Client Tactics: How to Spot a Deadbeat Client

Imagine if  freelancers have x-ray vision or suppose Apple approves a gadget that makes x-ray vision possible, (iVision). If this is possible then freelancers will not have any problem in discerning a potentially great client from a deadbeat one. Sadly freelancers don’t have x-ray vision but, learning how to identify a deadbeat client the old-fashioned way is an invaluable tool. So first things, first.

What is a deadbeat client?

A deadbeat client is any client who gives the freelancer extra problems during the span of the project, outside the normal specifications of the project.

In this article we will see different types of deadbeat clients and how to spot them.

1. The Walking Billboard or Profit Share

On the Surface:

Calm, cool, and collected. The Walking Billboard sometimes known as “The Profit Share”, will seem very charismatic. Opportunity is this client’s middle name. After meeting with this client for the first time, one feels refreshed. One may even feel vaguely inspired. Everyone knows this client and the Walking Billboard knows this. This client may even have the reputation of a mover-and-shaker or hustler.

Common Phrases:

  • “By letting you help with our site, you should see some big money.”
  • “I really think this site is a million dollar idea.”
  • “I know and /or partied with (insert random celebrity)”

What’s the Pay?

Name dropping, and a byline. The Walking Billboard will assure you that the referrals will happen. The Profit Share will guarantee you a part of the business. Which of course is a million-dollar-can’t-lose idea, remember?

The Ugly Truth:

This client doesn’t value your time. They believe that their brains hold the keys to the next Facebook, Myspace, or Youtube. They think that by “letting you” design their site they are doing you a favor. Why do you need to get paid? They are going to tell all of their friends about you and allow you to put your link at the bottom of their footer. With all of their networking connections and web traffic, that’s better than money in the bank!

The Strategy.

With this client, try not to get caught up in any double talk or lip service they throw your way. By sticking to your pricing guide, and knowing when to say no; will sort out the deadbeats from the premium clients. Stay professional and don’t make exceptions.

2. The Too Busy to Breathe

On the Surface:

Frantic and high paced, The Too Busy to Breathe is a go-getter. This client is over worked and looking for someone to complete a project for them within a fairly quick time frame. This client may even be another designer looking to outsource a project that they don’t want to pass up the paycheck on.

Common Phrases:

  • “I’d finish this but my other client has a rush and it’s a higher priority.”
  • “Do you think this project can be completed next week?”

What’s the Pay?

They will pay you but, only after dragging you through design hell and back.

The Ugly Truth:

This client doesn’t value your time. They are up to their eyeballs in work and haven’t had a day off since before Apple released the iPhone. Most of the time with this client, they are disorganized. This means that emails may get overlooked and work may have to be reworked. This client may even be another designer, which will only add to the headache. Not only will you have to work twice as hard to complete this within their time frame, you may have to give up your personal work flow and design style.

The Strategy:

Avoid this client if at all possible. If you are already in this situation; power through it, remain positive, and focused. Until this project is completed try to devote as much time as possible to finishing this project.

3. The Picky Pickerson.

On the Surface:

Attention to detail is at the top of The Picky Pickerson’s GTD list. This client may not have a specific time frame in mind with the project you are doing for them but they sure have a vision. The Picky Pickerson will come off as being creative, inspiring, and very attentive to the project. Like the deadbeat client before, this client may be a designer too.

Common Phrases:

  • “Could you do this again but in green?”
  • “Did you get my email?”
  • “I really would like for this project to turn out like I have it envisioned.”

What’s the Pay?

Like the client before, they will pay you.They may haggle about the price and count the money several times before paying you.

The Ugly Truth:

Two words with this client: daily emails. This client believes that their project is of the utmost priority. They believe that their two page website for their champion pedigree chihuahua “Turbo”, should take precedent over that new e-commerce site that’s paying you twice what they are.

They will want you to work extra hours without any extra compensation.This client’s best friend is scope creep. Do not give this client your home phone number!

The Strategy:

Contract. Contract. Contract. Make sure this client signs and understands your contract. Clearly detail out your working hours, turnaround time for emails, and any other details of your standard process. Since this client will pick apart every part of the design you complete for them, advise the client on how many revisions they get to make.

Make sure they feel important because besides an awesome website, your attention is all they are really after.

4. The Thrift or Late Payer

On the Surface:

The perfect client. This client is everything that the other are not. This client gives you feedback, you educate them about different aspects of design. Only one part of the process they question, money. This client just wants to make sure that you are not taking them for their money. It’s better to be weary right?

Common Phrases:

  • “Why does a content management system cost so much?”
  • “I am on a really tight budget.”
  • “The check is in the mail.”

What’s the Pay?

You’ll get paid. Expect to haggle through the entire project about price, better yet expect payment about three to four months after you send a final notice.

The Ugly Truth:

This client hears prices but doesn’t see the value in those prices. The designer they were working with before only charged 1/3 of your going rate; never mind the fact they were related to the client’s girlfriend.

This client will fight tooth and nail over the price the entire length of the project. Expect to spend twice the time chasing this client for payment than what you spent actually working on the project.

The Strategy:

Make sure this client signs and understands your contract. Clearly define your payment schedule, and require a deposit. The client needs to understand the value of your services. Take the time to educate them on the time and intricacies of what design takes. Take care to not go into too much detail because that will only confuse the client. They value their barber, and their mechanic, they should value you too.

Final Thoughts

This article is by no means exhaustive, any of these clients can be combined for extra headache. Each one of these situations, can be detected and avoided or turned into a more favorable experience. Each client is different, what looks like a deadbeat client may just be a confused client who needs some guidance.

Our role as a designer is more like that of a problem-solver. By keeping cool and sticking to your contracts and principles; you’ll be able to educate the confused clients and weed out the deadbeats like a pro. So maybe one day x-ray vision will be available but until then, trust your gut and listen to the experiences of others regarding deadbeat clients.

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