Four types of clients you should run away from

After having a web agency for nearly 7 years, I think it’s safe to say that I know a thing or two about clients that you should run away from if you are in the same industry as I am. There’s a good chance the types of clients I describe are found in other industries as well (my advice to you: still run if you can), but I’m writing it from a web agency perspective.

In this post I’ll describe the clients that you need to get away from as quick as you can. Leave your coffee, pack your stuff and leave. And don’t look back.

Of course my warnings only apply to long term projects. If you’re about to get into bed with someone for a long time be careful with these types of clients. When I’m talking “long time” I’m not talking about performing a one-off SEO audit, setting up some SEA campaigns or making some minor website changes. I’m talking about either developing a big platform, doing a complex and long SEO project or partnering up with someone, meaning that you’re going to be working closely together for at least 6 months (but probably in practice a lot longer).

Some of these will be obvious, and some won’t be. By writing this post I hope to save someone from making the same mistakes as I did. I’m happy with saving just one soul, extremely happy with everything more than one.

Note to my current clients: don’t worry, you were not the inspiration for this blog article 🙂

The one that doesn’t know jack sh#t about web

This one looks obvious, but when there’s a lot of money on the table it’s very tempting to ignore this post and your gut feeling all together.

If the client is oblivious to webdevelopment, SEO, SEA, online marketing in general: tread lightly. In all projects there are going to be tough times, and with this type of client there’s a big chance there will be no understanding for delays and bugs. This is fertile ground for clashes and potentially worse.

Possible fix

Explain every step of the way. Basically educate the client until they gain enough knowledge to understand the process. And by that, understanding where you’re coming from. Keep in mind that this client will be high maintenance and budget accordinly.

The one that keeps getting involved in legal stuff

I’m sure some people just accidentally end up in court more than they’d like to. They may not do it on purpose, and are not the ones that starts the legal dance. For others, it’s just the way they do business. It’s the way all of their long-term business relationships end. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both of them.

Possible fix

When you’re about to make long-term commitment to a client, ask around. See if you can get in touch with people that have worked with your prospective client in the past and ask how they that went, how it ended, why it ended and if they’d like to work together in the future. You’ll know soon enough if this your prospective client is the good or the bad type.

The one that keeps changing their mind

Some clients have a hard time making decisions and sticking to them. All of us make decisions which later on turn out to be not the right ones. And then we try to correct them. It’s a natural process. In all relationship there should be room for this. But this should be the default modus operandi. You cannot keep changing direction all the time and demolish what you’ve built and just head in a different direction. It’s demotivating, annoying and costly. The project’s planning can easily double or triple in runtime.

Possible fix

Force your client to sign off on each big decision being made. Not just verbally, but by email. Have it in writing. When they change their mind, present them with the fact that they signed off on the decisions made and in order to head off in the new direction it costs X more. Do that everytime and they’ll learn it’s costly to change their mind all the thing. They’ll learn to really think hard about their decisions.

The one that possesses no skills at all

You say to yourself: “Can this really be?”. The answer is yes. I’ve dealt with these types of clients as well. These are usually the wannabe entrepreneurs. They started a company of their own because, well they basically don’t possess any real skillset that someone would really hire them for. This type of client is in particular very difficult to work with. You basically have do everything in the project. They’ll need to do your work, and when you’re done get ready to do theirs as well. Be careful for this type of client especially when it comes to budget. Take into account that you need to do a lot more work than you normally would.

Possible fix

Prepare to do all the heavy lifting and prepare for a high maintence client. Budget accordingly (2 x?).

The one that just keeps brain raping you

Some prospective clients seem great at first. They need something you can surely deliver. They’re interested in your services and your company. They want to know all about you. You have a meeting with them, make a proposal, discuss it on the phone, have another meeting to explain it in detail and right when you think you’re going to get a signature…..he thanks you for your time and needs to think about it some more. So you leave without a signure and you think this client just needs some more time. You give him a few days and then you call him again. He’s still very much interested, but he’s not buying anything from you. He will never, because he’s just brain raping you. If you don’t know what brain raping is, check out this short video from the TV show Sillicon Valley.

Possible fix

Try to establish a time-line of how the decision making process works and firmly steer towards getting a signature. At some point it’s fine to ask a prospective client: “what needs to be done before we can move forward with this?” or – if your culture is accustomed to directness – “So…are you going to buy something from me?”.

Share your own experiences!

Do you have some great examples of clients you should run away from? Do share in the comments!


Steven has been doing SEO for nearly a decade. He's got experience on both sides of the table: on the client-side and on the agency- side. On his website he likes to write about inbound marketing and random thoughts of his that may interest you.

Leave a Reply