Creatives, here's how to spot a nightmare client

Working as a freelance in the creative sector can be immensely fulfilling. Working with vastly different clients can be enlightening, providing new challenges ever day. It can also be an absolute nightmare when you get one of those clients.

Is there anything you can do to help avoid the clients that make you wish you'd chosen a different career path? According to a new survey, there's one clear tell-tale sign that a client is going to be a headache, and that might mean you should consider backing out (looking for new creative tools for your business, see our pick of the best Illustrator alternatives).

A freelance creative working on a laptop deals with a nightmare client

Some clients will have you tearing your hair out (Image credit: FreshBooks)

Every freelance creative or small studio or agency has surely had one of those nightmare clients. It might seem like a good gig initially, but then the tantrums begin, the aggressive calls and contradictory feedback, the changes to the brief, amendment of the deadline and attempts to row back on the budget. While running your own creative business can be liberating and rewarding, some clients really but a downer on it. 

For its "Bad Clients Report', the accounting platform FreshBooks surveyed 400 small business owners in the US and asked them about the worst clients they’ve had. It identified "meanness", cited by a third of respondents, as the most common bad behaviour from clients. Meanwhile, a quarter of respondents complained of dishonesty and "not paying on time".

So are there any warning signs to look out for? Well, 41% of small business owners reported that “unreasonable demands” were the earliest sign that someone would turn out to be a bad client. Meanwhile, women were twice as likely as men to notice early on in the relationship that the worst clients were “skeptical of their abilities”. Women were also more likely to experience "mean behaviour" from a bad client.

Is there anything you can do if you realise too late? It turns out that walking away is actually a fairly common last resort. According to the survey, 35% of small business owners said they ended the relationship with their worst client "by firing their client". That said, more than a third reported that they're still working with the nightmare client.

For more tips, see our pieces how to deal with 7 of the worst clients and how to deal with nightmare clients. These pieces are going back a few years now, but much of the advice remains the same. Meanwhile, for creative inspiration, see our guide to the famous graphic designers you need to know about.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.