Dealing with problem clients

Postby BFresh » February 22nd, 2013, 1:17 pm


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I've been freelancing for a few years and am usually pretty good at dealing with clients. However, recently I've got a real problem client...

The client keeps moving the goal posts, obsessing over finer details too early, demands constant updates, then demands changes on the basis of those updates, then moans that its taking too long. This client also has no idea how the design (and creative) process works. Comparing a video made with some awful ipad app to what we were working on with 3DS Max and After Effects.

To make matters worse, this client won't listen to me and my recommendations and constantly interrupts me and talks over me. This client has never brought anything like what he has me working on to market before.

Some of you may be thinking "just fire this client", however I really like the main project I'm working on with this client, and I can't afford, financially, to lose the work either.

Any tips?

Apologies if this has been covered before, I had a quick look but couldn't find anything.
"I'm proud to say I'm a geek, you have to be a geek...good designers ARE geeks, bad designers are not geeks... theres a correlation. " - Marc Newson

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby yo » February 22nd, 2013, 1:38 pm

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That is a tough one. If you don't want to give up the project financially or from a work standpoint, you are kind of left dealing with a tough personality. You can try to assert more boundaries. This will be challenging. For instance have updates only once a week. Do you have a clear statement of work? If so can you site some of these constant updates and changes as out of scope, hence requiring more money? I'm always amazed how good work gets when people realizes that further changes will cost more ;-)

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby studiomkllc » February 22nd, 2013, 2:16 pm


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Take a step back from the project and develop a contract, stipulating how the relationship should move forward that is both functional and beneficial to each party. Reestablish the relationship and understand it may mean losing the job but retaining your sanity. As a designer your job is twofold, first to create an enviroment for creative pursuit in conjunction with your client and also to create meaningful work. Think of yourself as an advisor and your client is paying you to help them make wise decision, not your fault if they dont choose your advice. Create a contract it creates the framework for a relationship. Also no when to drop a client no matter how great he job is.

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby iab » February 22nd, 2013, 2:36 pm


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I have said it before and I will say it again, the best line in every proposal I have ever written is, "Any change in scope will affect timing and cost."

In the hundreds of projects I have done, there was only one where the change in scope as dictated by the client decreased the amount of time and lowered the cost of the project. There were several times that our recommendations decreased time and cost after we got customer input. Every other change in scope, the vast vast majority, increased cost and timing.

But I follow that the customer is always right. I don't care if they take my recommendations or not. It is not my project and not my money, I have nothing vested. It is a business relationship, not a friendship. They are not obligated to like my ideas and I am not obligated to purchase their product.

And I always loved it when they wanted changes. Because of that line above, it meant more work and more money for me. What's not to love?

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby BFresh » February 24th, 2013, 5:48 pm


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Thanks for your help guys. I have a meeting with this client tomorrow.

I think setting some new boundaries is a good idea, however I will choose my words extremely carefully. If I could make them think its their idea that will work well. lol.

I'm going into this very aware of the fact that I could end up walking away from the project. Though I've thought about what I'm going to say and have put a plan together to establish these new boundaries.

I'll let you how it turned out. I'm hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, and expecting the unexpected.
"I'm proud to say I'm a geek, you have to be a geek...good designers ARE geeks, bad designers are not geeks... theres a correlation. " - Marc Newson

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby yo » February 25th, 2013, 12:36 am

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Good luck with it!

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby shoenista » February 27th, 2013, 9:40 am

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iab wrote:I have said it before and I will say it again, the best line in every proposal I have ever written is, "
Any change in scope will affect timing and cost."
In the hundreds of projects I have done, there was only one where the change in scope as dictated by the client decreased the amount of time and lowered the cost of the project. There were several times that our recommendations decreased time and cost after we got customer input. Every other change in scope, the vast vast majority, increased cost and timing.

But I follow that the customer is always right. I don't care if they take my recommendations or not. It is not my project and not my money, I have nothing vested. It is a business relationship, not a friendship. They are not obligated to like my ideas and I am not obligated to purchase their product.

And I always loved it when they wanted changes. Because of that line above, it meant more work and more money for me. What's not to love?


Agree with all of this and I have the clause in bold in our terms too. But I still reserve the right to walk away if they begin to treat my precious factory in this way. I say 'precious' because there are now very few good factories that will work with business start-ups.
I terminated a contract when the client went behind my back to shout at one of our component suppliers. They had withheld payment for the components until the very last minute then blew their top when the delivery date moved. I could not tolerate this, if people are rude and unreasonable to the people in the trade that I respect then they can forget it.
I would rather lose the money than upset my suppliers.

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby Greenman » February 27th, 2013, 11:23 am

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iab wrote:I have said it before and I will say it again, the best line in every proposal I have ever written is, "Any change in scope will affect timing and cost."


It is amazing how many clients do not understand this and how John.Q consumer does when supersizing at McDonald's. Very good advice.

iab wrote:But I follow that the customer is always right. I don't care if they take my recommendations or not. It is not my project and not my money, I have nothing vested. It is a business relationship, not a friendship. They are not obligated to like my ideas and I am not obligated to purchase their product.


I agree and disagree, if they have many options in terms going off to work with your competitors then yes, if their options are limited and you are the best option then I don't see much harm in pointing out that they are paying a premium to work with you, especially if you have no shortage of prospects, which in that case fire the client and move on.

Ironically I may very well be firing one today.
All dots connect, even the tiny blue one

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby iab » February 27th, 2013, 3:17 pm


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Greenman you are probably right, its just that I have never had the misfortune to have a relationship go that bad where I would severe ties. Sure, some have said colorful things directed my way, but again, I really don't care. Pay me for my work and that is enough.

But I also agree with shoenista that I would not enable a client to endanger a different business relationship. I certainly have called some clients on the behalf of my preferred manufacturers to ask why their payment is past due and is there anything they can do to get that payment going.

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby Greenman » March 5th, 2013, 10:32 am

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Well, it turns out that I did not have to sever ties with my client. It wasn't easy, but since what they were directing me to do for their client wasn't working, I took a stand on my professional recommendations and required them to include me in the next design presentation to discuss the concept, it worked, everyone's happy, hopefully payment goes smooth...
All dots connect, even the tiny blue one

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby BFresh » March 5th, 2013, 5:08 pm


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I met with my client as scheduled but we didn't get chance to talk about our working relationship. So I emailed him a day or so later to say that things needed to change and why. I was careful not to lay any blame on anyone, be very positive, and stress that it would improve things. The other person that was copied into the email, who feels the same as me, said it was well worded and clear.

My client disagreed with me and said there was nothing wrong with the way we worked and that he just wanted me to 'take ownership of the project'. So at this point I'm tearing my hair out because that is exactly what I was trying to do.

In the end I thought 'f*ck it!' and put together a plan for the next few weeks running the project the way I see fit. I emailed this plan to my client and he was really pleased.

I'm completely confused as to what happened (maybe the wind just changed direction), but things should progress better now that everyone knows whats going on.

The joys of client relationships.
"I'm proud to say I'm a geek, you have to be a geek...good designers ARE geeks, bad designers are not geeks... theres a correlation. " - Marc Newson

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby Mr-914 » March 11th, 2013, 12:32 pm

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B Fresh: The real test will be when you hit a road block. Is the boss going to give you the authority or let things slide back to the old ways.

Every job I've had, my boss has asked me to "take ownership" until that involves money or other employees. Then the real work begins.
Ray Jepson

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Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby shoenista » March 15th, 2013, 9:19 am

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I feel that the client/designer relationship has to be a good fit, it's like dating.

Maybe some of my clients who I love and get on with, would not work well with my friends in the trade and vice versa.

I've worked with sourcing agents that I loved and did a great job for me, that previous bosses of mine have hated and slandered as being no good. I've worked with clients and bosses who I totally 'get' whereas I've met people who have had difficulty with.

It's not one size fits all and I'm now a lot more relaxed and a lot less paranoid about things and am happy to say no if I am contacted by a potential client that I feel either won't be a good fit for us or who I suspect will drive me mad (and the feeling can end up being mutual!)

Re: Dealing with problem clients

Postby Generatewhatsnext » March 15th, 2013, 9:55 am

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iab wrote:...the best line in every proposal I have ever written is, "Any change in scope will affect timing and cost."

But I follow that the customer is always right. I don't care if they take my recommendations or not. It is not my project and not my money, I have nothing vested. It is a business relationship, not a friendship. They are not obligated to like my ideas and I am not obligated to purchase their product.

And I always loved it when they wanted changes. Because of that line above, it meant more work and more money for me. What's not to love?


BFresh - couldn't have said it any better than iab does above. If the client is a small independent and is paying their invoices and the project is moving forward (albeit sometimes sideways), there's no harm in the client having some say in the creative process, after all the fruits of the labor, whether his or yours, will be his property. We have clients who want to be involved and unless they make dangerous or very bad decisions, I'm all for their involvement - it could very well be that he likes to be part of the process.

(and if, like iab mentions, it means more billable hours for you, I cannot see the downside unless it's a corporate client, in which case you'd want to emphasize a streamlined approach that saves them money).
Scott Snider
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