The 5 Clients Entrepreneurs Should Avoid

Article contributed by Dana Brownlee, Founder of Professionalism Matters.

Let’s face it – entrepreneurs (particularly new ones) can be desperate to get clients. I get it – you’re dying to get clients, build your portfolio, and grow your business. Particularly for service based businesses where you’re not pushing product but instead selling yourself in a sense, many entrepreneurs are great at “what they do” but horrible selling themselves.

As a result, they often buy into the myth that every client is a good client and unfortunately, that type of thinking is not just flawed but potentially quite risky as well. Not only are there clients or client opportunities where you’d be better off taking a pass, some of them can actually be detrimental to your business so you need to beware of these clients to AVOID!

Client Type #1 to Avoid – “The Stiffer”
As the name suggests this is the client that has financial problems or may just be unethical (and intending to stiff you). You might think this is exceptionally rare, but I have to say that I encountered “the stiffer” during my very first year in business. This particular client was very hesitant to sign an agreement before I did the work (red flag #1). They ultimately did sign at the last minute, then proceeded to just not pay me. They apologized profusely for a few months and ultimately I was forced to take legal action….not fun 🙁 Just do yourself a favor and avoid any clients who seem to have cash flow problems or seem hesitant to sign contracts.

Client Type #2 to Avoid – “The Abuser”
Unfortunately, some clients can sense a hungry entrepreneur and truly take advantage of that. They may request ridiculously low pricing, disrespect you by constantly cancelling meetings last minute or showing up late, pay late, or try to change the scope/terms of the agreement without any additional payment (e.g. “Why can’t you just add a couple more pages to the website since you’re working on it anyway?”). They don’t respect you and you want to avoid them.

Client Type #3 to Avoid – “The Moocher”
This client isn’t actually a “client” because they don’t want to pay you at all! Even though you’re running a business, they want you to provide product or services for free! In their mind you should be happy for the opportunity to provide “samples to their team, speak to their group, or conduct a free initial project. This one is tricky because you certainly might choose to offer some pro bono services (e.g. complimentary consultation) as part of your business model to provide a “sample” of your product or service, but this should be YOUR offer not their expectation.

When clients begin to ask for free services at the outset (often under the auspices of “valuable marketing for your business”), BEWARE! Another variation of the moocher is the client that wants you to participate in tons of meetings before making a decision about working with you. Oftentimes, they’re seeking free consulting, and you have to be really clear about how many meetings you’ll conduct (as part of your business development) before you have a signed agreement in place. Remember that if your business is providing financial advice, suggestions for how they can improve their organization, etc. don’t be lured into giving it away for free!

Note – sometimes the moocher can be a family friend or colleague too.

Client Type #4 to Avoid – “Mr./Ms. Clueless”
This client has absolutely no clue what they want, but they will hold your feet to the fire when you don’t deliver. They change their mind at every meeting or introduce radically different information throughout your interactions with them. They expect you to be a mind reader/magician and somehow don’t seem to understand how their indecisiveness and vacillation negatively impact your ability to complete the work successfully. With this client you simply can’t win because their requirements are constantly changing. Avoid them like the plague! You’ll be glad you did 🙂

Client Type #5 to Avoid – “Mr./Ms. Unreliable”
Although there is certainly a bit of hierarchy inherent in the vendor/client relationship, there’s also tons of partnership and working together. Most entrepreneurs heavily depend on clients to provide necessary background information, documents, feedback on deliverables, edits, reference data, etc. to make the project a success. When clients are extremely unreliable or even worse unresponsive, it makes the entrepreneur’s job next to impossible.

I had a client who contacted me about being a keynote speaker for a major conference in Las Vegas. After a couple initial calls, I agreed to draft an agreement and email it over for her to sign so we could move forward. She’d indicated that she would get it back to me within a couple days. To my complete shock 1.5 months later after several emails/calls placed to her, I not only didn’t have a signed agreement, but I couldn’t even get a response of any kind – complete radio silence!

At that point I just assumed she’d decided to go in a different direction without giving me the courtesy of telling me and was astonished when she finally responded to say that they’d already advertised/published my name as their keynote in all their marketing materials – she’d just been busy and hadn’t had a chance to send me the agreement! It is completely frustrating to be dependent on anyone who is not responsive or reliable – it’s like swimming through peanut butter – probably possible but you wouldn’t want to try.

Having developed and managed a small business over more than a decade, Dana Brownlee is an advocate for helping other small businesses succeed. She is President of Atlanta based training company Professionalism Matters and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. Follow Dana on Twitter @DanaBrownlee.