How To Identify and Deal With Different Types Of Clients

Advertisement

In business, being able to read people and quickly get a sense of who you’re dealing with is an invaluable skill. It turns your encounter with a client into an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the upcoming project and how it will need to be handled. It is one of the building blocks of a professional relationship.

In today’s digital age, the arena has shifted to the Web, and the online office space that most freelancers inhabit limits personal interaction. Though sussing out a client’s personality via online communication is difficult, it still remains an invaluable tool in your arsenal.


Image by Salva Barbera1.

In the freelancing field, you will encounter a range of client types. Being able to identify which you are dealing with allows you to develop the right strategy to maximize your interactions with them, and it could save your sanity. Below is a list of the most common personality types and the tell-tale signs that will tip you off.

The Passive-Aggressive


Image by John Philip2.

This is the client who is very passive when you ask for initial input, but when you submit the finished product, they aggressively attack it, demanding a lot of detailed changes, both major and minor. They had an idea of what they wanted all along but kept it mostly to themselves. Even though they showed appreciation of certain ideas and elements throughout the development process, do not expect the passive-aggressive client to keep any of them as they send revisions your way.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Communication is mostly one-sided and unhelpful during project development.
  • Makes statements such as:
    • “I’m not really sure what we’re looking for.”
    • “Just do something that would appeal to us generally.”
    • “You totally missed the point of what we wanted.”

How to Deal

Patience is the key. Expecting the last-minute requests for revisions may soften the blow of the client’s aggressive behavior. Keep your original layered design intact so that you can easily refine and change it later (not that you wouldn’t, but it does happen). Also, make sure your contract specifies a limited number of revisions.

The Family Friend


Image by Celiece Aurea3.

This is the client whom you have known for years either through personal or family interaction, and this connection has landed you the job. The relationship will be tested and perhaps marred forever by what could very well be a nightmare of a project. This family friend believes he deserves a “special” price and unbridled access to your work. They will sometimes unwittingly belittle your work or not take it seriously because of their personal connection to you.

Identifying Characteristics

  • These clients are easy to identify because… well, you know them.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “Could you just throw something together for me?”
    • “I don’t want you to think that just because I know you I want you to cut me a deal.”
    • “You’re going to charge me what?! But we go way back!”

How to Deal

The way to deal with this client depends on how well you know them and how much you value your relationship with them. But remember that anyone who would take advantage of such a relationship is not truly a friend, so respond accordingly. An honest approach could end up saving the relationship. But start off with a professional, not personal, tone, and they may follow your lead. Of course, if you truly value the relationship, you may want to pass on the job altogether.

The Under-Valuer


Image by Maxime Perron Caissy4.

Like the family friend described above, this client will devalue your creative contributions. But there is a difference: you do not actually know this person. There is no rationale for their behavior. They feel they should get a “friend’s” pricing rate not because they want to be friends with you, but because they do not see your work as being worth that much… even if they couldn’t do it themselves. Not coming from a creative background or even having had exposure to the arts can mar someone’s appreciation of the work that you do. After years in our field, we make it look easy, and that is what the under-valuer sees.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Does not respond to questions in a timely fashion.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “It’s not like it takes much effort on your part.”
    • “Couldn’t you just throw something together for me?”
    • “How hard can this really be?”

How to Deal

Confidence is key here. You know what your work demands and how well you do your job. The under-valuer will recognize this confidence. Don’t back down or concede a point to the client when discussing your role in the project. Standing firm will establish the professional and respectful tone you deserve. If the client does not respond in kind, cut your losses and decline their project.

The Nit-Picker


Image by Bob Smith5.

This client is never fully satisfied with the work you do and will constantly pick on minor details here and there that they dislike and want changed. Do not be surprised if they ask you to change these same details over and over ad nauseam. It is not a sign of disrespect (as it is with the other clients), but simply the nature of the person. They may have been burned in some other project and are now unsatisfied with everything in their path, including your work.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Complains almost consistently about unrelated things.
  • Personal outlook comes with a scathing bite.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “How hard is it to [fill in the blank with any rant]?”
    • “I’m really not sure about this element here. It just doesn’t pop!”
    • “I don’t think you are really getting it.”

How to Deal

Once again, patience is important (especially if you have some sadistic reason for taking on nit-picking clients). Try to detach yourself from the project as much as possible, so that the constant nit-pickery does not affect you personally. It is easy to feel hurt or get defensive when your work is repeatedly questioned, and you may begin to doubt your skill. But understand that this is not about you or your talent; it is simply a personality trait of the person you are dealing with. And once again, protect yourself in the contract.

The Scornful Saver


Image by Ivan Petrov6.

This client has similarities to the nit-picker and under-valuer but is actually impressed with your work and skill set. The criticize you merely to undermine your confidence in an attempt to lower your pricing rate. Unlike some other client types, the scornful saver understands creative people and their processes. But they are cheap and manipulative, and their scheme may have worked in their favor once or twice in the past. So, they continue to subtly abuse the people they hire in the hope of saving every last penny.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Compliments always come with a less-than-flattering qualifier.
  • Takes time to respond to questions, sometimes making you ask more than once.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “I really like what you’ve done overall, but I’m unsure about one or two things.”
    • “You may not have gotten exactly what we’re looking for, but you’re close.”

How to Deal

Once again, it is all about confidence. Having a solid understanding of your field and being confident in your knowledge and abilities will keep this client’s manipulation in check. Standing your ground and even calling the client on some of their tactics could shift the balance of power over to you. Be prepared to walk away from the project if the disrespect and manipulation continues. There will be other projects and other clients.

The “I-Could-Do-This-Myself”-er


Image by Maria Beliakova7.

Where to begin… When this client farms a project out to you, they make clear to you that they know how to do what they’re hiring you to do but that just don’t have the time to actually do it. They may be working at a firm or an entrepreneur; either way, you are there to pick up their slack. If they’re at a firm, you could be in for an interesting situation; they were likely hired for their particular style and proposals, and now you will have to please two sets of people: the person who hired you and the people who hired him.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Will generally be (or look) hectic and rushed.
  • Communication from them often takes the form of short bursts of information.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “I could easily handle this if my schedule weren’t so full.”
    • “Really? Not sure that’s the direction I would’ve gone in, but whatever.”
    • “Remember, you are filling my shoes, and they’re pretty big.”

How to Deal

The “I-Could-Do-This-Myself”-er will likely have recognized your talent and skill right away, which is why they hired you. They merely want you to know that this project (and thus you) is not above their ability. And though these reminders will grate on you periodically, they will let you run with your ideas, perhaps offering suggestions or feedback on the final design.

The Control Freak


Image by Michal Zacharzewski8.

This client desperately needs to micro-manage every little detail of the project, no matter their qualifications. No decision may be made without their explicit input and approval. This tiresome client forces himself into your workflow, heedless of either invitation or protest, and will demand access to you at whim. The concepts of boundaries and strict work processes are easily lost on the control freak, who constantly disrupts the flow. They may also believe you lack dedication or preparedness, further reinforcing their need to interfere.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Initial contact is long, detailed and one-sided, with little input sought from you.
  • Your input remains unsought as the project pushes forward.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “This way we can keep in contact 24/7 in case you have any questions, or I do.”
    • “I really know best what is right for the project and what is not.”
    • “What do you mean, I’m distracting you? I am the only thing keeping this project on track!”

How to Deal

If you absolutely must take on this client, for whatever reason, resign yourself to the fact that you will not be steering at any point. You will have to detach yourself from the work because you will have no control at all. You will merely be constructing, not designing, so just let go and let it happen. You may want to exclude this project from your portfolio.

The Dream Client


Image by Piotr Lewandowski9.

This client, widely dismissed as a myth, does in fact exist and understands the full scope and artistry of your work. They value your role and creative contributions and want you in the driver’s seat as soon as the project gets underway. They are timely with responses and payments… payments that they did not “negotiate” but rather accepted for what they are. They reflect on your suggestions and have confidence in your capabilities.

Identifying Characteristics

  • Is enthusiastic about the project and your involvement in it.
  • Communication shows awareness of and respect for your role.
  • Makes such statements as:
    • “Here’s the brief we prepared. The rest is pretty much up to you.”
    • “We like what we’ve seen and trust you’ll do great things for us.”

How to Deal

Don’t brag! Just enjoy the ride and hold on to them for as long as you possibly can!

Wrap-up

Being able to identify the type of client you are dealing with will prepare you for the job ahead. It will also help you decide whether to accept the job in the first place. Your contract will reflect the power dynamics of the project, so the more you know about the client, the better able you will be to adjust the contract as necessary. Have you come across other types of clients in your freelancing career? Please let us know in the comments.

Further Resources

Because contracts are such an important tool, here are some resources to help you draft them.

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/524000
  2. 2 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/983714
  3. 3 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/422180
  4. 4 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/514164
  5. 5 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/418215
  6. 6 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1102930
  7. 7 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1070268
  8. 8 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/957040
  9. 9 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/426208
  10. 10 http://www.davidairey.com/using-freelance-graphic-design-contracts/
  11. 11 http://www.businessofdesignonline.com/downloads-forms/
  12. 12 http://www.acuitydesigns.net/freelance-contracts/

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

Rob Bowen is a staff writer for Web Hosting Geeks and Top Web Hosting, a longtime freelance designer, and burgeoning videographer and filmmaker whose creative voice and works can be heard and found around the web.

Advertising
  1. 1

    I can deal with the others OK, but the control freak and the nit-picker types are by far the worst imho … I’ve had really, really bad experiences with these types.

    If the client wants to control every detail down the the HEX value of a color and the exact sizes of images, etc, then why did they hire a designer at all? They obviously believe they know better than me. If they hired me for the technical expertise i.e. markup and programming, then why didn’t they create the design first then hand it to me to code?

    Even worse is when they say a mockup is OK, go ahead and code it. Then later they say something doesn’t look exactly the way they want. Then I have to spend days re-coding the HTML/CSS and buy new images to use because they didn’t like those stock photos either.

    These types of client are a massive time sink. I figure that I’d have to give them 10 times the attention of other clients and almost constant contact through phone and e-mail, but get the same or less pay. Looking through my inbox 80% of all e-mails are from a single control-freak/nit-picker client, and the rest 20% are normal clients. I also get phone calls at any time of the day requesting changes to several parts of the design … and this is HTML/CSS, not the mockup stage…

    It is a nightmare. Avoid if possible – but you don’t know until you’re in the job.

    0
  2. 152

    this is a useful presentation i think it will help me with my research on types of clients. thumbs up!!!

    0
  3. 303

    Great post. I’ve been freelancing for just over a year now and have dealt with both dream clients and awkward ones. I can’t complain though as it’s all good learning. My advice is don’t rush into a job -make sure you have a clear brief, that is signed by both parties (to stop the goalposts moving), a solid contract (where the client agrees to respond in a timely manner), and various sign off stages (to stop clients suddenly change their mind 3/4 through a project. I’ve learnt the hard way but *touch wood* the design process is getting smoother.

    1
  4. 454

    Most of my clients have been great, but I’m dealing with one that is driving me nuts right now. They tend to go back and forth between kissing my butt about how good I am, and complaining about something or other (usually claiming they asked for something different than what I gave them, even though I have the details in writing). They also love to arrange to meet in person and then cancel at the last minute, or conveniently forget. Their website is down now (the funny thing is I have nothing to do with it).

    0
  5. 605

    Very helpful. Customers really come in all different shapes and sizes; some of them are mean, some are funny, some are serious. But ultimately, these are the people who would assist us in growing our business, that’s why it’s important that we treat them well no matter what.

    -2
  6. 756

    Wouldn’t you have a masochistic reason for taking on the nitpicker, rather than a sadistic one?

    0

↑ Back to top