Wait … did someone say nightmare clients? Well, they do exist. To some they’re known as “late payers”, others refer to them as “time wasters”, I like to call them “ex-clients”.
But here’s our definition of a nightmare client: a client who either wastes time or money (which is, essentially, the same thing: time = money).
But let’s back up a little. Now that we’ve established that nightmare clients do sometimes exist. I need to tell you why you should hardly ever have to deal with them in the first place.
How to avoid nightmare clients
We shouldn’t have nightmare clients because they should be identified and ignored at a very early stage. Here are some things you must do when running your own design business.
Contracts are more or less essential when it comes to new clients. Download a contract and put your client’s name, your name, a description of the job, the deliverable and the timeline.
These are important clauses you need in your contract:
- Always specify the amount of changes/revisions/options in the contract. This can be one of the main sticking points. Nightmare clients like to waste people’s time just like vampyres like to drink blood. Always maintain that there can only be 5 or so rounds of changes to a job. If you’re doing a logo, specify the number of options you’ll send (maybe 3 or 4, followed by 3 or 4 revisions, for example). You can be flexible on this with a good client.
- Have a clause which specifies that if either party wishes to terminate the contract you will be paid pro rata for the work you’ve already done. Nightmare clients will change their mind about a project. They may suddenly realise they didn’t want it after all!
But bear in mind a contract doesn’t magically turn a nightmare client into a normal person! The best way to protect yourself against nightmare clients is to spot a “red flag” and terminate your relationship with the potential nightmare client before they have a chance to waste your time.
Watch out for these “red flags”
Here are a few potential “red flags” (tell-tale signs of a nightmare client) to look out for. If you hear any of the following, run a mile:
- “This won’t take you very long”
- “I want the website/page to pop/whizz/sizzle/go bang/go in your face/be touchy-feely”
- “I’m on a really tight budget”
- “If you do a good job I’ll recommend you to lots of great new clients”
- “Can you write a proposal on how to improve these 4 websites?”
There are many, many more. But basically nightmare clients think you should be so grateful for the work that you should pay them to do it. I’ve personally heard all of the above, by the way!
More importantly, nightmare clients haven’t got a clue what they are doing and this will waste your time. So, if a client can’t provide you with any material on the following, run a couple of miles:
- “What is the purpose of the project?”
- “When do you need it completed by?”
- “What is your target market?”
Anyone who can’t answer these questions is not worth working with.
Another “red flag” I’ve noticed is that nightmare clients don’t like email. They are unable to write down their ideas as that requires a certain amount of discipline. Nightmare clients will always like to call you on the phone and repeatedly ask to meet you. You’ll then have no record of what was said which makes the next part of the process – getting rid of them – even harder.
How to get rid of a nightmare client
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working in this business and how much you try with contracts and observing the “red flags”, you’ll still can have a nightmare scenario.
99 clients out of 100 are fantastic. They know what they want; they tell you what they want; you do what they want; they pay you. (Although, not necessarily in that order, most designers like to ask for 50% of the total price up front.)
And for this reason, if you think your client is a nightmare, you are probably wrong. Try to put yourself in your client’s shoes. See things from their point of view.
If you’re having a problem with a client never email them or phone them straightaway about it. Leave it and come back to it and, if you can, sleep on it. Try to go over the project again with a fresh pair of eyes or ask a friend. It’s just as likely to be your mistake as it is theirs.
However, for the 1 client out of every 100 that is a nightmare, here’s some more advice.
When clients try to design themselves
Problems can occur when the client says after they’ve seen a visual or an option: “it’s nearly perfect, can you just put some yellow in it”, or “I’d really like you to use Comic Sans”.
Warning: there is some bad language in the following video:
This is usually a difficult situation. The client has zero design experience and this will always end in tears. Try to stop the client doing this immediately or jump ship. Say this:
Designs should always be looked at holistically. If you change one element on the page it affects all the other elements. I have usually gone through multiple changes on all the elements of a design before showing it to you. For this reason it is best to tell me why you don’t like the design rather than to trying change it yourself bit by bit.
This will help remind the client to think about the overall effect rather than get bogged down in the details.
When clients ask for too many revisions
This is actually very rare. Most people realise that a lot of changes are bad not only for clarity but also for the timing of the project. Changes and amendments during a design project are unavoidable but, as mentioned earlier, it is always best to put a finite number on them.
As mentioned in the contract we can only have a certain number of changes to the project. This helps both with the direction of the project as well as with delivery. Therefore, if there are further changes, I will have to charge you an hourly rate on them.
This is better discussed on the phone rather than by email. This should only be considered as a matter of last resort when there have been multiple changes on a particular task.
When clients ask for too much
We always try to be flexible. I never tell my clients I run a 24/7 business but I’m never too far away from a computer either. So when a client has an urgent “out-of-hours” request, I’d always like to help.
However, just as low prices attracts nightmare clients, so, unfortunately, does excessive flexibility with requests. By all means, do them a favor. But make sure they know that it’s a favor. Otherwise they’ll come to expect a 24 hour Rolls Royce silver service without having to pay for it.
Although I’m happy to help you out in any way I can, I’m sure you’ll understand, I can’t let my other clients down by responding to all your requests immediately. I must ask you to think before your next request and ask (a) if it’s really necessary or (b) if the query could be better handled via email or at all.
Sometimes a gentle nudge is all a client needs to turn from nightmare to normal!
When clients ask for too little (money)
Believe it or not, I had a client question whether he should pay for rejected logo options! This is thankfully very rare.
Would you consider working for one hour and not get paid for it? No. As a graphic designer of good standing I expect to be paid the industry standard rate. Nothing more, nothing less. You were aware of the prices and procedures in the first place and I don’t expect you to renege on our agreement.
If this or none of the above works and you have tried everything then, congratulations, you have a nightmare client on your hands. You must get paid for the work that you’ve done.
How to get your money
This is where the contract and the emails come in handy. The more you have down on paper (digitally speaking) the better. These are admissible in a UK Court.
In the UK you can file a small claim online here. This is relatively cheap and can prompt the nightmare client to their senses. Most countries have a similar service. These claims are usually sorted out by mediation before the court stage is considered. Click here to see a real letter from a nightmare client who paid in full minutes after receiving a letter from MCOL.
Alternatively, you can contact a solicitor to write a letter to the nightmare client restating your claim.
What you can do
Remember, nightmare clients are extremely rare. Nightmare scenarios can be avoided by clear prior communication and awareness of “red flags” to sever relations with a potential nightmare client before the project even starts.
Have you dealt with a nightmare client? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.