How to spot difficult clients before it's too late

When you start working with a new client, it's like a lovely new relationship. Everything seems to be going swimmingly, and they're very reasonable, but then suddenly, they turn into a complete nightmare. They become over-demanding and stressful.

So how can you spot these characters before it's too late? Well, I believe that first phone conversation or initial meeting holds the key to helping you pick out the difficult ones. Because the things they say will reveal more than you think.

Here are some examples to help you recognise these troublemakers and their potential bad traits, so you can make the right decision...

"If you drop the price, I'll send lots of business your way!"

How many times have we heard this one? Too many times, that's for sure. One recent encounter even ranted at me that I'd be stupid not to provide a cheaper service, given all the contacts she could put me in touch with. Seriously, people who think they're important are just egotistical and will never value your work.

"I'm really laid-back and easy to work with!"

People who say that they're easy to work with, who feel the need to spell it out, are usually quite the opposite. They're also likely to be insecure of the fact that they know they're difficult to work with and are paranoid that you may have heard about their bad behaviour.

It's quite a desperate thing to say as well – like they're almost trying to sell themselves to you. These types are likely to have a string of former agencies or freelancers behind them, never really able to stick with one company due to their over-demanding nature.

"I'd do it myself, as it's an easy job, but I don't have time!"

This type is very likely to undervalue your work and not respect or appreciate the amount of skills, expertise and time involved in any project you work on. If your creative skills are so easy and they really can do it themselves, then why would you want to work with someone who is clearly going to be very fussy, over-demanding and unappreciative of your work?

"Are we doing a handshake on this? I don't do contracts."

This type of person suggests to me that they'll want to make significant changes in future and add lots of tasks to the project, without expecting to pay for that additional work. They're also likely to have you up on things at every opportunity, ensuring they get as much of your expertise for as little cost as possible.

"I've been in this game before you were even born!"

Only a very insecure person would say such a thing, as they feel they have to prove their worth. This kind of statement suggests they'll never respect you or your work, so there will be obstacles on every project. And then if something goes wrong? You'll certainly get the full blame for being so 'inexperienced' and not as skilled as them.

"Remember, we have a tight budget so we need your best price!"

This type of person obviously doesn't understand the amount of work and expertise that goes into any given project. They'll never truly appreciate you and will probably be very slow and reluctant payers.

"I fell out with my last supplier..."

Run away, run away! If someone admits that they fell out with a former supplier, then that's a pretty good indication that they're going to be a nightmare to work with. I mean, really – how old are we? Falling out with people? It's pathetic. Someone who falls out with anyone in business is not the sort of person you want to deal with.

"Let's meet to see if we get on..."

This screams high-maintenance client. Why would you need to meet just to see if you're compatible? Business meetings should be about ensuring the work gets done and is done right. If someone wants to meet to see if you'd 'get on', that's a very good sign they'll be difficult.


And those are just some of the signs that will help you spot potentially difficult clients. Of course, I never like to turn business away but I like to look out for the warning signs and then consider whether a project is going to be worth the effort. But if I do go ahead with a potentially difficult client, at least I'm better prepared and ready to deal with any issues that may arise.