Here Is What Constitutes a Bad Client

Here Is What Constitutes a Bad Client

This year, I’ve been focused on removing anything in my life that is a PIA, that rubs the wrong way, that no longer serves my interests. My self-care demands it.

After caring for a sick parent, I have zero time and energy for any kind of BS. It’s always a good time for you to be thinking about this, too.

Identifying and weeding out bad clients is an exercise in self-care and making your business sustainable and profitable.

For a while now, I’ve been observing the results of someone working with what I would deem a bad client.

The situation has gone from bad, to very bad, to really, REALLY bad.

For the life of me, I have never understood what they see in this client, what could possibly be worth all the hair-pulling problems and extra work, annoyance, and difficulty this bad client causes.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and it emphasizes the cold hard truths I and others have always expounded on when it comes to taking on un-ideal clients: DON’T DO IT!

  1. You may see the prospect of big financial returns, but I guarantee you, it is nearly never worth all the time, trouble, and energy it costs you in the end (and that’s IF you ever do see the kind of money you thought they represented).
  2. Bad clients are FAR more work than they are ever worth.
  3. Bad clients like to make grandiose claims and big promises that almost never come to fruition.
  4. IF they do hit it big (that’s a big IF), bad clients easily/conveniently forget the promises they made to you when they needed your help.
  5. Bad clients are hopelessly, endlessly disorganized. They resist and make difficult any and all attempts by you to create some semblance of order, making it next to impossible to work with them.
  6. Bad clients live in a constant state of chaos, and their chaos becomes your chaos.
  7. Bad clients like to keep everything in their head. They don’t listen when you remind them that they are no longer working alone and thus, there simply MUST be systems put in place for working together.
  8. Bad clients are always late. They do everything at the very last minute, leaving you little to no time to do a proper/thorough job. They expect you to then drop everything and deal with the consequences.
  9. Bad clients create 10 more problems for every one that you solve. Instead of getting more efficient and organized, they only get worse. They make everything more difficult than it has to be.
  10. Bad clients are arrogant. They always think they are smarter and know more than everyone else. They brush off your advice, recommendations, and suggestions (even when they have solicited you for them!). When they do take a suggestion you have offered, they act like they thought of it themselves.
  11. Bad clients are constantly cutting corners and playing stupid games, thinking they can outwit the law, the system, the “man.” This nearly always ends in disaster and only causes more work and headaches for everyone involved. (TIP: It is FAR more work and difficulty trying to cut corners and game things than it is to simply do things correctly, honestly, in the first place. As Judge Marilyn Milan says, “The cheap comes out expensive.)
  12. Bad clients are sloppy and pig-headed. They will cut their nose to spite their face, spend $10 to save a penny. They’re always trying to take shortcuts and think properly dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s is for sissies. This creates a house of cards that ends up biting them in the ass one way or another. There is a reason there are commonly accepted standards of business practice. Anyone who shrugs them off as unimportant is a huckster, not a proper businessperson.
  13. Bad clients are petty and selfish. They withhold praise, rarely express appreciation, and are always devaluing others and looking to take advantage whenever possible. They want ALL the credit and will steal it even when it’s not theirs to be taken or given. The only person they value and think about is themselves.
  14. Bad clients are greedy. They think the ends always justify the means. Ethics and integrity are afterthoughts (if they are considered at all). It’s one harebrained, questionable scheme after another with them.
  15. The problems that bad clients cause spill over into your other client relationships.
  16. Bad clients cause your work quality to suffer all the way around. They are so needy and demanding and their work, in turn, so arduous and time-consuming, it unfairly deprives your other, more ideal (and easier to work with) clients from your equal time, attention and best efforts.
  17. Bad clients want everything for nothing. They will gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today (and tomorrow never comes soon). You can’t pay your bills with IOUs.
  18. Bad clients think everything they do is worth millions and everything you do is worth pennies. That is to say, they devalue, demoralize, and degrade (in turn, eroding your confidence) and don’t appreciate all that you do for them.
  19. Bad clients constantly pay late, if at all. They’re always making excuses and trying to string you along. (Of course, you have some culpability here. It’s up to you to put your foot down the first time this happens and to fire the ass of anyone who continues to disrespect you in this way.)
  20. Bad clients ruin all the good work you have done for them on their behalf. For every gain you make, they do something that causes twenty steps back.
  21. Their poor integrity can besmirch YOUR reputation and integrity. God forbid you should rely on them for referrals; you’ll just get more of the same type of bad client.
  22. Bad clients never take responsibility for their poor habits and practices and are the first to blame YOU for the problems they caused/brought on themselves.
  23. Bad clients are also the first to report you to the BBB or the bar or whatever governing/overseeing agencies you are accountable to. They are incapable of taking responsibility for the problems and conditions they themselves create.
  24. Bad clients cannot be saved from themselves and will bring you down with them. Bad clients who don’t run their businesses properly or ethically can be and often are sued. And guess who can get dragged into that mess whether they like it or not? Yeah, you and everyone else who has worked with them.
  25. Bad clients are the quickest path to poor health, stress, overwhelm, and burnout.

Never take on any client just for the money. I can’t emphasize this enough!

There must be a fit. You have to genuinely like them and what they do (and vice versa).

They must be honest and ethical and do things in a way you can respect.

They must treat you with dignity, honor, and respect.

And they have to be willing to let you do what you do without making it more difficult. If not, you have nothing to discuss and there can be no relationship.

Bottom line: Be a client snob. Don’t accept anyone and everyone who comes along. Be choosy and selective about who you work with and have a process in place for vetting clients. You’ll be happier and richer for it.

12 Responses

  1. C. says:

    Hi Danielle,

    I ABSOLUTELY love this! I stopped operating because these are all the people I kept getting. I had to put my foot down because they thought it was okay to receive services and not pay. Called me all kind of things and tried giving me a bad name because I was new to the business world. They learned very quickly I didn’t care one bit about threats. I wanted what was due to me and was ready for court if needed. That was very draining and taxing on me for sure. I lost so much money seeking clients who had bad business practices and never helped. I could never get anywhere so I simply closed.

    I need your help and will be in contact soon. I’m shifting professionally and personally and don’t want my time or yours wasted. Once I settle I’m coming full speed ahead for your guidance and instructions. I’m tired of being stagnant and not moving forward. There’s too much in me to allow it to lay dormant. With the right person, whom I believe is you, I will be where I should be, never to look back again!

  2. C.,

    Thank you very much for your vulnerability in sharing this with me. That takes guts and it also shows your determination to move onward and upward.

    I want you to know that bad clients are a problem that is absolutely solvable because much of it is simply a matter of making adjustments to your processes and policies so they are in alignment with your client goals and relationship standards.

    Here’s to you coming back to your business better than before!

  3. Lisa says:

    Hi Danielle,

    I may not always agree with you but never mind that. You are so spot on about bad clients! And your knowledge and experience are just what this industry needs. I keep going back and forth about whether or not to become a support professional in this capacity. One of the reasons I keep thinking I’d enjoy it is because of the systems you have put in place that we can use. One of the reasons I think I would not enjoy it is because of these bad clients! Thank you for your insight and for being willing to share.


  4. Hi Lisa

    If it’s something you really want to do, you shouldn’t let the idea of bad clients stop you.

    Bad clients happen only because we allow it:

      by choosing the wrong clients;
      by ignoring our instincts and other red flags;
      by accepting any and every client who comes along instead of being selective;
      by not having a thorough consultation process in place;
      by not formalizing our policies, standards and procedures;
      by not educating and informing clients about how things work in our business and how you work together;
      by not having an onboarding process;
      by being too informal in business and otherwise not setting the proper tone for the relationship to succeed;
      by using wrong terminology that gives clients the wrong ideas about the nature of the relationship.

    The good news is that these are all things we have the absolute ability to institute and change in our business.

  5. D.Z. says:

    Hi Danielle,

    Thanks for sending this and reiterating it for me. I’m currently in that situation after being in business for 12 years.

  6. Hi D.

    Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear that. It’s never fun to be working with an unhappy-making client. Life is too short for that!

    If you care to elaborate, can you tell us more about what traits specifically are problematic in this client?

    What measures (if any) are you taking to turn this situation around? Or do you feel it is a lost cause?

  7. D.Z says:

    Hi Danielle,
    Just to clarify I am a Independent Meeting & Event Planner.
    This new client came on board in December last year.
    They were disorganized and were resisting any kind of change.
    I stayed on to complete the events but made them constantly aware of all the pitfalls due to the fact that they refused to be forthcoming with critical information I needed to make the program a success.
    They paid good money and in fact want me to do the events again next year but I have said No.
    It was a tough call but my sanity is more important and I cannot let one bad client impact my other 8 good clients. The stress was just not worth it.

  8. Thank you, D! I commend you for making a decision that was best for YOU! What a great example.

    This is a good reminder that money is not the be all, end all. Because if a client makes you crazy, there is no amount of money that can cure that or make it worth it because it deprives you of your very life.

    Our processes and policies and standards help attract good/ideal clients (and work as a system to weed out bad ones right from the start). They can even help mold and shape certain clients into great ones.

    The keyword you mentioned which everyone should take note of is: Resistant.

    Any client who is resistant to your policies, procedures and protocols, any client who is resistant and not open to new ways of doing things or otherwise doing what you require them to do so that you can work together successfully, is a client everyone should run away from.

    To all who are reading, be sure to add the word “resistant” (perhaps also “uncooperative”) to your UN-ideal Client Profile right now while you are thinking about it.

    Thanks again for sharing, D. Very useful and appreciated!

  9. Hello Danielle,

    Very well said in nailing the hammer on the head!! You are correct in saying that most times we are the ones who encourage the bad client and then feel trapped.

    When your business is struggling and you do see the prospect of better money you ignore all the red flags and signs only to regret afterwards.

    Here’s to freedom and a positive way forward.

    Many thanks,

  10. Jessica Thompson - Holliday says:

    Wow, Danielle. I truly believe that when one needs to learn a life lesson that the universe has a crazy way of reaffirming the lesson again and again until its learned.

    That being said, your article gave me a lot to unpack. So now I understand that it is confirmed that I do have a bad client, but how do I get over the fear of not being able to replace that client?

  11. Kathleen says:

    OMG you are so RIGHT!

    My advice to anyone who has “one of those clients”. . . Lose them as quickly as you can because it is not worth the time wasted, headaches and bullshit! Do it now. You’ll feel lighter after. Screen potential clients and their companies before accepting work.

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