5 Telltale Signs of a Nightmare Client

For small businesses, nightmare clients don’t just occur at Halloween, and they are very bad news. A truly bad client can wreak havoc with your schedule, your bank balance and your peace of mind – none of which you can afford.

Unfortunately, they don’t usually have green skin, a manic cackle and a troop of flying monkeys to warn you of their true nature. But fortunately, there are giveaway signs that a client is going to cause problems.

Nightmare client

Below we’ll uncover the classic nightmare client types, and reveal ways to uncover and deal with nightmare client-related issues before they become a liability.

1. They Waste Time

This type of client just can’t make up their mind. They’ll get you to quote on one specification, and then another, and another. They’ll come up with all sorts of weird and trivial questions, and be mysteriously unavailable when they promise to be around.

With clients such as this, be positive and enthusiastic, but set clear rules about what you can and can’t do without a commitment. You can phrase this as, for example: “I understand that you’d like more detail, which we can discuss once we’ve agreed the contract.”

Don’t be shy about following up – if you’ve sent someone a proposal, it’s okay to check back in a few days and ask if they’ve seen it, or to say that you’re looking forward to starting work on it – just something to keep you top of mind. Be aware, if the client has stopped answering emails, that’s probably their way of stepping back from the deal.

2. They’re Bargain Hunting

The tactics of the bargain hunter are simple – they want what you’re offering, but they don’t want it at the price you’ve asked them to pay. Maybe they’ve watched one too many television bargain hunting programmes, but they’re determined to squeeze a better deal out of you.

How you deal with this type of client depends very much on the benefit to you. If you can see advantage (for instance, if it’s a major order or a regular client) then perhaps there may be something you can offer. Not necessarily a lower price, but an “extra” that you can throw in to sweeten the deal. You could perhaps offer an affordable discount if they take up the offer within a short time period.

If there’s no benefit to you then politely decline, while stressing how your services or products can help your deal-seeking client. You could argue that your offer is already a great deal, to appeal to their inner bargain hunter. And of course, always have a clear idea of your overall business costs, so you don’t give away your services below cost price.

3. They’re Looking For Perfection

You’ll get to know the perfectionist once a job is completed, because nothing you have done will be good enough. There may be a cunning plan here, which is to beat down the price by feigning disappointment, or you may just have run into one of those people who don’t have a clear idea of what they want – just that it isn’t what you’ve given them.

Dealing with perfectionism depends on the heart of the issue. It’s important to get all clients to spell out exactly what they want, preferably at contract stage, then you at least have something to compare the result with, to prove you fulfilled the requirements.

If you’ve done everything that was required of you to a good standard, you can be confident in standing your ground if a client threatens to withhold or reduce payment. It’s important, should this go to legal proceedings, for you to be able to prove what you did was to specification, deadline and the quality required.

4. They Grumble All the Time

The grumbler is a slightly different animal to the above – this type of client will bring a constant negativity that will come at you through every stage of a project. It’s won’t just be about the outcomes, but every single aspect of what you’re doing.

The grumbler can be extremely frustrating to deal with because the complaints may be trivial, and as one is resolved, another will pop up. Again, how you react will depend on how good a client they are in financial terms – if someone is your main client and spends a lot of money with you, it may be worth some give and take.

It’s best to deal with grumblers firmly, politely and constructively. Key actions include resolving problems quickly and positively – make clear that you understand any concerns and deal with them within a specific amount of time. Offering refunds (unless it’s a small amount and the contract is worth a great deal) can be counterproductive, because grumblers will come back time after time.

5. They Are Payment Phobic

Late payers and no-payers are the ultimate small business nightmare – these are the people who really do want something for nothing, and don’t care if it drives your business over the edge in the process.

Sometimes this is because they are very busy, and paying you is a low priority. Sometimes it’s because they’re a small cog in a giant company where everything grinds along slowly. Some companies (despite legislation) have policies of not paying in under a set amount of time.

Chronic late payers may be persuaded to pay up if you offer easy payment options like PayPal. In some industries, it’s standard practice to get all or part of your payment up front, though unfortunately not all. Ideally, you should set out a payment policy in your contract – for a large contract, there may be payment milestones you can create.

Accounting solutions like Hiveage offer automated invoicing that sends out reminders for you, which is very useful. But ultimately, if a client is consistently tardy, it may be time to part company – they really can be more trouble than they’re worth.

If a client simply doesn’t pay, it’s time to think about going to the small claims court for smaller amounts, or even – if the sum is large enough – consulting a professional collection agency (though there will be a fee attached to this option). Conclusion

Small businesses need to be vigilant to ensure they don’t fall foul of bad clients, because even a handful of real nightmare clients can make life very difficult.

Don’t forget:

  • Be positive with time wasters, make sure you’ve prepared the ground well, and follow up on proposals.
  • Make sure bargain hunters don’t take you to the cleaners – consider non-monetary freebies or – if the client’s important enough – an affordable discount for a prompt commitment.
  • Make sure your contract is clear on specifications, deadlines and quality criteria.
  • Deal with grumblers politely and promptly resolve their issues, but don’t slip into the habit of offering money back for trivial issues..
  • Make it easy for late payers to pay and adopt automated reminder solutions.

Do use the advice above to help you steer clear of those clients who’ll drag down your business. We’d love to hear about reader success stories in dealing with bad clients in the comments section below!