How to escape the clients from hell

Bad clients can suck your energy and stifle your creativity. Avoid getting stuck with them by following these tips from Carl Heaton of Bangkok Design Agency.

Do you ever wish your clients would just understand the hard work, time and experience that go into a website, logo or app? You ask for content and they give you a mission statement written on a Carl’s Jnr napkin. You ask for a colour scheme and they send you their eight-year old's last school attempt at art. You ask for the app’s target market and they reply: "Everyone!"

While many clients are a joy to work with, some push you to the point where you wish you'd never taken them on. But without the benefit of hindsight, how do you ensure the same thing won't happen next time?

Here I'll explain how you can filter out clients from hell at the very start, and ensure you end up working with perfect clients instead...

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01. Secrecy is a warning sign

Clients who have a "big secret idea" they won't tell you often turn out to be clients from hell

Of course, you should be open-minded and consider any business that comes your way. But that doesn't mean scheduling meetings, let alone signing contracts, before you've got a good idea of what exactly a potential client is looking for.

Politely try to gather as much information as you can about their intentions before you waste their time and yours. An early warning sign is when people keep their cards close to your chest, telling you they've got an "absolutely amazing business idea" that they will only reveal to you once contracts are signed and sealed.

Often as not, they'll then announce that they want you to build them "a site that's like Facebook, but better".

02. Price is the first line of defence

Think about what kind of clients you want to attract when you set your rates

Your rates speak volumes. If set correctly, they can filter out the idiots and attract the serious business owners and entrepreneurs who understand the value of what you provide.

So while you should primarily choose your rates based on your costs and profit margin, you should also take into account the type of client you want to attract in the first place.

03. Effort in = effort out

Getting your clients to complete paperwork before you take them on can be illuminating

The next stage is to filter out those clients who are not willing to put in the effort or have any clue what they actually want or need.

At my agency, after we receive an enquiry I send them a Project Questionnaire document. It’s an eight-page document with over 20 questions including:

“What is your role in the decision making process?”

“Design requirements?

[ ] High caliber design

[ ] Mid-range design

[ ] Very basic site”

As you might expect, many potential clients are not willing to fill out the questionnaire. And that allows us to stay free and open for when the right client comes along.

Think about it: when you are quoting a job do you add enough time for clients who delay providing content? Getting content from them can be like getting blood from a stone! Best to avoid taking them on in the first place...

Next steps

Once you've taken on your client, it's now time to separate them into different categories, so you know what kind of time and resources they will require. I'll explain how to go about that in my next article, which you can read here: 5 types of design client and how to handle them

Words: Carl Heaton

Carl Heaton is managing director of Bangkok Design Agency, an agency based in Thailand that grows ideas through intelligent website and graphic design, integrated online and offline marketing.

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Have you had a narrow escape and avoided taking on a nightmare client? Share your experiences in the comments below!