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Mastering the Art of Recognizing Clients from Hell

Pili Laviolette

As entrepreneurs, we often encounter a wide range of clients, each with their unique needs and expectations. While most client interactions are smooth and rewarding, occasionally, we come across challenging situations that test our patience and professionalism.

From clients who don't respect our timelines to clients who simply ghost us.

From clients who want to micromanage us to clients who don't know what they want.

The list can be long and to be completely honest, it's hard know for certain if a potential client will be a headache to deal with or not, but I do believe that there are little hints that can show us if a client would be a good fit.

I recently went through a traumatizing experience with a potential client that got offended by my pricing and got very aggressive, even though everything was within her budget. I still don't know what went through her mind, but if there is something positive out of a negative experience is the lessons we learn.

And that's what I want to share today with you.

In this blog post, I want to share some points that will help you identify red flags in potential clients, including the hidden ones.

Ready? Let's go!

⚖️ Maintenance level:

If you've ever been around a needy person, you know how much energy they can drain from you. Some clients are more high-maintenance than others, and sometimes it's worth it, but most of the time it's not. You can get a sense of this by the way they communicate, how long they take to respond, how many follow-ups you have to send, how easy it is for them to understand things (I know, sometimes clients don't understand jargon, but if you explain things, do they get overwhelmed or excited that they learned something new?), and overall how flexible and open they are.

💬 Communication flow:

One key to a successful project is seamless communication. As a service provider, you must do your best to create an environment for seamless communication, and that starts before you even close the deal. In my experience, a good client not only talks but also listens, just as you should too. With bad clients, it typically feels like you are talking to a wall, or whatever you say goes through one ear and out the other.

Also, how many messages do they send you? Are they highly impulsive, or do they take the time to ask good questions?

🎨 Experience working with other designers:

I always ask new leads if they've worked with other designers. This helps me to A) get a sense of how much experience they have working with designers and creatives, and B) if they have worked with a designer before, I ask them what made them switch providers. Often you can see if there was some sort of conflict.

💜 You vs. other designers:

Ideally, you want to work with clients who truly want to work with you. I always ask potential clients why they want to work with me instead of somebody else. If I see excitement, it's a great sign. If not, I usually avoid spending too much time or energy on them. Keep in mind that trust can grow over time too, so if you are interested in working with that client, see how engagement and excitement improve over time.

🏷 Free discounts:

I learned a long time ago that discounts don't come for free. If a client's budget doesn't work, we reduce the scope. We often feel like we have to give a discount so that they choose to work with us, but most of the time, that makes them think that we will always give them a discount. So if a potential client expects a free discount just because of their pretty face, they can take their pretty face somewhere else 😊

🧱 Extra consideration:

Following the previous point, sometimes potential clients ask for a discount or a better price because they are a small business or a startup, as if we need to feel compassion. As small business owners, we can be empathetic but that doesn’t mean free work or less profit. The point that they all forget is that YOU are also running a business. You can always suggest reducing the scope or providing them with a payment plan that makes things more digestible, but it's not your responsibility to lose money so that they can build their business. It sounds tough, but it's true.

🗓 (Un)realistic timelines:

Everybody wants their designs ready yesterday, and in some situations, it makes sense to work extra hours. However, you don't have to burn yourself out by working 20 hours a day to meet someone else's deadline. Design takes time, and clients need to learn to respect your time. To help them out, you can define a list of priorities that can be accomplished within their timeline and postpone the other tasks to a later date.

🗺 Who leads the way:

As a creative service provider, you most likely have a process that you've proven and refined over and over. Clients shouldn't dictate your process. Instead, you should explain in advance how you work so that they feel guided and confident. Sometimes clients tend to micromanage because they feel insecure, but if you give them peace of mind, they will be more likely to let you do your thing. If they are still not open to your process, this is a huge red flag and big reason to say bye to them.


Please note that every client is different. This is not a black and white situation, so your gut feeling will play a big role. It's important that you work with people whom you enjoy working with, while they also feel happy working with you.

I hope you found this list helpful. Now it's your turn: have you ever dealt with a bad client? If yes, what's your story? We can all learn from each other 😊 Send me a DM with your experience!


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