Sometimes you can recognise a client type straight off the bat, but other times you might not know until after submitting your first project. But at some stage you will work it out and, when you do, it helps you manage a project more successfully.
With no two clients the same, I thought I would make things easier for you by creating a handy list of the typical client characters you may run into. You may have a few of your own you’d like to add to this list, too, so let me know if I’ve missed any?
1. The ‘What is it I want?’ client – provides a brief that you adhere to but after submitting the first draft, they decide the angle and scope needs to be completely changed. So, you make the changes to comply, and the same thing happens again….and again…and again!
How to handle them – get everything in writing and record all meetings, log all calls etc., so there is clear evidence of course correction. Then you can explain that each change results in a shift in scope that affects your timelines and price!
2. The ‘How much can I squeeze in without anyone noticing?’ client – this one sets a brief and then, as work begins, slowly drip feeds small additions to the scope to see how much extra work they can sneak in for nothing.
How to handle them – establish a clear brief and stick to it. If they request additional work, then explain this is above and beyond what was initially agreed. You are happy to accommodate it, but it may cost an additional fee and/or affect timings.
3. The ‘This all has to be done by yesterday!’ client – yes, they may be a visionary filled with exciting ideas but do not understand which parts of their vision are reasonable and feasible within the tight timeline (and often budget) constraints. Alternatively, they might just be one of those people who like everything done immediately, even if there is no justification for it. Often, this client expects you to work on weekends, evenings and holidays to fulfil their demands – which may not actually be urgent! This can result in quality being compromised for the sake of a manufactured deadline. Also, it will create resentment with you towards them.
How to handle them – find out at the start why the project deadline is so rushed – it is justifiable or just their impatience? If there’s no real reason, explain that having more time will enable a better outcome for the project and create a more realistic deadline for everyone involved. Set a timeline of goals and projects, and set firm parameters on realistic accomplishments that can be achieved. Don’t be bullied – if it’s completely impossible, explain to them why it is and what you can realistically achieve by yesterday (if anything).
4. The ‘I am your only client, so you need to give me 100% of your time!’ client – this one believes that they are a VIP and that you are at their beck and call regardless! Other clients – what other clients? They say “Jump,” and you are meant to reply, “How high?”.
How to handle them – explain to this client that they are important to you, but you do have other clients and can’t always jump immediately. Establish clear timelines and deadlines to show the client that everything is on track and their work will be completed within a suitable timeframe and give them the undivided attention they crave. If it does all get too much, be prepared to walk away from these types of clients. They will never truly value your work if they continue to be so demanding.
5. The ‘I know I sent you an email 10 mins ago but have you actioned it yet? How’s it going? I need an update every 5 minutes’ client – as a micromanager, they just won’t leave you alone and constantly check on your progress and question every detail.
How to handle them – Much like the VIP – set boundaries and checkpoints. Establish from the onset that you’re the expert and can be trusted to fulfil their scope of work to a high standard and on time. While it’s important to hear them out, it’s equally important for them to remember that you are there to help them and will get their work done.
6. The ‘Whatever, you’re the expert so just do it!’ client – they are completely hands off to the point where you have to try and pull bunnies out of hats as they give you nothing to work with but expect perfection.
How to handle them – give them the space they like and need – and enjoy not having them breathing down your neck – but make it very clear that you cannot do a great job without their input. Yes, do your own homework and go back to them with your ideas etc. but explain you need information and feedback from them or the relationship will never work.
7. The ‘I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want this?’ client – they will happily tell you everything wrong with the work but cannot articulate for the life of them what they actually do want!
How to handle them – this moving target of a client can potentially create endless headaches. Unless they make a final decision, the work is never going to be right. You may be forced to walk away.
8. The ‘Weekend – what’s that – don’t you work 24/7?’ client – just because they are a workaholic, it does not mean you are. They expect you to answer emails immediately despite being 2am on a Saturday and schedules meetings at 8pm at night or on public holidays. And as for that relaxing holiday you wanted to go on – forget it!
How to handle them – set boundaries and don’t relent every time to their unrealistic demands. If they decide to work 24/7, it does not mean you have to – unless they are paying you crazy money or there is a bigger picture in play! Just keep doing a great job at regular hours and if that’s not enough for them, then rethink the relationship!
9. The ‘You’ve not heard from me in weeks, but I need something now’ client – these elusive yet demanding clients are tricky because you don’t hear from them for weeks on end. Then they suddenly re-appear, demanding the world!
How to handle them – provide the same expectations as you do all your clients. If a particular project takes two weeks, then that’s what it takes to do. If they require the work quicker, discuss how you are happy to do this, but it may result in a higher ‘rush rate’ fee.
10. The ‘I know how to do your job and better than you can’ client – working with this client type is futile. Despite being an expert in your field, they will always tell you that you’re wrong and they’re right – despite them knowing very little, if anything. You can give them the right advice and excellent work, but they will overrule anything you do, as you know nothing compared to them!
How to handle them – you will never win with this client. You have two options: suck it up and let them have their way. You have to accept that the final product will not be something you are proud of or showcases your abilities. Or two, step away as the battle will be exhausting!
Here are two additional clients that speak for themselves:
11. The ‘terminator’ client – they can’t be bargained with. They can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they will not stop, ever, until you are dead. AVOID THESE LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!!
12. The ‘Holy Grail’ client – hallelujah! The perfect client is a joy and so satisfying to work with. They are excited to work with you, trust your recommendations, appreciate your hard work and efforts, understand your reasoning and like what you do. What’s not to love? We all need more of these types of clients.