Image credit: Sira Anamwong at

As a rule of thumb, we want to make sure everyone of our clients is delighted with our work. However, even though we are prepared to go to any lengths to deliver top notch service, pleasing a client is not always possible. There are times when a clients’ behavior might seem inconsiderate or even downright abusive, and as much as we want the relationship to work, we have to draw the line somewhere.

I believe it’s a good practice to give them the benefit of the doubt before jumping into conclusions.  They could be honestly misinformed and a simple explanation setting the limits will take care of things. But other times clients are just taking advantage of us and in some extreme cases we have to decide between biting the bullet – and getting an ulcer – or firing them.

To help you make a diagnosis early on, these are 7 frequent warning signs:

1. They disregard your advice

You are asked to present ideas and recommendations but in the end they completely disregard your advice and go with something else that either doesn’t match the audience or it’s substandard.

Solution – Clients tend to appreciate our guidance, but some want to order what they want to order. Maybe that’s what their boss wants. For these kind you should save your ideas for your monthly newsletter,  and stick to their requests when it comes to their projects, instead of wasting your time researching other products to show.

2. They are never satisfied

Clients have every right to be demanding when they’re paying good money to have products customized, but there are clients that are unreasonable in their demands. These type give you the feeling that they’re always looking for an excuse to criticize your work. They are extremely negative and impolite; and if they happen to be bigger accounts, they act as if they have some kind of right to be abusive. They’ll complain about irrelevant issues like one box out of 10 arrived mangled although the goods were perfect. They’ll demand a rerun claiming they don’t like they way it looks, even though they approved several layers of proofs and even had samples. They will also occasionally praise your work which is confusing because you never know where you stand.

Solution – Having clear policies, terms and conditions can help avoid complains. Disclaimers regarding imprint variations, for example, will help an OCD client understand that the color will not be exactly as they see it in their computer monitor.  are people who are very problematic and seem to seek conflict, and as clients will drive you up a wall.  If this is the case you’re better off letting them go.

3. You are their new best friend

They call you 10 times a day to share every thought about their project. They’ll email you all kinds of samples and photos to make sure you “understand” or to ask your opinion. They request frequent meetings that’ll turn out pointless, or drop by without notice. It’s like you are their new best friend. They are needy and will suck up your time. The challenge here is where to draw the line.

Solution – Depending on the size of the account, you might have to deal with it. Having clear policies about communications can be helpful. Letting clients know you check you email 3 times a day, for example, or that you have “office hours” between 5-6pm to respond to any non-urgent questions, can set expectations about you not answering every email or text immediately. Also, simple answers like “working on it”, “will take a look”, via email or text, can be sufficient to make your client feel loved.

4. They are increasingly difficult

These seem to have endless layers of approvals and it takes forever to get an order finalized and moved to production. They ask for different versions of quotes, mockups, shorter timeframes, samples, art revision after revision, and last minute changes. They’ll some times end up canceling orders after a lot of back and forth, without you really knowing why.

Solution – Digging deeper as to their ordering process and real needs can be very helpful. An easy way is to take your client to lunch and ask open ended questions about their job in general that will help you understand “a day in their life” and how you can help. You will be surprised at the information and opportunities you can uncover in a meeting outside their work environment.

5. They work with another distributor

This happens quite frequently with bigger clients. They tend to have several providers and might start working with you because their current providers were lacking, but don’t cut ties with them completely. They like your responsiveness and creativity, but you often find yourself having your ideas price-shopped.

Solution – You would have to determine if this is a pattern or something sporadic. It’s natural for your client not to want to pay more for the same thing, and you want to validate this concern, especially at the beginning of the relationship. But if you are constantly being asked to match prices it might be a sign that you’re dealing with the wrong client.

6. They constantly ask for freebies

These seem to get some kind of satisfaction from getting something for nothing. Maybe you threw in the artwork the first time because you really wanted to earn the account, but now they ask for free setups, free shipping, or even a small order of t-shirts for their brother’s auto repair shop.

Solution – If you are dealing with large enough orders you can consider not charging for set ups, or, better yet, building them into the price and showing it as “no charge”. But if they seem to always be wanting to squeeze you it might be best to walk away. You won’t get anywhere with clients who act as if you should work for free.

7. They promise a bright future

These have no budget and are looking for you to do the work for nothing. They are either small non-profits or startups, and they ask you to “partner” with them with the promise of tons of business in the distant future, or the “exposure” that can eventually lead to it.

Solution – Unless you are interested in helping the charity for personal reasons, this type of clients rarely deliver on their promise. Walk away.

The Point

Having simple but clear policies, terms and conditions that outline your process, and both yours and your client’s responsibilities will address most of the issues described above.  You can include them in work agreements,  quotes, your website, and order confirmation emails, so they’re highly visible at all times.

But when a client disregards your policies it raises a red flag.  We are in business to make a profit in exchange of  services that we are willing to provide at the highest levels of excellence. When satisfying  a client’s demands cuts into our profits (or our sanity), we have to re-evaluate the true value of the relationship.  Additionally, there are people who are problematic and tend to be disrespectful, inconsiderate or abusive in any environment – we all know some – and having them as clients will make us miserable.  Life is too short, we don’t want them as clients.

How about you? Have you been in these situations? How have you handled them?