How to Avoid the 6 Clients that Could Hurt Your Business


As freelancers we have a love/hate relationship with our clients. Without them we would be penniless, but at times they can make our work unbearably difficult. How do we handle the clients who don’t pay us, take all our time, and make our job harder than it needs to be? In my career I have worked with hundreds of clients and thankfully most have been amicable. But, every once in a while, one will come along that takes the wind out of my sails and this can potentially hurt my business if I let it. Knowing how to handle these unmanageable clients has helped me avoid potentially toxic situations.

These 6 client types top my list. Have you worked with any?

1. The Indecisive Client


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Indecisive clients change their minds part way through the project. They add services and expect you to jump through hoops to get the work done. This client expects you to discard what you completed and start on an entirely new project while adhering to the same timeline. Back to the drawing board!

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Pad your initial quote with some extra time. Every one of my projects has taken longer than I initially expected. It’s just the nature of the job.
  • Work out every detail before starting the project. Craft an agreement that states exactly what the client will expect with additional time billed at xyz / hour.
  • In your contract, include the number of revisions and a statement that breaks down the fees for any rush job, cancellation, or additional request.

2. The Expectant Client


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Did you ever work with a client who wanted Cadillac-type work on a Wal-Mart budget?

We are freelancers, not a subsidiary company of Donald Trump.

I like to work within my clients’ budgets. Some hail from startups or a bootstrapped situation and I am perfectly fine working with them as long as the rate makes sense for both parties.

But, if a client expects a “song and a dance” for little to no money, you can say “no”. Unless you are bartering your services for more exposure, or you are giving to an organization as a charitable contribution, you should be paid for your services.

Tip: Get the budget and payment agreement out of the way first. If you let a relationship progress before you talk budget, you will be more inclined to do the work for a lower rate. Beware of clients who do not openly discuss rates.

3. The Obnoxious Client

This is the client who took one web design course in college and thinks as a designer you are not doing the job exactly right. Or it’s the client who will never be satisfied with your work because she wants the results of a million-dollar agency on her meager budget.

How do you deal with these clients? Be patient and don’t take it personally. Sometimes people are insecure and they need to inflate their egos to feel better about themselves. Do your best job and kindly separate yourself from their negativity once the project is complete.

Tip: If you are not confident in your services, your clients will not be as well. You don’t have to be the “top dog” in your industry to give your clients an excellent product. Be confident in your level of expertise and you will attract a higher quality of leads who will appreciate the value you offer and pay you accordingly. I have first-hand experience with this.

4. The Insistent Client


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In the beginning of my freelance writing career I had a client who wanted to work with me on her content even though the project was outside my comfort zone. After looking over the subject matter of the work, I decided the project was not right for me since the industry was out of my expertise and the client needed an expert on the subject. The client insisted that I work with her so I took the job anyway. I spent hours on the phone gathering the details of the project and a lot of time researching this particular industry so I could become familiar with the copy. Once the project began, I sensed the client changing her mind and she no longer wanted me to write for her.

Here are some lessons I learned from dealing with this type of client:

  • If you feel the job is outside of your skillset, do not take it. No amount of money is worth it because an unhappy client creates more problems in the end.
  • You are self-employed and do not work for a company. You have the right to turn down a contract if it does not suit your needs.


  • Accept money upfront, especially if extensive research is involved. The percentage will depend on the project.
  • Gather as many details about the project beforehand as possible. Many of my clients fill out questionnaires and sign an agreement so both parties are aware of what is required before we begin.
  • If you are applying for freelance jobs, don’t let dollar signs influence the bulk of your decision making. If you can’t supply your client with excellent work, pass on it or hand it off.
  • Gather a network of trusted professionals you can access when a project is outside of your scope of knowledge. The people in your network will also send clients your way when the project is better suited for someone with your skillset.

5. The Talkative Client

This client will email you in the wee hours of the morning and chat with you on the phone about everything from his dog’s name to where he wants to take his business.

Some projects will require more client communication than others but it’s important to set the time boundaries before you begin the project.

  • Add your time commitment into your price quote.
  • If you sense the client will be a time-sucker, add some money to your quote to make up for the extra time.
  • Limit communication or charge for it separately.

I tend to err on the side of “free” communication for my clients because I want them to feel like they have an open door policy. When I feel clients are taking more of my time, I will nicely tell them I am busy and will get back to them as soon as I can. Train your clients to respect your schedule just as much as you respect theirs.

6. The Magician Client

I call this client the “magician” because he disappears once a payment is due! No contact; no correspondence; no request for further work; no explanation.

You spend hours designing a client’s website or writing copy and communication is going well. But once you request payment…

  • Client is missing and out of touch
  • Client mentions a family issue and tries to push off payment and is unreachable
  • Client provides excuses and hopes you will eventually give up asking for money

I had one client who paid for partial services and owed me a final payment. I sent email after email and received word that she would send a check in one week. The week passed and I never received it. After numerous emails, she gave me an excuse about hardships she was facing. I offered my sympathy and told her I would be expecting payment. After more time had elapsed, I threatened to take further action. I received my payment days later.

Even with contracts, it’s hard to fight payment issues. Most of the clients are out of state or out of the country and fighting it in court is almost more headache than it’s worth, especially if you are only dealing with a few hundred dollars. If the situation escalates out of control, threaten to complain about their business whether on social media or any other media outlet., but only in extreme cases.

Assess this on a case by case basis. I had one client with whom I worked for a few years and her business went under. She owed me a lot of money but I haven’t escalated it because we had a good business relationship. Do everything you can not to escalate the situation, but know that you have options should the issue warrant it.

Here are some tips:

  • Maintain steady communication throughout the project
  • Communicate by phone – Clients have a harder time saying “no” on the phone.
  • Request 25%-50% payment upfront.

Prepare for the Worst

The best way to prevent working with these clients is to learn from your mistakes and prepare for the difficult clients within your contracts.

Your contract should include:

  • The scope of the project
  • Deadlines and deliverables
  • A detailed description of your services
  • Revisions and fees for additional work
  • Terms which include upfront payment, cancellation fees, etc.

It’s OK to turn down a project if something doesn’t feel right. Over time, you will develop an instinct about a client even before you submit a contract.  Remember that you are hiring the client too.  In the beginning you may need the money, but once you start building your business, choose your client similar to how they would choose you.

Your client is your customer and your goal is to please them. Do everything you can within your limitations to give them your best work. If all else fails, communicate that your working relationship is not beneficial for both parties and chock it up to experience. Hopefully no money is lost and you can move on from the negativity.

Have you worked with any of these clients? How did you resolve a client conflict?



  1. Rositsa Zaharieva

    Some great advice in this article! Thanks, Jenna! I’m thinking about setting up a sample contract to see how it goes.
    I didn’t recognize a certain type of client, however I know the type that’s close enough to the Obnoxious client – only in my experience they have a relative who has a friend who’s boyfriend once designed a business card in MS Word (you got the idea :D) and now, since they’re the expect, they advise my client in a certain way that controverses with my advice (that I’m actually paid for). I sometimes really wonder why people hire designers when they’re confident they have the resource to deal with a given task by themselves!
    I’m a freshly brewed freelancer (since I have a full time job, it’s actually a good way to add to my paycheck) with just one finished web project and another just going on, and both of my clients are fine. So I know that type – the one who doesn’t bother me with anything and who waits on me to contact them when I have something to show. We should probably write an article about the 6 types of clients you should try to attract? ;)

  2. The two ads above the comments read:

    “Create FREE websites. Click Here” and “Join the fight to end designer poverty”.

    Am I the only one to see the irony in this?

  3. Melissa Jones

    One of the BEST articles I have read this year. I am going to share this with my peers – excellent insight. As business owners – we need to protect our brand, even if this means declining some work regardless of how much the client is paying. This article was RIGHT on time!

  4. Nerdette

    Big thanks for this. Articles like this are very helpful as experience although good can sometime be very painful. I have recently had the first one mentioned on the list. A very quick 2 week project took 12 weeks because I didn’t wire into the agreement a cap on the amends. Which were extensive to say the least. When I confronted the client about this, I got the whole “I have a vision and if it takes this amount of time, so be it” speech. Not good as I had to point it out in a firm way that they were, quite frankly, taking the mic. It didn’t go down well. I finished the project but had to fire the client. Which was a shame as had worked with them for almost 3 years. A classic case of familiarity breeds contempt.

  5. Wasim Ismail

    loll True – At the end of the day it can be very difficult to judge how a client will turn out to be.

  6. adumpaul

    Without clients can’t run any business but you need to work with those clients who have some responsibility.Thank you.