Beware of These 6 Problem Client Types (and Know How to Deal With Them)

Problem clients come in many disguises, and all of them make life difficult for us. There are the naggers and worriers, the penny-pinchers and the egomaniacs. Those idiosyncrasies can be challenging, especially when the pressure is on to complete the job and get paid.

If you’re able to spot the signs of a problem client right from the start, you can avoid a lot of trouble further down the line. Sometimes it’s best to simply drop them; they need a lot of attention, and that time and energy might better be spent elsewhere. However, sometimes you just need to grin and bear it – particularly when the job is a lucrative one.

With the above in mind, this post reveals six kinds of problem clients and shows you how to handle their quirks without needing to sacrifice too much of your precious time and energy, or your income.

1. Mr. “I’m Not Really Sure What I Want.”

We’ve probably all met a client like this – he likes to sit on the fence, and never commits to a decision. It can be frustrating. He expects great things from you, but can’t tell you exactly what those things are.

Even worse, after you’ve put in hours of work, he suddenly has an epiphany and changes the scope completely. Suddenly he seems to know exactly what he doesn’t want. He might even turn into Mr. “But that’s not what I asked for!”

How to Handle This Problem Client:

  • With a soft touch. You’ll need to get him to spend some time at the beginning of the project to go through the options and narrow things down. He needs to know what’s available, and what’s involved.
  • He might need a little coaching and guidance. His indecisiveness is probably a habit, so be tactful but firm.
  • Once you manage to nail down his expectations, get them in writing. Cover all the major elements, and sign an agreement that stipulates the costs for additions and changes. If you haven’t created an agreement before, you can start with one of these basic agreement templates and flesh out the details.

2. Mrs. “It’s (Always) an Emergency!”

This kind of client can come across as a little scattered; she has trouble managing her time and resources. The problem is that the “emergency” seems to be a constant one, and it inevitably becomes your problem.

Because her demands are so urgent, she seems oblivious to the fact that you have other clients. Those clients need work completed on time too. There always seems to be a last-minute change or addition.

How to Handle This Problem Client:

  • Take a deep breath, because you’re going to have to be the calming influence in this relationship.
  • Try to establish clear timetables from the outset, stick to them, and report on progress regularly. Anticipate the “emergency” before it happens, if possible.
  • Keep a clear head and stay focused. This client’s expectations need to be managed, unless you constantly want to be putting out fires.

3. Mr. “Weekends Are Workdays Too.”

Working with clients across the globe sometimes means sacrificing late night hours or weekends. In fact, many part-time entrepreneurs run their sideline businesses only on evenings and weekends.

The rest of us like to spend at least some time with our family and friends. Most people are considerate, but then there’s the problem client who doesn’t seem to know what weekends are for. Telling him you’re not available once too often might just lose you the contract.

How to Handle This Problem Client:

  • Your weekends are important, so clarify that before making promises you don’t want to keep.
  • Create a schedule that stipulates your available times, and share it with your client (adapted for his time zone if necessary). If you have a portfolio or personal website, include the details there.
  • Make a contingency plan in case there’s a real weekend emergency.
  • Make sure your work is up to date, and respond to weekend messages promptly on Monday morning.

4. Mrs. Micro-manager (Aka Looking Over Your Shoulder)

Mrs. Micro-manager doesn’t trust your abilities. She wants to oversee every last detail, and has an opinion about every font choice, every inch of white space, and each picture size. Nothing escapes her watchful eye.

Her obsessions can bring your work to a grinding halt. You’re unable to move forward until she has signed off your work, and the delays mean your time is wasted. You might have to redo large portions of work just because one small detail has changed.

How to Handle This Problem Client:

  • The right approach here is to focus on outcomes, not details. Shift the client’s attention back to the big picture, and what the work is meant to accomplish – even if you have to do it more than once.
  • Don’t resist the client’s management style. Doing so will only aggravate her obsession. Try to go with the flow as far as possible.
  • Do your best to earn her trust over time. Report back regularly and assuage all her concerns.

5. Mr. “But That’s Not What I Asked For.”

He might be a great client, all around, but he has trouble communicating. He mistakenly assumes that you know exactly what he is asking for, even though he used only a sentence or two to describe it. The end result is a client that isn’t satisfied with what you deliver.

The solution involves your ability to listen. New waiters are often trained to read back the order to a customer at a restaurant to make sure they’ve taken it down correctly. That’s a good tactic to employ.

How to Handle This Problem Client:

  • Listen carefully to your client’s request, and repeat it back to him as clearly as possible.
  • Make it clear from the start that additional work will be charged for.
  • It’s important to get this kind of client to sign off on the project at important milestones.
  • Beware of ‘scope creep‘ and make sure you have an airtight agreement.

6. Mrs. Penny Pincher

Mrs. Penny Pincher is a thrifty businesswoman. She is always hunting for the best price. Unfortunately, her dedication to cost-saving can become a problem for you, especially if she doesn’t recognize what you’re worth.

She might believe that the job she’s asking for will only take a few minutes. Of course, she doesn’t have “a few minutes” to do it herself, but prefers finding someone to do it (for as little as possible).

How to Handle This Problem Client:

  • You’ll need to convince her of the value you will be adding.
  • Stick to your rates, and make it clear exactly what’s included for the price.
  • If you know your rates are fair, but the client is still trying to bargain you down, it might be time to look for another client.

Conclusion

In order to attract the kinds of clients you really want, it’s important to know exactly what you want. Define what’s important to you, and actively seek out clients who have the same values. Learn to spot the telltale signs of problem clients, and be prepared before you agree to the work.

Let’s recap some of the key means of dealing with our problem clients:

  1. Counteract indecision and scope creep by creating a bullet-proof contract.
  2. Clearly describe the scope of your project in your contract.
  3. Stay calm and manage your client’s expectations. Report back often, and try to anticipate “emergencies.”
  4. Make it clear when you’re available and when you aren’t.
  5. Deal with micromanagement by focusing on the big picture and the intended outcome.
  6. Take care with the details about what is included, and what you will charge extra for.

Do you have experience dealing with problem clients, and if so, what strategies have you used to deal with them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!