Marketing / Business relationships

6 1/2 dud clients: Some customers are always wrong!

As one frazzled freelancer said to another: “Business would be great if it wasn’t for my clients!” The Seagull, Power Tripper, Jilted Lover… not only is the customer not always right, but here are 6½ that are very wrong.


As a freelance copywriter I’ve been lucky enough to work with many brilliant clients. But, after 15 years on the keyboard I’ve also come across a motley crew of usual suspects that are best avoided for your peace of mind and profitability.

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Here are seven unsavoury customers to look out for and avoid:

1. The Jilted Lover

Them: “I’ve tried so many copywriters in the past and they’ve all been hopeless! I could’ve done better myself. But, my friend reckons you’re ok, so let’s talk.”

You: Run. Fast. Don’t look back. It’s not you; it’s them. People like this bring expectations and attitudes that set you up to fail. More often than not the projects drag on forever and invoicing can be like pulling teeth before they move on to a new victim.

2. The Power Tripper (a.k.a. The Bully)

Them: Their attitude is: “I pay you so you do whatever I say!” They schedule meetings, which they are late to, so that you can read them documents that they are ‘too busy’ to read themselves. They will ask you to jump through hoops and love to call on Friday afternoons with urgent work due first thing Monday (that they don’t look at for a week!)

You: Life’s too short and there are too many tasty fish in the sea to deal with Power Trippers. Immediately and liberally apply the no @#$hole rule as described below.

"The no @#$hole rule is broad spectrum test that can be applied to any prospect."

3. The Seagull

Them: They fly in, crap everywhere and fly off. You can pick them out with comments like, “I like what you’ve done, but could we approach it from another angle.” And “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know when I see it!” Their emails are also chock full of seemingly random links and attachments.

You: While working with animals is notoriously risky, Seagulls can be ok to work with if you set boundaries and charge appropriately. The best Seagulls simple want a safe set of hands to throw projects too. But, don’t let their disorganisation and priorities become your own.

4. The Skeptic

Them: “Look, I’m not really sure what a copywriter is, but my wife told me I needed to get someone like you to do some good stuff. Personally I reckon my stuff is pretty spot on.”

You: “You’re right, your work is fine J Trying to convince someone of the value and benefit of your entire industry is not a good start. DIY-ers at heart, rarely will a Skeptic be convinced of the value of paying top dollar for a professional.

5. The Freeloading Game Changer!

Them: They are creating “The Uber of <insert industry>”. So while they don’t have any budget right now to pay for your services, there will be stacks of ongoing work down the track once you’ve done this free or discounted trial.

You: Don’t believe the hype! But stranger things have happened, so also just be sure you’re not actually saying no to 10% of the next Facebook before turning away too fast.

6. Promiscuous Briefers

Them: “Hi, I’m contacting your business for a quote for XYZ.” Their opening email doesn’t include your name and looks suspiciously like it’s been sent to everyone they could Google in your industry.

You: In my experience, these projects rarely materialise and are generally from people shopping around for the cheapest deal. By all means send off a quick proposal, but don’t invest much time to start with. Push for a budget early to filter out tyre kickers.

6½. Friends, family, next-door neighbours, serial killers etc …

While this is not a complete list, proceed with extreme caution when mixing business and personal contacts, and avoid working for the underworld as much as is possible – even if the pay is good.

Bonus tip: The no @#$hole rule

The no @#$hole rule is a broad spectrum test that can be applied to any prospect. I first heard it from a veteran ad man who, sick of dealing with unreasonable people, decided that he would never again work with anyone he didn’t like.

The result, he said, was more enjoyable and more profitable work. I’ve since tried to apply this rule wherever possible. Life’s too short to try and please energy sappers. Just say no.

If you do need help ridding yourself of unwanted clients Andrew Griffith’s article How to turn away difficult clients has some smart and practical strategies.

But don’t forget! Most clients are lovely

Fortunately, most clients in the world are the delightful types that are great to work with and help keep us in the life we have become accustomed too. THANK YOU to all those wonderful people!

And, I’m in no way saying us business owners are all perfect! I’m sure there’s an equivalent list of “57 dud suppliers” floating around the internet too.

Do you recognise any of these people?
Or have your own warning signs we should look out for?
Do you have any tips for dealing with difficult clients?

Peter Crocker

looks after content at Flying Solo. As part of Business Copywriter he partners with digital agencies and corporate clients on websites and digital content. He's the co-author of Flying Solo Revisited: How to go it alone in business.


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