Recognizing The Red Flag Client (Like a Bad Date)

Posted: June 30th, 2010

Photo by Kioan (Flickr)

Photo by Kioan (Flickr)

Picture this: A potential client consults with you. You give a (rather pricey) estimate. He is still interested and looks like a nice project to keep you going for a while.

Then you get to further discussions. He doesn’t pay attention to your suggestions. He is unclear of his goals and vision for the project. You just don’t see eye-to-eye.

Memories of a bad date are popping into your head.

So now you face an interesting dilemma in freelancing. Do I give up a great project and the nice income it will provide or do I take those red flags into account and let this client slip away to another freelancer?

Well, do bad dates ever get a second chance?

OK, maybe once in a blue moon but you eventually become quick to learn that, at any signs of trouble, it’s time to bolt.

On the other hand, with clients, it’s not so easy. Especially if you have kids to feed and rent or mortgage payments looming every month. When your own livelihood is at stake, turning down clients doesn’t seem like a very wise option.

Let’s, however, take a look at the real cost of turning down work from “bad date” client for a second.

It’s not the lost income

It’s easy to see that letting a potential (but temporary) cash cow go is equal to taking money right out of your pocket. The mistake in this line of thought is that you haven’t earned the money yet. There is no income lost at all.

Note that the keyword here is earned. How many hoops do you think you’ll have to jump through to even know what the project scope is and create a spec for it? Plus working with a client who isn’t aligned with your own style and goals means you’ll be spending most of your time trying to figure out and give the client what he wants while he continuously rejects your work.

All this adds up to significant extra time aside from the actual time worked on the project. And extra time costs you money in time that can be spent with clients who work well with you.

Read the signs

Much like a bad date (hell, we can say exactly the same as a bad date), your un-ideal client carries visible warning signs to stay as far away as possible. These can easily be seen within the first few consultations of a project.

  • The client is not receptive to your  suggestions. You begin to wonder why you were chosen in the first place.
  • One sided (that would be favoring the client) and long communication through emails, IM or calls. While you’re trying to comment and advise, you are interrupted with speeches on the client’s requirements.
  • The client couldn’t “work” with several other previous freelancers. It’s important to ask about this since it usually means others had enough of the client in the past.
  • You can’t figure out what the client wants… even after spending the time on all the emails and calls.

Hey, I won’t go as far as to tell you to let the client down gently and run but it is in your best interest. There are plenty of other fish, er, I mean clients in the sea that are great to work with and have great projects available. There is no sense in getting down in your loss either.

Nothing like the job boards to get you back on track again.

* * *

Let me know some more of the warning signs you’ve experienced with “bad date” clients in a comment below.

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 23]: The Rights and Wrongs of Client Communication

Posted: November 4th, 2009

Photo by DCvision2006 (Flickr)

Photo by DCvision2006 (Flickr)

This is Day 23 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today we’ll discuss the rights and wrongs of communicating with your clients.

No More Handshakes

In the freelancing age we live in now, person-to-person contact is becoming a rarity while emailing and Skype calls are becoming the norm.

More workin’ and less time chattin’. A typical motto of freelancing.

Its crucial, however, to make sure that communication with clients is done correctly. Mess this  up and you could quickly lose their trust and find yourself with a client who decides not to work with you again.

Good communication doesn’t mean constant “hand holding” or numerous emails either. Its just knowing the rights and wrongs of communication to build their trust in you and to develop a healthy business relationship.

RIGHT: Never leave a doubt

This is especially important when clients consult you about your service and/or ask for estimates. Potential clients are wary that there are some freelancers who deceive. So if one has even the least bit of doubt in you, that will be the last you here from him. Guaranteed.

One way to eliminate client doubt right from the start is to begin with a phone or Skype call rather than emailing. All questions and concerns can be answered right then and there while the client can get a sense of who you are  as well. Needless to say, it is important to be completely open and honest in the call.

It also helps to end every conversation or email with a simple, “If you have any questions, let me know.” Reassure a client that you are open to answering questions and concerns and he will if there are any.

RIGHT: Be clear, brief and respond in a timely manner

We have to remember that clients aren’t always aware of the ins and outs of what we do, so its our job to provide clear explanations. This means explaining in a way in which your grandmother would understand it too.

Also, it is easy to get carried away with wordiness and over-explaining details which hurts our effort to educate  clients. Losing a client’s attention is easy so keep it brief in addition to being clear with him.

For response time, a good rule of thumb is to respond within the same business day, but always within 24 hours. Any longer and you appear unreliable. It helps, too, to set aside a small block of time during the day that you can dedicate to client emails and calls.

RIGHT: Be personal

The unfortunate part to communication through email and  calls, is the lack of personalization. We tend to communicate only what is necessary and leave it at that which makes the business relationship appear one-dimensional.

Don’t be afraid to add a tiny amount of personalization in emails, such as as “Hope you’re enjoying the sunny weather” or “I was in Vancouver last summer and loved it,” which makes you appear as a real person and not just an email address. In phone calls, strike up a short conversation asking about the city your client lives in.

Remember your clients are people too and not just names on the computer screen.

WRONG: Arguing

There will be a time or two where a client will get the best of you, whether they disapprove of a design you work so hard on or maybe ask you for a redo. Times where you are busy and stressed can also lead to a short temper and taking it out on your clients.

Giving into that urge to lash out and scream choice words may give instant satisfaction but it may prove to be regrettable once emotions calm down. Not only that but a client could be lost forever and damage your reputation in the process.

One rule of thumb I found useful is, if any client makes your blood boil, forget about it (or at least try) and sleep on it until the next day. That way you don’t let your emotions dictate how to handle the situation, but rather wait until you are better able to handle it in a calm, respectful manner. Almost any argument can be solved amicably and, if not, you can part ways with the client amicably at least.

WRONG: Taking excessive calls

Some clients prefer calls over emailing and sometimes calls are necessary for discussing complex topics. This is normal but there becomes a point where the number of calls needed from a client becomes too much. You can tell this when the conversations become off-topic from work and a client tends to rant on and on.

These types of calls are unnecessary and waste your time. If you are receiving excessive calls, just tell the truth  and politely explain that you are very busy with work and only have time for calls once in a while. Clients will typically abide if you lay down the rules for this.

WRONG: Responding to calls/emails outside of business hours

You do not want to get into the habit  of responding to clients outside of your normal business hours. The reason is that you have a life outside of your work and, by sticking to this, you informally tell your clients to respect this time. Conversely, responding at all times of the day gives the impression you are available at all times of the day which won’t always be the case.

There will always be an exception in the case of emergencies or urgent matters, but otherwise, stick to business hours for calls and emailing.

You Homework For Today

Review how you handle communication with your clients and follow the rights and wrongs outlined above.