Designers Beware: 10 Warning Signs of a Bad Client
September 24th, 2008 in Business & Process
by: Matthew Griffin
No other force has more power to make or break the spirit of the web designer than the all important client. The good ones make us love our work and the bad ones can make us wish we were dead. Sometimes when it gets really bad, we have to fire a client. But wouldn't it be great if we could tell the good ones from the bad ones right away and avoid them like we would bad fruit at the market? I don't think it will ever be quite that simple. There will always be a few bad apples that sneak in under the radar. But over the years I've learned a few warning signs that are dead giveaways for hard-to-please, controlling, whiny and/or needy clients. If you come across a potential client with one of these, think twice about the project. If they have two or three, run the other way.
1. Client who claims their last designer just couldn't quite give them what they wanted
Admittedly, there are some situations where this is a valid claim. Most of the time, though, this client is controlling and hard-to-please. It may seem a little awkward but it's important to probe them for some details about their relationship with the previous designer. Ask if you can see some of the rejected work. Find out how many iterations they went through before the client gave up on them. If the client is willing to give you this information, you should know pretty quickly whether or not you should pass on the project. If they won't, proceed with extreme caution.
2. Client with computer skills that are grossly lacking
Clients who are extremely computer/web illiterate suck a lot more time than ones who know their way around. Keep that in mind when you're quoting a job for this client. Sometimes I've even found that a client's frustration with technology can be transferred to the designer—a kind of guilt by association. The last thing you want is to coddle a client through a project only to have them bad mouth you to all their friends because they're frustrated with the technology.
3. Client with "a little web design experience"
You've probably run into this client before. He's the guy who built his last website in Front Page and can't understand why the project is going to take so long and cost so much. He knows just enough to question every decision you make. If this client starts out on a controlling note, you're probably doing good to pass on the project. If you decide to chance it, it's important to establish yourself as the expert early on in the process. Don't leave any room for doubt. Do your research and be prepared.
4. Client who offers a percentage of their business as payment
I went for this one a lot when I was first starting out. Don't do it! People with million-dollar ideas and no money are a dime a dozen. You should get paid for what you do. Also, keep in mind that if the website ends up being a huge success, you're going to be first in line for the upgrade and support work anyway. That's true whether you get paid for the initial project or not.
5. Client who insists on three or four different design mockups
Clients who love options are usually clients who love control. Clients who love control can quickly become time-sucking, make-you-wish-you-were-dead, demons from Hades. Be wary of this client. He's the sneakiest and hardest to read of them all. Sometimes everything ends up just fine. The client quickly chooses an option and you're on your way. Other times you end up with a nine month project that should have been finished in two.
6. Client with the flowchart
Sometimes clients who bring flowcharts to the first meeting are just highly organized and efficient individuals who want to make your job as easy as possible. If this is the case you'll know right away. When the client is saying things like, "You're the expert, but we put these together to give you a better understanding of how our business works", etc. You have nothing to fear. But when you get a stack of paper with every detail of the website pre-planned, you are dealing with a control freak, and potentially your worst nightmare. It's not worth. Let the project go to some other poor shmuck.
7. Client with a big IT department and no marketing department
The company that has a lot of IT workers and no marketing department will almost certainly clash with your ideas about design. In my experience, the IT department in a company likes to have control of the website because they view it as part of their territory. Right away you're dealing with an issue of clashing egos. And with no marketing department there to balance the situation out, you end up with an overdose of type A personality that's no good for anyone. Be careful with these types of clients.
8. Client who thinks Network Solutions or their ISP is your competitor
A client who thinks you are in direct competition with cookie-cutter website solutions and local ISPs is probably not going to value your work very much. Dealing with clients like this always makes for a strained relationship. They may be willing to pay your fee because they "don't have time to mess with the other solutions", but they will always view you as a necessary evil. That's not exactly the type of business relationship you should be looking for.
9. Client with no previously created promotional content
Clients who blatantly disregard the value of marketing and advertising are many times frustrating to deal with. To start, they have no previous experience working with creative agencies, so everything is a learning process. Also, the lack of raw materials makes it difficult to get started. And once you do get started every piece of content you need will take extra long to get because it has to be created from scratch. If you're going to jump into a project with a client like this, make sure you're ready to spend some extra time or hire a copywriter to produce the content for you.
10. Client with a current website that was designed by a family member
This is never a good situation. There are always a lot of feelings involved and hoops to jump though. It's especially bad with the previous designer/family member is part of the decision-making group for the new design. I've been in meetings like this where pride and ego end up splattered all over the conference room. It's not a pretty sight and I don't recommend it for the weak stomached. Don't go for this project unless the family member is completely out of the picture. And I don't mean dead, because then you're looking a whole new set of issues.
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