How to Identify (and Avoid) a Problem Client

by Kathryn Hawkins

1 min read

The Intuit Small Business Blog previously discussed steps for getting a deadbeat client to pay up. But how do you avoid doing business with the wrong person in the first place?

It’s not always clear at the start of a relationship that you’ll soon be silently cursing someone, but there are various red flags that could spell danger. To identify a problem client, keep an eye out for these warning signs:

  • The client is a self-funded startup. There are many types of startup companies. If your potential client has just completed a Series A round of venture funding to the tune of $3 million, you may not have a problem. However, if the client is launching a venture with his personal credit cards, consider requiring cash upfront before taking on a project.
  • The client says previous contractors couldn’t do the job properly. If a client says that she’s had trouble getting what she wants from numerous other vendors, the problem probably isn’t with the vendors. Chances are, she has unrealistic expectations about what a vendor can deliver on her budget. Ask for specific details about what went wrong in the previous situation before making any promises that you can do better.
  • The client is vague about wants and needs. If the client doesn’t know or understand what he wants or needs from you, how can you possibly deliver? In this scenario, you’re both likely to end up unhappy — and may end up prolonging a simple project for months. Before committing to any work, ask the client to define his expectations, your deliverables, and time frame in a project brief. If he can’t do that, walk away. It’s probably not worth your time to help him.
  • The client makes decisions by committee. Your contact may be easy to deal with, but what about the five staff members to whom she reports? You may find yourself trying to please an entire group of individuals who have vastly different ideas about how to handle a project — and what its outcome should be. Getting caught in the middle of infighting makes it impossible for you to do your job. To avoid this, draw up a contract that designates a point person (and prohibits you from taking instruction from anyone else).

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