Anyway, when you’re working with clients, you can often find yourself landing on either side of the river. And the side labeled “loving your client” is much more desirable.
Even though most designers and developers have the freedom to pick and choose who they work with, sometimes it’s not that easy to read someone’s intentions or to predict how easy to work with they’ll turn out to be.
Or maybe you indeed can predict such things … with just enough practice?
Let’s see; to find out, we asked 30+ different agencies and freelancers in the dev-design-tech segment to tell us what makes a good client in their book, and what drives them crazy when things don’t work out as planned.
To be more specific, our question was,
If you work with clients, you will surely understand and relate to the advice these professionals have shared below.
If you are aiming for success as a freelancer or you just work with clients, then we have an essential guide for you.Our client guide will help you identify all clients quickly, which will help you work with them effectively. Or, not at all 🙂
Posted by ThemeIsle on Friday, May 18, 2018
What makes a client good or bad: 30+ agencies share insights based on their experience throughout the years
COO at SAU/CAL
Now there is nothing wrong with daycares. Or babies. I like babies. In fact, I even have one myself. Might even have another. And I see several years of giving lots of my hard earned money over to some quality daycare.
But we weren’t what she needed. We build websites with amazing stores, stores that grow the bottom line and contribute to the growth of a business.
She was never going to sell babies, and she could only sell so many spots in her daycare. She also didn’t understand the web at all. That means we had to spend so much with her in person, surrounded by very noisy children, trying to explain absolutely everything we were doing, we were practically paying her to work on her project.
That experience got us thinking a bit more strategically about who our ideal clients should be, something we’ve refined over the years.
1. The Ballmers (nicknamed after Microsoft’s famously over the top CEO). Namely, clients that are passionate about what their business does, how they do it, and why it matters to their end customer. They usually can’t help but dance across a stage when they get a chance to praise their company, service, or product. These types of clients get our team excited about working with them, love to share their expertise in their industry, and are eager to figure out how to highlight their business’ best characteristics in the website or creative we are working with them on.
2. The Revolutionaries. Change-makers are clients who are focused on disrupting what they or their industry have been doing for a long period of time. They’re eager to put technology and creativity to work and allow our team to expand their project in new and exciting directions that break the mold of ‘we want to do it this way because everyone else does it this way.’ Creativity is an infection, and when people want you to be creative, it energizes your work in a way few other things can.
My 2 least favorite client types:
1. The Yo-yo. By yo-yo clients, I mean ones that alternate between being highly interested and engaged in their project and then extremely unavailable. They tend to start out a project by saying things like, “this project is our #1 priority”, or “this site will make or break our business for the next year”, and then midway through won’t respond to calls, emails, or other communication. They tend to be their own worst enemy, undermining project timelines, scopes, and deliverables with their vanishing and reappearing act.
2. The Bureaucrats. Bureaucrats are usually not the client, just the client point of contact. They work in a miscellaneous department of a miscellaneous enterprise and could care less about another miscellaneous project or its outcome, as long as they’re still employed and they’re still getting paid. Unlike the passionate client or the one looking to shake up their industry, the Bureaucrat is an energy and creativity vampire.
The favorite client, which is quite rare to come across, is one that is receptive to new approaches or already knows they need exactly what we offer. As a studio focusing on social media, the ideal client understands that social media isn’t measured the same way as traditional advertising and takes quite a bit of time to grow especially if done organically.
Typically, these clients are the kind to have done their own research prior or they used to be the one doing their own marketing in the early days of their business so they understand why certain things matter. One of my current clients is just like this, they understand testing is essential, trial and error, and allow more creative freedom because they know it will only benefit them in the long run.
The worst client type:
The worst client type is the kind that says they want to “go viral” or do something new and exciting only to constantly reject every exciting idea and say “lets do another post announcing a sale”. Before you know it their entire feed consists of “25% off today only” kind of posts which just look silly. They are usually older folks who don’t understand social media and think a post should always be announcing sales and never the culture of the company, humanization of the brand and valuable lead-generating resources for their viewers.
I once had a client in the makeup industry who could not separate family and business. Her daughter would make the most hideous drawings of the owner’s lipstick line and of course, as a loving mother would, these hideous drawings with photos taken in the worst possible angles and lighting would be a must for our social media. That wasn’t even the worst part. Since it was lipstick, the daughter would draw the lipstick being applied to lips however there was nothing else, no face, just the floating lips with lipstick poorly drawn by a child. The drawing looked like a red hole with a stick in it, people reported them as pornography-related content often but the client said everyone else was the problem, obviously not the drawing.
What makes them great is the level of trust and respect for our tech team. With great power comes great responsibility, but without trust, we would always need to justify every tiny step of the way. Communication is crisp and timely, and we are an honored member (collectively) of their business growth department. We work as one, think as one, act as one – collaborating and pushing forward together.
The few cases we’ve had to terminate a relationship were indeed related to lack of trust and respect. I’ve been yelled at the phone once for reasons contradicting with our roadmap and action plan. Emergencies were escalated numerous times for no apparent reason. The toxic environment and questioning every move led to more overhead than work done, which was counter-productive and didn’t make sense in the long run.
These clients see us as a valuable partner, an extension of their team, which always helps toward the success of a project and future goals.
The clients we enjoy working with the least are the opposite of the ones we enjoy working with the most, and that would be clients that don’t take our recommendations and expert advice.
Ultimately their project suffers in the long run. We make every effort to vet clients upfront and ensure that we’re a good fit for each other to avoid a problematic situation.
Everyone on our team has different strengths and we try to support each other in that to make all customer interactions successful in the end. If a problem arises, passing the case to a different support engineer will almost always turn the situation around. We work closely with each other and seek advice often. Having a good workplace where collaboration and teamwork is encouraged helps us in this. Our team is hand selected to fit our culture. I can’t think of any team member that isn’t humble enough to ask for help or offer advice as the situation calls for it. This benefits our customers and keeps our team stress free as well.
To be a “good customer” all you have to do is stay calm, explain your situation in as much detail as possible, and trust us to do everything we can to fix your problem or alternatively provide you with information that helps you to fix it yourself.
We put a lot of talent and effort behind our focus on security, high-availability and overall reliable managed WP hosting, and most of the brands we work with understand how vital partnering with a team that has the right priorities can be.
Not every WordPress site is a fit for Pagely, and those with fewer demands on up-time and security are likely not a good fit – but that often changes as their site grows.
We’ve hosted several sites that have appeared on Shark Tank, and it’s always fun to watch the traffic spikes and how our platform handles them with ease.
A client that I enjoy working with the least is one that is skeptical of us from the outset and doesn’t trust us enough to let us do our work. This client is either constantly contacting us, using up the time in their budget for questions and assurances, or is mostly unresponsive – both of those situations can make our jobs more difficult! This client doesn’t trust us, and won’t provide full access to modify Google Analytics settings, for instance, or won’t let us make necessary updates to their website to implement our best strategies.
Our favorite type of clients are those who know and understand that we are “just a web hosting company” and mainly we are responsible for the server side things. These clients understand that we can not help them writing or editing the code, add or remove extra functionality or customize their sites. They usually work with a skilled WordPress developer, they appreciate our suggestions and findings and they let the developer do the development work.
Sometimes it’s not that easy as some clients think that “managed WordPress” means a lot more than server management. We get support requests like “I need you to build my shop section or “can you install and customize my new theme” all the time. We have to draw the line and manage client expectations from day one otherwise client support is not sustainable in the long-term. For that reason, we created a detailed Scope of Support knowledge base and I highly recommend you to do the same!
A few clients don’t understand and accept this policy and they just keep opening new tickets and asking you to help them with these development tasks. They refuse to hire a developer and they are not open to accepting your suggestions. From time to time you’ll have to make a decision and ask these clients to leave and find another provider. You shouldn’t be afraid to do this, you have to focus on your other clients who understand what is covered by your support team and what is out of the scope (btw. they represent 99.9% of your client base!). In these cases, this is the best way you can help to grow your business.
These days most of our customers are pretty skilled – they come to us because they already have big sites, and they want things to be faster, or more featureful, or they’re asking us to develop specific answers to problems which take us far outside what can be done even in WordPress. But in our early days, we’d get customers who really only had the vaguest grasp on how the internet works, and that could be really tiring.
We had one who didn’t understand what hosting meant. “But websites just live on Google, don’t they?” came the answer when I tried to explain we had to put a site on a server somewhere. As far as they were concerned, the internet was Google and that was that. Their mental model was of the Yellow Pages, and they were very much stuck on that. Having said that, once they were settled the site did its job and they were then pretty much the perfect customer in many ways.
Ultimately though, my favourite customer is the one who is *our* customer and not *their* customer. So long as we can make a profit, we’re good. 🙂
The quick answer is that it’s easier to work with agencies that are organized, communicative, value the long-term success of our collaboration, and pay their invoices on time. But beyond that, great partners for us are really the ones that help us do a great job for them.
For example, they send us specifications that match their expectations on how we build sites for them. I could have said “writes detailed specifications”, but that’s not always true. Interestingly, one of our best partners gives us very few instructions besides their design files. But since they are very happy with our default interpretations on how to implement their designs as a coded site, they are very satisfied with the result. At the other end of the spectrum, we have great partners that write very detailed instructions for us on how to build sites from their designs (css framework, animation effects, backend setup, etc.), and that works just as well.
Partnerships that don’t work out
There are two typical reasons that partnerships don’t work out as we hoped:
1. We fail to meet their expectations on deadline, price, or how to code their sites. A good example is when we get very few instructions, but the agency actually has very specific preferences on how we should have built the site for them.
2. The agency does not have enough experience to get their needs fulfilled by our services.
The two are often related, and I’ve realized with time that our own profile and actions as a company are mostly the root cause of such problems rather than our partners.
And the ones that we enjoy working the least (which is a kind way of saying we don’t like working with them) with are the opposite of what I said. We don’t align as people first – on values, we don’t align on goals and they micromanage – a recipe for disaster – and I’m so happy that I can fire those clients when they constantly pursue that road. Not for my own interest – as it creates a lot of chaos and unhappiness in my team’s life – and I love my team.
One funny experience here was when I received constant feedback from my team that the client was over-reactive and was micromanaging everything they were doing for about 1 month – having them recreate their work a couple of times because of unclear briefs. Anycase, I felt that we had to end the engagement, so I went on a call with their Director of Marketing that when he heard that we want to end it – was completely shock and in awe – like this could not happen to him – and even more interesting was that he offered to 3x our fees if we would stay only to be shocked that I said no. Money is only a vehicle. People are the real value.
Corporate training can also be great when the expectations are also clear. Going to a fortune 1000 and helping a marketing team build out a single campaign from idea to execution, giving guidance on best practices and support. But also having clear expectations of what will and will not happen.
By far the WORST type of clients are the ones who start off slashing your pricing. I have found that anyone who tries to fight me on pricing ends up being a major problem client. Inevitably, they try and take more and more without further compensation. I like every other entrepreneur wants to have raving clients and will throw in extra services and support to create a raving client. When people expect and demand it, they remove my ability to surpass expectations. The bad clients micromanage and have decision making via committee.
Therefore I completely kick out anyone who exhibits the signs of a bad client. I am fortunate enough to have more than enough work that I can choose not to take on those types of clients. With that being said even if I wasn’t I wouldn’t take on those clients knowing what I know now.
Our least favorite clients are those who approach our agency with a strong need to be dominant and believe they know everything there is to know and no one outside of themselves can improve upon their ideas. These clients struggle with achieving success with and without agency help, and no one enjoys the process. It’s a lose-lose type of situation, unfortunately. My suggestion is to allow the experts to be the experts. Give them your vision for the company’s future along with why the vision is projected to work and provide reminders of the vision to the agency should they veer off course. Leave the rest (creativity and otherwise) up to them. You will enjoy the process the most, and your business will benefit the most even if you don’t agree with it.
The worst types of clients are, well, you guessed it – pretty much the opposite! They haggle over the price and try to talk you down and aren’t even sure if they want to do any kind of advertising or marketing. They’re skeptical going into it. They micromanage and want to approve every little detail and throw in their own ideas, even if they don’t make any sense. It’s difficult to tell a client that his or her idea isn’t any good. Often, they just aren’t nice people and are a pain to work with. We have fired clients who we no longer wanted to work with and have never regretted it.
When a company allows our agency to dictate and implement a strategy, it allows us a lot more time to refine that strategy and ultimately see success on a larger scale than if we are held back by a lack of trust.
My least favorite client to work with would have to be one that doesn’t have a clear vision of where their entire business is headed.
Our job as internet marketers is substantially more affective if our campaigns consistently align with the goals of the business. Long-term goals dictate minute details such as keyword selection, so if a business doesn’t know where they want to be in 1 year plus, it can derail an entire campaign.
The worst clients: For me it’s companies that want results right away and don’t understand the investment in this method. So, they want to pay nothing, and then get huge results. Bottom line: We lay it out completely and can usually tell fast which type of clients it is, so, we can set expectations right away.
Here are a few of the bad types of clients I’ve had over the years:
- The “design by committee” client. This customer appoints a group of people to oversee the project (usually a design project) without clear goals. Everybody has a different opinion, nobody is in charge, and nothing you do can satisfy everyone. The project will take twice as long as it ought, and the end result is crappy. (Once you make 50 changes trying to make everyone happy, the design is just a mess.)
- The “I’ll cheat you if I can get away with it” client. I once had a client request that we do some web development work in addition to the graphic design we’d been hired to do. After I informed him of the associated cost, he demanded we provide the extra services for free. After I explained that the items he asked for weren’t included in the contract he had signed and paid for, he said that it didn’t matter because “I’m going to rewrite the contract and add them”. I never figured out if he was that naïve about how contracts work, or if he just didn’t care.
- The “visionary” client. I lost count years ago of the number of times a client tried to sell me on their vision, to get me to reduce prices, do work for free, etc. They were working on something earth-shattering, and if I helped them I’d be in for a big payday once they hit it big. If you ever get that same pitch, remember that 90%+ of them won’t make it big. If they do make it big, the blunt truth is that they’re incredibly unlikely to start overpaying you to make up for all the work they underpaid you for. The more likely scenario is that they’ll realize they are now a big fish and will move on to a big agency and/or start negotiating for a discount.
On the contrary, the worst type of client to work with is one who tries to completely dictate the strategy. We have to utilize each marketing manager or business owner as a resource to understand the business we’re working with and solidify a strategy. People internally know the business better than we do so it is crucial to work alongside them. That being said, our expertise is design and digital marketing. If someone is trying to tell us how to run a paid ad campaign or design a high converting homepage, an agency might not have been the best hire.
The worst type of client for us would be the ones that hire you as they require professional advice, but choose to completely ignore it. We recently had a project working on what could have been a really good looking website for a posh restaurant in London, UK. But as they decided to ignore our advice, it didn’t turn out so great.
The worst type of customers for us, are businesses that don’t really care about customer service. Normally we can tell when we first sign them on and will always give them the benefit of the doubt, but the retention rates are really low because we can’t generate user content due to the lack of customer satisfaction.
A funny story I can share is when we had a customer call my personal cell – screaming that a customer just wrote a bad review for their business. I told them that I was about to write them a bad review for calling me so late.
It wasn’t funny to me then, but now I can laugh about it. 🙂
The worst type of client is one who is closed-minded and refuses to trust our direction or ideas. They request revisions, only to decide they preferred the original. They think they know better than we do and they act as if they’re our only client and that we should be grateful they’re working with us. They haggle on prices and constantly try to stretch the scope.
One such client is one who haggled on our prices, requested 10 rounds of revisions on their website copy (even though we stipulate that copy changes include max. 3 rounds), and messaged me at midnight on a Sunday to ask for an additional period to be added to their website copy!
- know what they want, their destination is clear. And if they are not clear about it, they are willing to be consulted about it. Which leads to the next one
- they are interested in people they’ll be working with, not merely in price; they are willing to spend time and to connect; they aren’t just shopping around for the next agency.
We approach our projects as a thinking partner who understands both business goals as well as technology and can link the two in an effective manner. Therefore, the reason client qualification is such an important step for us is that the value we provide is not suitable for all the clients. At the same time, not all the clients understand or perceive the value we provide.
Sometimes, stuff happens and no matter how carefully you planned, tested and backed up, the app crashes or the site won’t load. In fact, an outage or a crash might have absolutely nothing to do with the developer at all. A switch could be offline or a cell tower could go down. There are a million different possibilities. I mean, even the biggest systems in the world like Facebook, Twitter, AWS, and Bank of America have their glitches.
Truth be told, we take any outage and defect to heart and no one is a tougher critic on us than we are, but if every time a minor blip occurs, the client gets madder than a wet hen, the relationship can become a drag.
My least favorite clients are those that come in without a clear objective. At the end of every quarter, departments with excess budgets look for new projects; yet, when they come in without a clear goal to optimize against, it’s next to impossible to prove your worth and make them happy.
The worst type is who don’t pay or you have to chase for every little thing and drag it out for months. Like right now I have a client who is still waiting for the compliance team for a month.
- Communicates and is responsive. They are willing to teach you about their product, services, and their industry. They’ll also let you know if they are or aren’t happy with your services and talk through the reasons why that is.
- Is willing to try new things to take advantage of new strategies that can prove to be beneficial. An example could be a new ad format on Facebook or a new social network.
- Is patient and has realistic expectations. They don’t expect to rank #1 after two months of SEO optimization. They’re willing to work on a long-term strategy and don’t focus on short-term gains.
- Values your time and expertise. There is nothing worse than a client that doesn’t listen to your experience or recommendations. You can both end up paying for this mistake later on.
Worst » those in an extreme rush. All of a sudden they believe they are the only person that exists on planet earth and we now lay down our lives to be at their beckon call/text/email/phone/messenger/instastory.
- they have a good idea of what they want,
- they want to spend a bit more for quality. Those projects usually have minimal friction and move quickly.
With that, you’d think the worst type of client would be one that didn’t know what they want and aren’t sure what their budget it. That’s not particularly true though – that’s an opportunity to educate, consult and upsell them. The least enjoyable type of client for me is when 3 elements come together to create a perfect storm of frustration:
- they want a ton of functionality,
- they’ve read a few web design articles or their nephew’s brother is a developer, so they think that makes them qualified to
- tell me what I should be charging, which is basically peanuts. So many horrible things happen with these kinds of projects – scope creep, nickel-and-diming, massive changes phrased as “little tweaks”… We all can sense it when we’re talking to these kinds of clients, and when business is slow, sometimes we take them on, thinking “this time it’ll be different.” But it’s not, and they all end the same: face down in a pool of tears, liquor and self-loathing.
I found that story funny because they were scared of growth. Not common in my world.
Favorite type of client: Clients that are appreciative and willing to take a chance on bold moves are the top of my list.
Things I like the least: Indecision, committees, people who have never been measured on website productivity telling you how they’d design a website.
And about trust, sometimes we have clients who want to approve every article we write for him, regardless where that article will be published, to approve every image we will post on social networks, almost every little thing we do. That is very time-consuming and slows down the work pretty much. Their trust is speeding up the process and waiting period for the actual results we chase.
Owner of Online Marketing Agency
Of course, the involved client is my favorite. These types are generally open-minded and have no trouble trusting my expertise. Although they might want to know everything that I’m doing, I’m happy to tell them. Simply because they’re trying to learn from it and not because they’re checking up on me. These clients are usually really helpful.
The know-it-all, on the other hand, is my least favorite client. When these type of clients can’t be found on the first few spots in the SERPs within a week, for example, they just might undo the changes I made to their website to enhance their performance in Google. Or when I try to up the conversion rate, they state that they know their customer better and I should stick to their own ideas. Even though the data says otherwise!! In my opinion, these are the real clients from hell.
CEO at Northcutt
Our worst client engagements have all fallen on some extreme end of that. Either the client is a know-it-all that insists that we run their SEO based on flawed philosophy or they’re such outsiders to SEO and digital marketing that they never develop enough trust to let our team do their jobs. We’d much rather collaborate with someone that challenges us to get better, while still respecting our expertise, than somebody that will probably just leave the moment that some outrageous SEO scam falls into their lap.
Designer, Developer & Digital Marketer at Mazepress
The worst instance of a client lacking the organization skills is when there are too many cooks and not a single decision maker. This is why it’s important to establish a plan and ensure your client understands there may be additional costs if we are to go back and forth testing ideas out rather than following the initial roadmap.
Learning to qualify clients is the skill that helped me grow my business while improving efficiency rather than losing control. The latter I know all too well.
Time to wrap things up. It was quite an adventure doing this roundup and having so many people share their insights with us!
If you still struggle to find clients, check our guide: Web Design Proposal Template: Write a Proposal That Rocks in Just 10 Minutes
What do you think? If you’re in the same boat, we would love to hear your thoughts as well. If you have any intriguing or funny stories based on your experiences with clients, don’t hesitate to comment! 🙂
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