Why nightmare clients can be a blessing in disguise

You can turn a client from hell into an advantage – Alex Mathers explains how.

Self-taught illustrator, business owner, speaker and writer Alex Mathers is the latest creative to weigh in on our nightmare clients mini-series. Mathers specialises in digital vector maps and landscapes. He also runs the Red Lemon Club and Ape on the Moon websites – and has come across a few less than ideal clients in his time.

Here, he discusses how to deal with tricky clients – and why they can be a blessing in disguise...

Also read: Nightmare clients: the one who doesn't pay; the poor communicator; the ungrateful client, the 'design savant'.

What should you do when a client tries to educate you on your area of expertise?

Be a mature human being and avoid directing deeply personal abuse in their direction. Ignore criticism that's below the belt, but let clients know who's boss by speaking with authority on your own product. When a client tries to educate you, they're most likely testing your professionalism without realising it. Be a cool professional.

How would you advise handling clients who breathe down your neck?

Tell them politely yet firmly to back down. Don't be afraid to show some balls to clients. They don't own you. Alternatively, a double shot of espresso often does the job. or a slap, below the right eye, and stronger than the last one.

How should you deal with clients who want a free sample to test your skills?

I'd probably take the offer and screw it into a tiny ball before unloading it in a baseball-style pitch towards the client's face. If I was feeling chipper, I'd make an assessment of the client. If their inclusion on my list of previous clients would help my own brand, then I might do a free sample.

Any advice for first-time designers?

Realise that dealing with a few crap clients, especially in the early days of your career, is actually a blessing. It helps build a picture in your mind of who to avoid in the future. It's so important to identify the commonalities and patterns of clients you should avoid.

Words: Bryce Bladon
Illustration: Alex Mathers

The full version of this article first appeared in Computer Arts issue 233, a special issue with a photochromatic cover revealing the UK's top 30 studios, plus how to craft the perfect folio and make more money as a student...