What is it that separates a great client from an absolute day-crushing nightmare?

I've written down a few things that I think define a terrible client... Why not take the time to do the same? It's a great way to spot 'red flags' in the future so you can avoid making the same mistakes again.

  • They don't respect your time
  • They question your expertise and treat you like a technician, rather than an expert
  • They expect you to react immediately to their phone calls and emails
  • The only thing they're relaxed about is paying your invoices

I bet some of these look familiar, don't they?

There was a time when I believed that most clients treated you like this - That was my experience over the past ten years, anyway.

But logic told me this could not be true... And I began to think that there must be something I was doing wrong to attract these type of clients in the first place.

So I made it my business to scrutinise my process and find out exactly what I needed to fix.

You create clients from Hell

The one BIG thing I learned was so simple - I mean, it's the most obvious thing in the world.

YOU have the final say as to whether you take on a project (or not)... So it's YOUR responsibility to say 'no' to the wrong projects, and 'yes' to the right ones.

In the first stages of a consultation, before taking on any project, you should be on the look out for warning signs that the client might not be a good fit for you.

I have a process where I insist clients fill out a questionnaire before we talk about money or move any further. (See mine here)

If somebody is unwilling to follow the process, then I simply explain that we are unable to proceed any further.

I thank them for their time and move along. (It's funny how often people will decide to play ball when you stay true to yourself).

If you want your clients to respect your time and your process, then you must do too. It is there to protect you, after all.

I found that if you go into every consultation with the mindset 'Let's see if we're a good fit to work together'... It takes a lot of the pressure off and allows you to put the emphasis back on the client, talking about THEIR needs and THEIR goals. 

Don't scramble or 'perform' to win their work... Think about the potential partnership as one that should be beneficial to both of you.

If it feels wrong at the start, trust your instincts and politely turn down the work.

If I pick up a 'problem client', I see it is entirely my fault because I didn't pick up on the warning signs at the start.

My process was flawed or I didn't execute it correctly... It's as simple as that.

- If a client expects unlimited revisions included in the cost, this is your my - I didn't communicate effectively.

- If a client doesn't pay me on time, again, this is my fault because I didn't clearly define my terms at the start of the project.

The takeaway is this: YOU are in control of the clients you work with... YOU get to say 'yes' or 'no' to any project.

If you invest time and energy during the consultation phase, not only will you discover far more about the client and their business, which should allow you to deliver better work... But you'll also position yourself as a serious professional who's time is valuable.

This is super-attractive to the RIGHT kind of client. 

Your process should, and will, evolve over time. You'll become more confident saying 'no' to people who aren't a good fit for you and almost like magic, the 'right' clients will start to become attracted to you.

I know it's not easy, but turning down work is something you must get comfortable with.

And in a weird twist of fate, this is one of the best ways to increase your own value.

The right clients will respect you more if you only take on the projects where you're sure you can deliver awesome value.

And for the rest; be polite, wish them luck and move along.