How to spot bad clients before it’s too late

October 23, 2020

Become an expert at stopping toxic relationships before they start. Keep your work mutually enjoyable and highly productive.

Figuring out whether your next project with a client is going to be a nightmare or not is crucial to doing good business, and to your mental health. By learning the red flags, you’ll be able to spot the devil before you sell your soul and sign the contract…

Avoid pretentious clients

It’s no secret: pretentious people are not fun to work with. It’s hard to spot them before it’s too late. Thankfully, there are great questions you can ask your potential clients that will quickly show if you are about to enroll in a world of problems.

“Have you worked with a creative person before? What did you like/dislike about the experience?” are great questions to ask. Observe carefully what mood your client falls into. Asking someone to detail a past memory will put them back in the mood they had when the event happened.

If your client sounds angry or frustrated when sharing past experiences, then you know that he was likely the problem in his last work experience with a creative. Or, that he’s likely to have biases towards working with creatives, which makes working with him a recipe for disaster.

Secondly, be weary of someone who’s always talking in the “I”: I did this, I paid for this, I solved this problem.

If someone doesn’t acknowledge the value of full-time employees/teammates’ when talking with you, you can be certain he will not acknowledge the value you’d provide to him with your work.

Stay away from the I‘s people and embrace the we people. We solved that problem, we were able to overcome this challenge, we worked very hard. The ones that value teamwork and realize other people’s worth are the ones you want to work with.

Working extra hard to prove your value

If a lead is consistently questioning your rate or talent, avoid her at all costs.

Creative work requires a lot of collaboration between yourself and the client. It is mandatory for your client to trust you, the creative.

Otherwise, your collaboration process will become a nightmare. A client nitpicking at everything you do without providing alternatives or succinct guidance for you to work with is a client to avoid.

It is impossible to create or innovate without open-mindedness for ideas, and that only exists if you trust the person you’re working with.

Listen to your inner voice

You know that voice you hear when you know you’re about to do something wrong? Learn to listen to it whether it’s in your professional or personal life.

Gaining new clients is like dating. Both personalities need to fit. If they don’t, then you should bail out as fast as possible or else get stuck in a toxic relationship.

If you meet a potential client and get bad vibes about him, step out. It’s as simple as that.

Great collaborators make the best clients

How do you distinguish a great collaborator from a okay one? The best giveaway is in their ability to listen.

Listening skills are a dying breed. Most people don’t know how to listen properly anymore. Odds are your own listening skills are lacking in some way, too (if not, fantastic).

To make it short, great listening is the ability to not form judgements or assumptions until the person you’re listening to is done talking.

Signs of bad listeners:

– Cutting you off mid sentence
– Assuming what you’re gonna say next and attempting to finish your sentence for you
– Addressing only the first sentence of what you say
– Bringing everything you say back to them

Transparent & trustworthy clients are amazing

A client that never leaves you hanging and puts you in context is someone you want to build a long-term relationship with.

Clients that are evasive, distant, or ambiguous are incredibly hard to work with, and they can also hurt your confidence level.

The best way to figure out if someone is transparent and trustworthy is to ask him a few questions to which you already have the answer – if he avoids answering, then you know you’ll have to work extra hard to get good information out of him. This is a big no no for effective work.

Note that these questions can be very trivial – it’s the response (or lack thereof) that matters.

Reply speed rules it all

As mentioned earlier, getting new clients is like dating. If the person you like is ghosting you, does that mean they’re very busy or that they’re not as interested in you as you hope for?

The answer is the latter. Being too busy or distracted to reply isn’t a thing, just like it’s not a thing to not have enough time to do something.

The truth is, if a client isn’t replying to you fast enough, it’s because you aren’t a high enough priority on his list to deal with you in a quick manner.

That is a red flag.

People who want to work with you will reply to your messages within a day, perhaps an hour. Even if there was some emergency, they should let you know in a reasonable time frame.

Grinding for a new client is rarely worth it.

Why are they seeking help from a creative?

Is the client already sold on the value of great designs? If you feel like you’ve have to convince her of that, then she likely won’t be as interested in your work as you deserve.

Great clients see the value in designs and that is why they are looking for you, a great creative.

Ask them why they’re seeking to hire a creative for the project. Is the idea coming from them? If not, what do they think about the project? Do they believe it’ll have a big impact, or is it just something that needs to get done?

These questions will help you see if you’re about to deal with someone who cares about your quality work.


When you get better at spotting red flags like pretentious, uninterested, or communication-lacking clients, you’ll end up dodging many bullets.

Surround yourself with clients that are fun to work with and value what you create, and you will have a career filled with joy and good vibes!

Your work is valuable. Aim to provide it to clients who care about it and are worth your effort.

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