Don’t ignore these warning signs of a bad design client

We have all heard horror stories about clients.

Some take advantage of freelancers, some are unwilling to listen, and some are just outright disrespectful. No freelance designer should have to work with somebody like that.

A bad client will only bring unnecessary stress and anxiety onto a freelance designer. However, it’s not hard to spot these bad clients.

Look for these warning signs to figure out if your client is going to be troublesome. (And if you have some additional insights, please leave them in the comments.)

Closed Minded

One warning sign of a bad client is if they are closed minded. To have a successful project, both the client and the freelancer need to be open minded. They need to be open to suggestions and willing to compromise.

Generally a closed minded client will start off as very persistent in getting things done their way. They will be very stubborn to getting their way. They will want you to do exactly everything they say, even if it could harm the project.

They won’t be accepting of new ideas or different approaches to problems. If your client comes off this way, then they are somebody you do not want to work with.

Unwilling to Partake

Another sign is if they are unwilling to do their part in the project. Clients often believe once the project starts, they have no involvement. However, freelancers need participation from the client, such as information on the business and for feedback.

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Usually, once you explain this to a client, they will be willing to help. Nonetheless, a bad client will not want to participate in the project at all. They will remind you they are busy and cannot help in any way.

They might even get offended if you ask for their participation. Do not work with this client if they’re not willing to do their part.

Cannot Handle Criticism

If a client cannot handle criticism and alternative suggestions, it is another warning sign of a bad client. Working with any professional means working together to come up with the perfect solution for a problem.

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Freelancers are experts in certain fields and offer their hassle-free services to clients wanting to solve a problem. This means a client should respect your expertise and be willing to work with you towards better solutions.

If your client cannot handle your suggestions for a better solution and are stubborn to their ways, then they are not a client you want to work with.


The most obvious and important sign to a bad client is if they are disrespectful towards you. Freelancing has become increasingly appealing to many people in different fields.

Freelancing means freedom of becoming your own boss, working anywhere and anytime you want, and being allowed to work on what you love. While it takes certain people to be able to freelance successful, people often believe freelancers are below normal professionals.

Thus, a bad client will undermine a freelancer and be disrespectful towards them because they see themselves above freelancers. Avoid working with this client if they start showing this warning sign.


Lastly, if your client comes off as strange and weary, this may be another sign to a bad client. With this warning sign, you want to listen to your gut or intuition in this case. If a client is coming off as suspicious or too good to be true, listen to yourself.

If you are nervous to work with them, then listen to that feeling. Usually people suppress these feelings because they need the money or more pieces for their portfolio, but if you don’t listen to yourself, you could end up with a bad client.

Listen to yourself, and if the client makes you nervous or weary, don’t work with them.

What warning signs would you add?

These warning signs come from personal experience and horror stories. There are of course exceptions and every client is different. Nonetheless, if you feel like your potential client has any of these warning signs, do not work with them. Politely decline and recommend them to somebody else who may be able to handle them.

How have you handled bad clients? Share your tips in the comments section and please keep your client’s names anonymous for protection.

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Millo Articles by Nicole Foster

Nicole Foster is a professional website designer from New York that loves meeting new people. At Nicole Foster Designs, she offers website, wordpress, and ecommerce services to unique businesses. In her free time, she enjoys meditating and chatting with other designers.
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  1. April Doner says:

    to the “partake” section, I’d add that they have to be hounded multiple times to give you feedback, which consistently pushes deadlines back and becomes a headache for you in planning alongside other projects.

  2. I can, as of late, totally identify with the “Disrespectful” paragraph. Now, this client is one that I had worked with in my full-time design job so I probably had less freedom with this one and was not the first to connect with them – but rather was handed the project. However I can hear my co-worker on the phone putting together an estimate and they ask her how long I’ve been designing. She looks at me and I say 10 years and she tells them in turn. They reply “oh, well I have a friend who has been designing 15 years…” … Fast forward to the first proof of the project “so how long have you been designing? Oh 10 years, huh? Well shouldn’t you know that you need to do … ” ugh. oh yes I’m SOO looking forward to working with you! haha. And it was like that on EVERY CALL. Come ahead with me another two weeks and we do signs for their business. client tells me EXACLY what he wants and I do exactly what he wants. I print off sample copies. I email proofs. We print the signs. Come back Monday morning… “These signs – they were not designed well. Call me so we can discuss.” **WHAT THE** … so here we are. Client has fired us. Mercifully. I hope we get paid. But frankly, if it were me as a freelancer, I might have referred him out after that first conversation. If you are paying someone to do a job for you it doesn’t serve you well to ask your contractor if they actually think they are competent enough. The upside is that my boss agrees with me in that it seems like this client was trying to scam us.

  3. Nice post Nicole, I believe that bad clients are the toughest to work with and very stressful. I am speaking from experience of my freelancing career as a developer. But I believe you forgot to add one key sign which is they all want huge value for cheap price. Sometime they may even wish to emotional manipulate one with stories about the struggles of running their business, just to attract sympathy. They should be avoided at all cost. The one easy way to avoid them is by value based pricing and refusing to compromise. Yes one may lose clients but will still gain more valuable customers

  4. Judy Thompson says:

    I had one client that asked me to draw a logo on his sketch on a computer. The design of this picture was very disgusting. I tried to persuade him that I could create a logo that would fit his brand philosophy and current design trends. But I faulted, I decided not to work with him anymore and forget about this experience.

  5. Godawful experience as an outsource freelancer. Zero planning, no project timeline, no sign offs on wireframe or style guides (because there were none!). Total failure to understand the extra work that goes into mobile design. Fire fighting all the time and endless incremental adjustments. Absolute horror story all the way through and gladly ditched! I’d rather suck beans from a can than do that and eat meat.

  6. Lana Bateman says:

    What’s wrong with Paypal?

  7. Genuine Jobs says:

    A potentially bad client can also be a friend of a friend or a family member, not necessary, but in most cases. Also, keep an eye out for those clients who aren’t really familiar with internet and computers in general. They too can be a real headache.

  8. I am currently debating on taking on a coworker’s project as a freelancer. However, considering he has been “promising” me side work for over a year and has popped into my office to talk about his work during my regular employer’s time I am hesitant. I finally gave him a quote and he says, “for sure, after next payday I’ll pay you the 50% down and then am ok with hourly after that.”

    That was 3 paydays ago and this has been going on over a year. How do I tell him ‘no’ without making it awkward at our regular job.? Maybe my computer at home just conveniently crashed. LOL

  9. Great article indeed!
    Remember also, that “bad clients” can with experience many times be turned into ok clients. Sometimes these signs can be “misunderstandings” or that we think we know someone too quickly.

  10. Hi there,

    I wonder what you guys thoughts are on the following prospective client. I got the contact details via a friend.

    Starting up-Business
    Has clear idea already what kind of logo he wants (send example) with suggestions how
    he would change it … But in the same sentence he is saying he would be open to ideas.

    The website is independently already in progress, which I find strange as I would expect
    someone to have a rather holistic approach and have an identity first that you play through all media. However, one may be able to address that.

    Last but not least he says “he is on a tight budget, so I should be “gentle” haha.” Literally.
    I mean I suppose here the designer has to argue the value of design as an investion rather
    than as a quick fix.

    It would operate on an international level in the future, so from there I would need already to charge more wouldn’t I?

    In general there may be many alarm clocks ringing there already. Now my question is whether I should still try and “teach” him or whether I should turn it down knowing it may
    be too much stress for the outcome.

    What are your thoughts? What would you do?

  11. If the prospective client says, “I’m so glad I found you…I’ve gone through so many designers that I just could not work with.” I learned the hard way that it was not the other designers, but the client.

  12. How do you deal with a client who just won’t get back to you? They’ve paid 100% upfront (it was a small site), and they’ve given us some info we need to continue moving, but then when we get to a place for their feedback, or have questions that need to be answered, they’ve fallen off the face of the earth. We have a stipulation in our contract that if we do not receive the content and images within 6 weeks of request, then they will pay a continuation fee until the website goes live. We sent numerous emails and phone calls, with no response, and no payment for 6 months’ worth of fees. We finally thought they no longer wanted the site, so we made one more contact with them and said that if they wanted us to continue working on their site, they had to respond by x date, and we would waive the continuation fees due (they were a newer non-profit, and we wanted to “help them out”). They contacted us, gave us more content to work with, and everything went fine for a bit. Then they dropped off the face of the earth again. We instituted the fees again (6 weeks after the last communication) and tried to contact them numerous times. After another 6 months, we sent a final email, received payment for the past-due amounts, and had a new person to work with, who assured that they would be more timely and communicative. We agreed to waive further continuation fees if they would just keep in contact. Now, 6 weeks later, we have had no contact again. This site, which should have been done within 2 months, is now going on 2 years. Is it bad business on our part (and our reputation) if we just tell the client we’re done? They’ve paid for the site, we’ve put in much more hours into the work to more than justify no refund (and we have a clause regarding refunds in our contract). Everytime we communicate, they are excited about the site and what we’ve done, so we don’t want to have them start badmouthing us, but neither do we want to keep dragging the work out. And even though the continuation fees are steady (albeit small) income, we certainly don’t want to milk the clients that way. What makes it even worse is that they are our first major client, so even though we thought of a lot of the negative possibilities and covered them in our contract, we didn’t think about if we had to close an account due to lack of response. And because this is our first major client, we really wanted to get the site done and live so we could use it in our portfolio.

    1. April Greer says:


      It sounds like you’d benefit from making regularly-scheduled communications with this client to finish the project. Can you physically meet with someone on a monthly basis? Or set up a biweekly phone call?

      Also, I think you’re exacerbating the problem by continuing to waive the fees. This tells them that they can dawdle repeatedly and you’ll waive the fees eventually to get them back. Once is okay, but I’d not consider it again, especially for a new client that doesn’t seem to be learning from their mistakes.

      Most non-profits are understaffed and overworked, and it sounds like as a newer non-profit, they suffer worse than most. That being said, you are justified in deciding not to finish the project after such delays and communication problems. Offer to refer them to someone else who might be interested in finishing the project and hand over the details of the project…and this might jolt them into action, too. But don’t commit unless they commit to a regular communication schedule.

      Hope this helps!


  13. Well Done. Here are some more red flags:

    Clients who demand speck work or competitions. DON’T YOU DARE WORK FOR FREE!

    Clients who are clueless about what they want. Those clients can never be satisfied. We had one at our college. Hundreds of logos over many semesters. He didn’t like any. No wonder he never got a logo.

    Clients who want last minute requests, especially those that lie about it or to get the request. Always charge rush fees.

    He are my commandments:

    Thou shall not work for free.
    Thou shall take a 50% deposit BEFORE starting any work of any kind.
    Thou shall NOT release any files until the client has paid their entire deposit.
    Thou shall NOT consider any deposit paid until the payment is verified. This shall protect though from bad and fraudulent checks.
    Thou shall avoid paypal like the plague.

  14. I am an interactive creative director who was out of work for a year, after my last ad agency wooed me away from a competitor, created a departmental creative director position just for me, and then got rid of me a month later, because the idiot C-suites had not bothered to determine if they could actually afford me. CDs often don’t freelance because the CD role is so time-consuming, and when I was promoted to that level 5 years ago, I gave up my freelance business.

    My spouse and I then moved to California for a fresh start and I got a new CD job which didn’t pay as well, and started up my freelance business again to plug the income gap. Unfortunately, the latter has included some terrible disappointments, as I found myself taking on a terrible client who I’d ordinarily avoid if my “spidey sense” were sharper and I were not five years out of practice. Other CDs have this problem too: we grow lazy because we are so used to the Account Executives laying the sales groundwork for us.

    I am working with a client I’m going to need to fire, and the warning signs I ignored, at my peril are enumerated below. I want to share them so that others do not make the mistakes I did. I am embarrassed that I made these rookie mistakes – they are excusable in young designers, but not excusable in seasoned industry vets in their 30s and 40s:

    • Client first agreed to my prices, and then re-arranged them as if they were an a-la-carte menu, attaching a dump truck full of work to the lowest price I quoted for the smallest job.

    • Client buried this fact in fine print on the contract, assured me I could edit the contract to my liking, and then ensured the contract was only made available in PDF format, and was conveniently late, missing, or unavailable every time I wanted to discuss it.

    • Client demanded multiple revisions to every item, and wanted me to re-lay out all designs rather than sending items such as photos piecemeal.

    • Client was consistently severely late for meetings – between 30 minutes and two hours late.

    • Client meetings consistently ran overtime after client was late, and client ignored me when I said I had to wrap up by X o’clock.

    • Client repeatedly emphasized that their colleagues give them rave reviews, that they can “hook me up,” and that everyone who has worked with this client has a “friend for life.” (I’m not in this business to make friends.)

    • Client wanted to get me started in a profit-sharing deal, where they would contract me out for work and take a large cut off the top of my earnings.

    • Client began to hound me for work above and beyond what was stated in the contract, including massive amounts of copyediting, which I am not offering and did not agree to.

    • Client changed course and added another design project to the contract, asking if I could “do it real quick.” I ignored the request.

    • Client was unavailable for design reviews over the term of the contract, stretching the work past its due date, and demanded that additional deliverables be furnished ASAP despite the fact that the contract included an exit clause whereby full payment would be tendered to me in the even that the client missed deadlines.

    The client loves me and wants to keep me on forever. They want to meet “ASAP” to discuss this. Of course this client loves me! They manipulated the situation so they got a boatload of work at 30% of my market rate, and if I hadn’t caught on, they’d have gotten even more work at a final payment of 10% of my rate. I plan to tell the client that I am too busy to take on further work. You should, too. Or better yet, don’t be a dummy like me and take on this type of client in the first place.

  15. After doing service work (read forced to interact with a client) of one sort or another for a couple of decades now, I’ve found it wise to do a little prep work. I have a little “How to create a good design brief for your designer” template that I’ve made up for a client. It’s a several page document that includes questions like “what is your business about?” “what are your expectations?” “what are your deadlines?” “what’s your budget?” “who’s your target audience?” etc. It also expresses a heaping dose of my own expectations.

    I find that I like to have no less than two client meetings before I ever even fire up the workstation: one meeting to make introductions and to present the client with the design brief, and after the client has had a chance to complete the brief, a second meeting to test compatibility. We go over every single section of the form (there are 3 pages’ worth). I make sure the client has filled out and understands EVERY SINGLE ONE. And only then do we even begin to negotiate and plan.

    This preliminary work seems superfluous at first, but trust me, because of all the things (and more) listed in this article, you WANT to be the to make the preemptive strike. Set boundaries up front and and make the consequences for crossing the line clear and concise.

    Some people may think this is a little harsh or overboard. You can put their minds at ease by including something along the lines of “Most people are decent, but there are enough insufferable people in the world that neglecting to protect myself would be irresponsible.”

    In the end, I think you’ll fine that most people are professional enough that they will understand and even respect your taking a firm position. It speaks to your own professionalism and ultimately creates an environment that both the client and the designer can feel safe working in.

    And if worse comes to worst, having such an in-depth design brief and interview process can weed out potential nightmares before you’re in too deep. If your process is complete, any bad traits a potential client has will almost certainly be exposed well before you decide to commit. Your reputation might take a substantial hit from ending a bad relationship with a client, but it will take no hit at all for never accepting a bad contract in the first place.

  16. Leslie Hinton says:

    or How do you handle a client who makes your design much, much WORSE?

    I recently worked with a client who needed a logo design. We talked, she was excited by the prelims- and I delivered something literate and beautiful. Except that several client-directed revision cycles later, the end results were an embarrassment of bad design: base, ugly and without artistic merit- except that, NOW, the client is happy.

    How do you deal with clients who hire you for your expertise, and then ignore it at every turn? How do you communicate that you think they are making a bad decision without sounding obstructive and argumentative?

  17. Dean Flory says:

    Beware of the Tire Kicker Round-a-bouts. These are the people that make it a habit to coach the lowest price out of a design business for the first project, then ditch them and move on to the next design business, looking for freebies and introductory pricing.

    Eventually these people tend to come back to me when they really need something done and I clearly don’t provide any discount which generally ends up with an echo once a proposal has been sent to them.

    Here are some from a series of 6 Rhymes with Orange cartoons called Corporate Client Afflictions:

    Affliction #1: Bipolar Urgency Disorder
    Symptoms: Client seesaws between mania with regard to your deadline and catatonia with regard to their own.
    Toon client: “We’re very upset that this is not going as quickly as we’d hoped. Here’s…that…data…we…promised…last…year.”

    Affliction #2: Optimistiosis
    Symptoms: Client’s firm belief that they can pay less for a project because of all the good exposure/future work they will give you.
    Toon client: “So really, if you can give me a good deal, it’s you who is getting the good deal.”

    Affliction #3: Consenstipation
    Symptoms: When client decides each phase of the project must be approved by consensus.
    Toon client: “We need the okay from just three more people, but one’s in Scandinavia, another’s on paternal leave and the third just likes to hide (see his head behind the chair). This won’t affect the deadline right?”

    Affliction #4: The “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” Syndrome
    Symptoms: Client is very good at knowing what they don’t want, but very vague about what they do want — leaving them unspecific-yet-picky.
    Toon client: “Good news — this latest batch is much closer to what we had in mind.”
    Toon designer: “Which ones did you like?”
    Toon client: “None-but we’re close.”

    Affliction #5: Pseudo-solo-client-itis
    Symptoms: Client believes she is your only client, and thus you are available to her for lengthy chitchat, ’round-the-clock access and perpetual tweaking.
    Toon client: “If you won’t wear the electronic ankle bracelet, will you at least sleep with the beeper?”

    Affliction #6: Scope-iopath
    Symptoms: Client convinces himself that expanding the project’s scope will not affect the agreed-upon price.
    Toon client: “C’mon, what’s a few extra pages?”
    Toon designer: “Um, a few extra thousand.”

    (~2003 Rhymes with Orange)

    So many times have I referred back to these, with anger, to the point of almost e-mailing these images of the toons to the offenders to let them know they’re not original in thought or tactic and that I’m not stupid.

    As of late, with the economy the way it is, I’ve found the worst offenders to be the late payers. I now only work when a 100% deposit is paid upfront. Not how I want to do things, but seems the only solution.

  18. I’d like to add the companies managed by two “best friends”.
    One being the ‘creative director’ living and working abroad, the other being the marketing and financial director having “4 days week ends” all year long.

    Creative director meaning: «I am a tired mediocre designer who has no clue in graphic/web design but my über-ego means I will not listen to you and you are going to do what you’re told».
    Marketing & financial director meaning: «I don’t care if my partner asked you for all these modifications and different versions; I will not pay you for your work but I’ll give you what I think this advert worth… when I’ll be in the mood to pay»

    Never again!!

  19. Keith Karr says:

    Great feedback…I do not believe anyone mentioned…AVOID anyone who will not entertain the idea of 1/3 upfront, 1/3 in the middle and 1/3 on delivery…

  20. W Designer says:

    I’d like to add. If the client is accusatory and doesn’t trust people this may be a sign of a bad client. I worked with an older gentlemen who, on the first face-to-face consultation, told me he would beat me up if I screwed him over (over charge, not do the work etc). Then he critized my business card for not having an address on it (just in case he needed to visit me).

    He was a referral from another programmer I worked with and I figured he’d been screwed in the past and was just trying to look out for himself. But this continued through out our dealings. It constantly made me feel as if I was criminal designer who would potentially rob him if given the change and so I needed to reminded not to do so.

    He also praised me a lot by saying things like, “I was saying to my secretary, that designer is one trustworthy and honest guy…” But this was in the same vein of reverse psychology. It’s the kind of stuff you tell people so they don’t screw you. I’d began to recent it.

    In our last dealings together, he made indirect comments about my business (looking down on me as a freelancer) and my race, and even body type (if you can believe that!).

    This guy was a prick and wack-job that I regret working for him, but I got paid and finally told him I couldn’t work with him anymore. Among the fact that he was an A-hole, he also begin to request services I couldn’t provide. So I kindly told him that I could no longer provide service to him because they were out of my expertise (I left out the A-hole part).

    I went on my way, but I’ll make sure never to deal with such people again. I know that I’m a honest and hard-working designer who does great work and to be treated like a criminal is just plain unacceptable.

    Frankly I don’t think he was even screwed over in the past. I just think it was a racial, pre-judgement thing, and the fact that I was a freelancer and not big company.

  21. Lenore Suhanec says:

    I’ve got a client I absolutely love! Check it out:

    The guy who dreamed up the site is a regular, hard-working, self-employed contractor who got sick and tired of being abused by nasty clients and wanted to do something about it.

    You can go on the site and report your own nasty clients. You rate them on their attitude, how they treat you, how they pay and IF they pay among other things. There are even check boxes to label them (and I love this part): “The Tire-kicker” (prepared multiple estimates with no response or follow-through), “The Freebie” (expected additional work or product not covered in estimate for free), and “The Negotiator” (attempted to renegotiate pricing at contract signing).

    You can search the database to find out if your next client has been posted and read about them and print out the reports.

    I’m currently working with him to redesign it a bit and add new features that help the self-employed, small business person, contractor and just about anyone who works with clients or customers.

    I welcome feedback on the site as well as opinions on the concept (right now it is free for 30 days). Would you post your nasty clients? I know I’ve had my fair share of them! Thanks!!!

  22. John k hutchens says:

    I hate the word client now. It establishes too much priority or power in the label. Freelance employer is more submissive but sounds dumb. Trying to think. Of a label that puts me in my place but acknowledges that I’m talented:)

  23. Website Design Singapore - Morgan & Me Creative says:


    Totally there with you on the integrity bit. Guess it’s best to study the potential client during the first meeting and gauge from gut feel there onwards. May or may not turn out to be the right choice. But yeah, respect is number one.

  24. Yeah, I once designed a logo for this guy who kept on praising my knowledge and abilities. I decided to do the project without the deposit paid (my mother once worked with the guy, so i thought he could be trustworthy). I could just demand full payment before releasing the final work. After I sent him a couple of examples, I didnt hear anything from him. I saw that he took the 75dpi examples and used them on his printed stationary. I went bezerk. Nothing changed. Still haven’t received payment. Charm is also a red light.
    But i would say use your gut feeling.

    Also, a friend of my sister’s wanted me to design a logo for their photography business. Free of charge…(hiccup). I thought I could use this to improve and expand on my portfolio. So I came up with lots of funky ideas, a couple done digitally already. When she saw it, she said no her (not-artistic-at-all) husband drew something on apiece of paper. And they wanted the contact details as part of the logo… they wanted gold in there (kitch) and and and. I tried to reason with her, to no avail. Even when I came up with something close to what she wanted she was still bitchy. For the love of cheese.
    Know what I did? Ditched the whole thing.
    I am not prepared to put my name to a design I totally do not agree with. We have to remember that our reputation is at stake with every design.

    End of story, next deadline please…

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Love what you said here: “We have to remember that our reputation is at stake with every design.” It’s a fine balance though, right? Between protecting our reputation and paying the bills. How you do find the perfect balance?

  25. Excellent Article and some great pointers on what to look for.

    The only one I can really add is the Aggressive Price Setter. The client who calls you for a quote; but, before you can quote the project, they tell you what rates they were given and advise you that you must meet these prices.

    I can be flexible – but usually the client is giving unreasonably low prices based on requirements.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      I’ve had that happen before too, Melissa. What do you usually do to solve the problem?

  26. paul wolfe says:

    the biggest drawback for me has been people who don’t know what they want and wait for you to do all the work before deciding. this article is so true. i have come across all these types before. you have to be firm with them and tell them they are likely to jeopardise the project. never fun though!

  27. * they refuse are or hesitant in paying a deposit.
    * they refuse or criticize your terms of service
    * in the first email, they say something along the lines of “this should be easy for someone who knows what they are doing”
    * they were unhappy with previous experiences with freelancers (sometimes this can be an opportunity though )
    * it takes them ages to gather required assets to start the project.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Paul, Wow, some great additions, Paul. Sounds like you need to write for Millo. We’d love to have you guest post!

    2. Ken Girisya says:


      I agree with you. Especially the first point. I have this client who is hesitant to pay a deposit. It has been 1 month after he said that he will transfer it to my account. When i asked him about that, he always told me that he was busy, even though the project already started and i have made a first draft. I wonder if i should keep waiting or cancelled the project…

  28. Michael Andrulonis says:

    I enjoyed this article. I’d like to add to the bad client warning signs list:
    – A prospective client called me to say he saw my web site and resume. He said he was impressed, but concerned that couldn’t afford me, and he had projects that needed to be completed RIGHT NOW! I politely declined. If you call me and say that you’re not sure you can afford me, then you can’t and you should have never made the call. Throwing super-tight deadlines into the mix was the other warning sign for me and that was that. Nearly a year later, this person is still looking for someone.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Michael Andrulonis,
      Tight deadlines and low budgets can be a sign of a bad client for sure, Michael. How tight is too tight and how low is too low, though?

      What do you think?

      1. Nick Heller says:

        Tight deadlines can work out in your favor if you’re confident you can pull it off. I charge a premium ‘rush’ fee for any project that has a deadline shorter than 2x the average estimated length. For example, a small print project that should take me a week from beginning (original client conversation) to end (files sent to print), I give myself 2 weeks. If the client asks for the project in 10 days, I let them know I’ll be charging them a 50% rush fee. Surprisingly, most clients give the go ahead.

        I do this for a couple of reasons:
        1) The IDEAL project should fit within your average length of time. Most in my experience tend to struggle to meet that deadline.
        2) The rush fee is the extra incentive I need to take on a project that’s going to push me into extra-long hours. Without that, I’m just asking for a strong sense of resentment towards the project.
        3) The original fee + rush fee HAS to be enough for me to want to take on the headache AND it helps weed out the cheap skates. If people are okay with the rush fee, they realize they’re asking a lot out of you. If they think you’re crazy for charging so much, tell them to see if Kinko’s or ‘’ can help them out. 🙂

    2. Ken Girisya says:

      @Michael Andrulonis, well there were clients like that in the past. It was a bad idea to do a job for a client who has a very low budget, tight deadlines and keep telling you that he has many projects coming if you accepted the low budget project. I accepted that and no new project coming from him…

  29. I was so happy to read this today!!! I think I have a gift for “sniffing out” the weirdos and every time I back out of a possible contract after getting that “creepy” feeling.. people usually just think I am being paranoid or looking to deep into the situation.

    I am glad to see that other people are on my level also 🙂

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Amybella, That’s quite the gift! What’s your secret?

      1. @Preston D Lee,

        LOL, no secret really. I’ve just always been pretty good at reading people and when I get a bad vibe, I just follow my gut feeling. I currently Freelance through several different resources with oDesk being one of them. The 2 times that I didn’t “follow my gut” I ended up doing free work and since it was a fixed price project, they do no “guarantee payment” so I was out of luck. I’m just starting out though so I am learning as I go. Your website has helped me tremendously!!!!!

  30. I tried freelancing for about 8 months not out of choice but being made redundent, i worked with good, open, friendly clients which was appreciative clients of what i could offer. But and the majority were rude and just wanted to take advantage of your situation and skills.

    I worked for a company who dealed with intellectual property, bad idea.
    we arranged for me to work onsite and to be paid by the hour. i designed there website several logos and marketing media including leaflets and folders. The md turned out to be very aggressive to his staff and myself, i persisted with the work since i needed the money.

    After month of intermittent work onsite i got paid £300 which at this stage i was owed around £900. ok i thought, at least this guy pays.

    I worked another day or two tieing loose ends. The md was just making sure all the artwork was on his servers and computers plus all the webwork. Bad Idea!

    He paid me another £300.00 which at this stage he was still oweing me about £700-£800. Ok i though better then nothing.

    To this day he still owes me this money and he ignores all my calls and emails. I didnt take this any further because without mincing my words he scared me.

    Always meet your clients, i did work for a couple of enquiries over the phone and email and after the proofing stage, i hear nothing else.

    I can only asume they took the proofs and had them receated for free by a printers.

    bad times.

    im now working in house for a company with a salary which i find alot easier then freelance. Freelancers if anything are higher on the professional ladder then anyone and i take my hat off to you all.


  31. Adrianne Marie says:

    This is funny, I stumbled upon this article on Twitter just a few seconds after I blew my steam off out in the interwebs public from a client that pretty much fit *all* of the qualities mentioned in this entry. I was all excited for my 2-wk vacation w/ my family when a case of “bad client evil vibes” just had to blow up on me.

    It’s really sad though. I even felt that this is a huge client for me, my very first major website project, considering that I’m still a major amateur noob at freelancing altogether, but I also feel that freelancer-client relationships are pretty much common sense to me. I guess next time I need to create some kind of a written contract between me and the client in the first place. Luckily I haven’t charged this client yet, or rather, because the project was related to something that I’m in to that I was even willing to do it for free in exchange for a good friendship. Boy was I wrong. =T

    Thanks for this article. Very soon I’ll also write something about this in my blog next time. 🙂

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Adrianne Marie,
      Sorry you had such a bad experience. I am a HUGE advocate of contracts before ever starting with a client. I have found that it leads to much fewer problems and issues later on. As soon as you post about your experience, please tell me about it on twitter – @prestondlee – I’d love to hear about it.

      1. Next time, take the vacation.

        I have forfeited vacations at ad agencies before, due to client emergencies, where they elevate an ad banner above emergency organ transplant surgery.

        It’s not worth it, and whether you are working for yourself or for an agency, no one will remember your sacrifice a year from now – except to assume that being available 24/7/365 is standard operating procedure for you.

  32. Hi, Preston.

    Just want to add one more criteria:
    “A client who only send/receive communication via his/her personal assistance(s)”.. it’s a symbol of a big time fiasco ahead 😉

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Have you had a client like that? Wow. I’ve never heard of that. It sounds annoying unless the assistant is the one that can make decisions… How did you handle it? Or did you just not work with them?

      1. @Preston D Lee,
        Never? Come on? You probably did, but coincidentally end up fine.

        Well, it’s not just those assistants don’t have enough initiative to “join” the whole solution finding; they usually mistranslated their employer’s messages. i.e:

        The Boss said: “Make it more modern look”
        The Assistance: “Make it more like apple’s site”
        …Process completed
        The Boss: “This is too modern…”
        The Assistance: “Make it more like Microsoft site”
        …Process completed
        The Boss: “Can’t you young people make less shiny things?!”
        The Assistance: “Make it dark, but when Microsoft still selling XP”

        Nonetheless, probably NOT all assistants think that way. Although, to this phenomena, I scored twice in 3 year life as a freelancer. Both, produced a time wasting & reputation damages.

  33. Alejandro Arbiza says:

    All I can say is a gigantic *amen*.

    I don’t have anything to add to this list, but I identify many of those signs in past clients.

    Thank you,

  34. Jay Kaushal says:

    Great article Nicole. I have been through this grind when I started my career as a web designer. I think everybody in this business went through this. Problem is when client becomes a designer himself then I wonder what we are hired for. I do not show dozens of sites in my portfolio because they were my clients idea not mine. Though I was duly paid for them but due to continuous interference from my clients these sites became something which they should never have become that way.

    Yes I too have many clients who either do not give any feedback for weeks or just tell me to do everything at my own and due to unresponsive behavior you are out of natural flow of the project. Active participation by client is ia must for a successful execution of a website. No doubt there are many arrogant clients who simply believe they created the graphic design theory and asked me to follow them.

    Now I simply say no to such bad clients/work and feel it is better to watch TV shows for a few days instead of designing bad sites till the intelligent client arrive with a new job 🙂

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Jay Kaushal,
      Great input, Jay. Even better than sitting around watching TV and waiting for good clients to show up, why not work on generating passive income or actively seeking out the best kinds of clients?

      Thanks for sharing!

      1. @Preston D Lee,
        One way to keep clients from wasting your time is to build this into the contract (seems to be standard practice for AIGA and GAG Handbook):

        They will be invoiced and notified that the job is closed out if you do not hear from them or they miss an internal deadline with no communication, for more than 7 business days.

        Sounds reasonable to me. You might lose them but that also is a red flag that they are unmotivated or have too much on their plate to do their part of the project.

  35. Travis Ulrich says:

    I would add Tire Kickers and the Unmotivated.

    Tire Kickers are those clients that would see how much they can get out of you before they have to pay. Now I have had Tire Kickers who turned out to be good clients but just be aware.

    Unmotivated clients can be tough. Even at the best of time it can be hard to get timely feedback or content from a client but if their energy isn’t in it, it’ll show.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Travis Ulrich,
      That’s a great couple of additions, Travis. Thanks for adding them. And thanks for the advice about the title of the article (that you left on our facebook page).

      How do you spot an unmotivated client before getting too far along in the process?

  36. Web design Cambridge says:

    Good stuff. I think a lot of work has to be done to manage expectations. If clients are given a good idea of what they can expect, realistic timelines and potential costs, then both sides should hopefully feel that their expectations are being met.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      @Web design Cambridge,
      I completely agree! A lot of designers who end up with “bad” clients are actually just really bad at managing expectations. A poorly managed relationship can go sour really quickly.

  37. Just want to add to the list, client won’t give you any idea about the design / logo that you are working on. Words like “Offer your variants”, “I don’t know what I want yet”, “I’ll see what you came up with” which takes us a lot of time figuring out what they want. We (web designers and such) are not magicians and mind reader to tell what they want, we need information from them to make this project successful.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      That’s a great addition to the list. It’s important to remember, though, that sometimes it’s important to ask the right questions. A lot of times your clients know what they want, but they don’t know that they know yet. What do you think?

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