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Dealing with Horrible Design Clients: Tips and Strategies on How to Handle Them

By January 5, 2023January 12th, 2023No Comments

As a brand designer, I’ve certainly had my fair share of frustrating experiences with clients.

From overly picky requests to outright disrespectful behavior, it can be tough to maintain your sanity when dealing with some of these individuals. But fear not! I’ve compiled a list of some of the horrible things design clients do, and some tips for how to stop them in their tracks.

1. The “I know better than you” client

This is the client who thinks they know everything there is to know about design, and insists on micromanaging every aspect of the project. They may frequently ask for changes, or try to steer the project in a direction that is completely at odds with your vision.

To stop this behaviour, try setting clear boundaries at the outset of the project. Make it clear that you are the expert in your field, and that you have a distinct vision for how the project should be executed. If the client continues to push back, consider reminding them of your expertise and why you believe your approach is the most effective.

2. The “I don’t know what I want” client

On the other end of the spectrum is the client who has no idea what they want. They may give vague, contradictory feedback, or constantly change their minds about the direction of the project.

To stop this behaviour, try to get as much information as possible upfront. Ask the client to provide examples of designs they like, or to give specific feedback on what they do and don’t like about your work. You may also want to consider providing them with some options to choose from, rather than expecting them to come up with a clear vision on their own.

3. The “I’m too busy” client

This is the client who is constantly running behind schedule, and expects you to drop everything to accommodate their last-minute requests. They may be unreliable about providing feedback, or may take longer than agreed upon to review your work.

To stop this behaviour, set clear deadlines and expectations upfront. Make it clear that you have other commitments and that you need timely feedback to stay on track. If the client consistently misses deadlines or is unreliable about providing feedback, consider setting daily or weekly check-ins to keep them on track.

4. The “I’m not paying you enough” client

This is the client who tries to lowball you on price, or constantly asks for additional work without offering to pay for it. They may try to negotiate you down on price, or expect you to do more work than was originally agreed upon.

To stop this behaviour, be clear about your rates and the scope of work upfront. Provide the client with a detailed proposal that outlines exactly what you will be doing. Make it clear that any additional work will be billed at your standard hourly rate. If the client continues to push back on price or tries to get more work out of you for free, consider walking away from the project. Your time is valuable, and it’s not worth sacrificing your own financial well-being to please a difficult client.

5. The “I’m never satisfied” client

This is the client who is never satisfied with your work, no matter how hard you try. They may ask for countless revisions, or nitpick every small detail.

To stop this behaviour, try setting clear expectations upfront about how many revisions are included in your fee. Make it clear that additional revisions will be billed at your hourly rate. If the client continues to request extensive revisions, consider offering them a revised proposal that outlines the additional cost of the extra work.

6. The “I’m disrespectful” client

The “I’m disrespectful” client is the one who treats you with disrespect, whether it be through condescending language, ignoring your boundaries, or failing to value your time and expertise. This type of client can be especially frustrating, as it can be difficult to maintain a professional attitude when you feel disrespected.

To stop this behaviour of a “disrespectful” client, it’s important to set clear boundaries and communicate your expectations upfront. Make it clear that you expect to be treated with respect and that any disrespectful behaviour will not be tolerated. If the client continues to behave disrespectfully, consider whether it’s worth continuing to work with them. It’s not worth sacrificing your own well-being to please a difficult client.

7. The “I’m the control freak” client

This is the client who wants to have a say in every single aspect of the project, no matter how small or insignificant. They may micromanage every detail, or insist on making changes that are not in line with the overall vision for the project.

To stop the behaviour of a “control freak” client, it’s helpful to set firm boundaries and expectations upfront. Make it clear that you are the expert in your field, and that you have a clear vision for how the project should be executed. If the client tries to micromanage every detail or insists on making changes that are not in line with your vision, consider reminding them of your expertise. Also, consider reminding them why you believe your approach is the right one.

It can also be helpful to establish a clear process for feedback and decision-making at the outset of the project. This can help the client understand their role in the process, and can help prevent them from trying to take too much control.

If the client continues to be overly controlling despite your efforts, it may be necessary to have a more direct conversation about their behaviour. Let them know that their behaviour is not acceptable, and that you expect to be treated with respect and trust as an expert in your field. If the client is unable or unwilling to change their behaviour, it may be necessary to consider ending the working relationship.

8. The “I’m a flake” client

This is the client who is unreliable, cancels meetings at the last minute, or fails to follow through on their commitments. This can make it difficult to make progress on the project, and can be frustrating for the designer.

To stop the behaviour of an unreliable, flakey client, it’s key to set clear expectations and communicate effectively. Make sure that you and the client are on the same page about deadlines, expectations, and the overall process for the project. If the client cancels meetings at the last minute or fails to follow through on their commitments, consider reminding them of the importance of staying on track. This will help them meet deadlines.

If the client continues to be unreliable despite your efforts, it may be necessary to have a more direct conversation about their behaviour. Let them know that their behaviour is not acceptable, and that you expect to be treated with respect and professionalism. If the client is unable or unwilling to change their behaviour, it may be necessary to consider ending the working relationship.

9. The “I’m a bully” client

This is the client who tries to bully you into doing things their way, or threatens to take their business elsewhere if you don’t comply with their demands. This type of behaviour is completely unacceptable, and it’s critical to set clear boundaries and stand up for yourself if you encounter it.

To stop the behaviour of a bullying client, it’s wise to stand up for yourself and set clear boundaries. Make it clear that you will not tolerate disrespectful or abusive behaviour, and that you expect to be treated with respect. If the client continues to behave in a threatening or abusive manner, it may be necessary to end the working relationship.

10. The “I’m a ghost” client

This is the client who disappears without a trace, leaving you hanging without any communication or feedback. This can be especially frustrating if you’re in the middle of a project and need their input to move forward.

To stop the behaviour of a “ghost” client who disappears without a trace, it’s imperative to establish clear communication channels and expectations at the outset of the project. Make sure that the client knows how to contact you, and establish a schedule for check-ins and progress updates. If the client fails to respond to your attempts at communication, consider reaching out to them directly to address the issue. If the client is unable or unwilling to communicate effectively, it may be necessary to consider ending the working relationship. Remember, it’s your responsibility to protect your own well-being and to work with clients who respect and value your time and expertise.

In conclusion, dealing with difficult clients can be a major challenge for any designer. But by setting clear boundaries and expectations, and being willing to walk away from toxic situations, you can protect yourself and your business from these types of behaviours. Remember, it’s critical to work with clients who respect and value you. By setting clear expectations and communicating effectively with your clients, you can hopefully avoid or mitigate these types of behaviours. The most significant thing is to protect your own well-being and to work with clients who respect and value your time and expertise.

Kris Byers

I am the owner and brand designer at Horrible Brands where we build brands that turn expertise into profit and have helped hundreds of small businesses develop their brand identity and messaging. My goal is to clarify and simplify the concept of branding so that other business owners can understand the importance of building a strong brand.

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