearly ‘politely accommodating’. She even pointed out that she understood the complex nature of my work and wouldn’t dream to ask for a lowball rate/quote she just loved my work and wanted to improve her organization’s site so that it would ‘have everything’ and be ‘sexy’ so that ‘business would improve’. But that she was stunned when the estimate was orders of magnitude from what she expected.

For the record, as I understood it, her goal was to set up/fix little league site with game schedule, ticket sales, parent /kid registration/ coach management/ rosters/ merchant shop/ weather and city info/ CMS so they could ‘change it’ when they wanted to w/o having to talk to me or any other designer/ responsive/ custom written copy/custom logo and branding ?? / custom art and art direction/ marketing positioning again the current 4 other leagues [ i had to google this as she could tell me anything about the ‘competition’] … and about 2pages of bullet point more. She didn’t object to any of the proposal …only that she thought it could all be done in 20-30 billable hrs.

Another thing to add, if the client is forgetful, missing emails and just plain lazy. Drop it! I’ve had clients that are just too dumb or too lazy to their emails that I have to check it for them, and show it to them twice.

Another thing is, some clients now will give you a price. Not a price range that you can work out, but a fixed price for you to say yes or no.

A client contacted me to design a custom responsive wordpress theme for his niche sites, prices per theme? $15, when I asked him where did he get the prices, he said that it’s the standard prices for those now. That’s the time I lost it!

Some clients will compare prices with you and newbies, that’s when I asked them this “If you wanted your tooth fix, would you rather go to a dental student or a certified dentist?”
Most of them don’t even reply, lol!

I find it incredibly rude and ignorant when people don’t reply—and it’s actually quite common. Some people are just hopeless communicators. I recently did some work for a multi-millionaire and very successful businessman; really nice guy but I was putting a plan together to add new features to one of his websites. I put it all together and asked when we could meet to discuss and he said “oh, we sold that business”. I mean, really, you’d think he’d thought to tell me.

Actually, the sad thing is if it was cheaper some people most certainly would use the student dentist. It’s a good analogy though as it shows how cheap some people are.