She seemed so normal at first. Smart, funny, intelligent, and a great smile. She had lots of great ideas for her interior design business and was excited about me helping her bring them to life.
But soon after I emailed my first proposal to her, something went horribly wrong… with her.
Looking back I should have seen it. Our first meeting over coffee at a crowded Starbucks started off well enough. We talked about her business goals, her past jobs, even family stuff.
Then came the words that should have tipped me off as to what I was in for. “I’m not a picky or demanding person.” she said with a casual smile. At the time I thought “Great, that means we’ll get stuff done quicker and with fewer headaches.”
How could I have been so blind? Was the foam in my mocha latte blurring my vision? Was it the thought of repeat business, referrals, or possibly a free makeover of my living room?
It turns out she was in fact very picky and demanding. So much so I could not even keep up with her ever changing list of requests and demands. Add to that the continued advice on how to do my job, and all of a sudden I had the client from hell.
In all, I had spent over 7 hours doing research, proposals, phone calls, then more proposals. And not a penny to show for it. In fact I never even started any actual work for her.
Regretfully for me, she is just one of the many crazy clients who have taken far too much of my time. And while I did end up “encouraging” her to seek out someone with far more “experience” than myself, I regret not having spotted her wackiness sooner.
So in an effort to help you, a fellow business owner, I would like to share with you some sure signs that your new client may be a loony-toon in waiting.
“I think you’ll do much better than my previous vendors.”
This is like getting engaged to someone who’s already been married six times. You knows it’s just not gonna work. Could all the previous vendors really have been that bad? Probably not.
“If you give me this first order for free, I’ll refer lots of business your way.”
This is another way of saying that your products and services are worth nothing and that your new client will encourage his friends to also come looking for free stuff.
“I don’t do contracts. My word is my bond.”
This loosely translates to “I have the right to change my mind any time regardless of how it impacts on others”. If you like to gamble, then this is definitely the client for you. Otherwise, run the other way.
“I just do the ordering. My payables department handles the cheques.”
This is a classic strategy to allow top management to place unreasonable demands on you while accepting no responsibility when it comes time to pay. If you enjoy trying to convince someone in the accounting department that you are in fact owed money, then this is the client for you.
“I’ve been in business since before you were born.”
Insecure people like to demonstrate their experience and knowledge, even if it’s not legitimate. For you that means that while your skills, ideas, and knowledge may be needed, they will not be wanted or appreciated. Expect to hit a roadblock at every step of the project. Then be ready to take the blame when it doesn’t turn out as planned.
“Tell me what steps I can do myself to get the price lower.”
Sometimes this is good thing and can save you time. Other times its like showing a plumber how to do dentistry. Your skills are what make you worth the money in first place. If you allocate too much of the project to the client, you not only devalue yourself, you also risk having to clean up the mess when they can’t properly complete the tasks.
“Let’s meet to see if there’s any chemistry”
This is a great time to say you’re booked solid for the next six months. When someone’s looking for chemistry, what they’re really looking for is an excuse to have as many issues with you as they have with everyone else they deal with.
While I am never one to turn away new business, I always make sure to listen for those few words that will tip me off to a crazy client. And as much as it may hurt to walk away from a deal, experience has taught me that no matter how much I charge, dealing with difficult clients will almost always result with me ending up with a loss in the end. Just remember, your sanity is worth something too.