12 Breeds of Clients and How to Work with Them

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There are loads of different types of clients out there and chances are at some point you’ll get to meet all of them. So let’s take a look through some typical clients and see if you recognize a few of your own in there!

Client Breed #1: The Low-Tech Client

The Low-Tech Client

How to Spot One:

Looks confused and disoriented when discussing anything high-tech, calls rather than emails, wants everything to be faxed. The Low-tech client needs to go through everything twice to get it, but will then happily take your advice.

The Highs:

The Low-tech client will rely solely on your sage wisdom for all things technology related. They will look to you as your technology saviour and will stroke your ego with their reverence of your knowledge and advice.

The Lows:

The low-tech client will need to be handheld through everything from setting up their email to opening up PDFs. Charge accordingly. They can also be particularly frustrating if they decide to ‘work it out themselves’. A Low-tech client’s idea of how a website should work for example is often not pretty.

How to Work With One:

The low-tech client needs to be handheld. Make sure everything technical about a job is in writing for them to reread at their leisure. This will save you a lot of time explaining things repeatedly. It’s also best to just accept that you will not be using a lot of the technology that makes our lives easier these days (email, online project management etc) and should instead budget in time for phone calls, faxes and face to face meetings.

It is very easy to start to patronize your low-tech client unintentionally. As you can imagine, this can damage your relationship and even worse hurt their feelings. Make sure you balance the playing field by asking for their input in the areas they know about – their business. This will keep them happy stop them feeling the need to weigh in on your area of expertise – which can waste everybody’s time.

Finally if you work in technology, make sure that your Low-tech client knows how to use whatever product you give them!

Client Breed #2: The Disinterested Client

The Disinterested Client

How To Spot One:

The uninterested client is a strange beast – where most clients can’t wait to get involved in your work, the uninterested client just wants things done with as little effort from them as possible. You’ll spot an uninterested client on first meeting when you ask them questions about their business and are met with the minimal response. The uninterested client will rarely provide requested information or materials and will often ask you to complete tasks outside your area of expertise because they “don’t have time”.

The Highs:

An uninterested client will give you a lot of creative freedom, mostly because they have no interest in being involved. Their insistence that you “take care of it” may broaden your skill set and your ability to delegate to outside contractors. You may also gain experience making it work when you don’t have the information or materials you need.

The Lows:

The uninterested client will ask you to take care of everything from copywriting (when you’re a web designer) to flyer design (when you’re a copywriter). Sadly they will often not realize that this should incur extra cost. The uninterested client sometimes marries their lack of interest with wanting things done a certain way producing a very hard to deal with client.

How to Work With One:

It is best to get into good habits early with your uninterested client. A freelancer must be pushy with an uninterested client, so get used to calling and emailing repeatedly. A friendly and humorous tone is a great help when trying to push them along. An uninterested client generally isn’t trying to be rude and unpleasant, most of the time they’re very stressed and crying out for a little help. If you can be straight with them that extra work costs extra money, either take on that extra work if you can or use it as an opportunity to outsource.

A uninterested client is a tricky client, but if you manage to take care of them they often become very loyal, happy to have someone that ‘takes care of business’. Just make sure you are straight about costs, and be clear with yourself that nagging is unavoidable.

Client Breed #3:

The Hands-On Client

The Hands-On Client

How To Spot One:

The hands-On client is a frustrated artist, as soon as they walk in the door they will be telling you about their skill as an artist, illustrator, photographer or writer. The hands-on client already has a very specific idea about what they want and usually has very little interest in your thoughts on the matter.

The Highs:

If you’re happy to just do exactly as they ask no matter what you might think of it, a hands-on client can be a good little earner. Almost always there is little confusion as to what the client wants to see and this can make these jobs easy.

The Lows:

If you feel you have an ethical responsibility to point out the flaws in your hands-on client’s directions, you are headed for conflict. Hands-on client’s secretly believe that they could do their job much better than you and that there is little or no specialist knowledge you could possibly impart.

One oddity about working with a hands-on client sometimes occurs when you give in your creative ambitions and agree to do it their way. All of a sudden your hands-on client may accuse you of making them do all the work or not doing your job. This can go as far as baulking on payment. Naturally this is highly infuriating.

How To Work With One:

When you find a hands-on client, the best thing to do is go with the flow. If you try to fight it you usually lose and the job winds up a lot harder than it needed to be. If your hands-on client knows exactly what they want, then power to them, recognise that and give it to them.

Often its a good idea to explicitly tell them that they seem to have a very specific idea of what they want and that you will be following their direction, however make it clear that if they would prefer; you are more than capable of doing it without their input.

Client Breed #4:

The Paranoid Client

The Paranoid Client

How To Spot One:

The legal papers come out almost immediately and are elaborate to say the least. A paranoid client will often not want to even discuss their project without getting you to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and be prepared for drafted agreement to be heavily pitched in their favour.

The Highs:

If you work with a paranoid client, any legal agreement you sign should also be protecting you. So as long as you don’t breach any part the agreements you sign you should get paid.

The Lows:

You MUST get any major legal agreements looked at by a lawyer (and not the lawyer that works for them). As you would imagine, this can cost a lot of money that your client may not be willing to pay. Often within these documents are a whole list of grounds for the client dismissing you without payment. Grounds might be that you miss a deadline for whatever reason (even if the paranoid client is at fault).

From personal experience, I have always found the most paranoid clients are the ones who seem to have the most problems as well. This happens because they are always on the lookout for evidence that they are being ripped off or taken advantage of. Needless to say this means that you can easily wind up trying to straighten our points of legality with them rather than doing your job.

How To Work With One:

It is not worth working with a paranoid client for a small or low paying job. The risks far outweigh any possible gains. Besides, a personalized legal agreement is very expensive, so if they’re willing to spend a large sum on protecting their interests they should be paying you equally well.

For a large job with a big client you may wish to consider going for it, but even then factor lawyer’s fees into your quote. Most companies have legal agreements because they want to protect themselves or sensitive projects, but some paranoid clients use them in a predatory way. Remember that the paranoid client paid more to be protected, so you should quote more to make sure you get a fair deal.

Client Breed #5:

The Appreciative Client

The Appreciative Client

How To Spot One:

The appreciative client will shower you with praise and make you feel special – gosh I love an appreciative client!

The Highs:

The appreciative client will make your life very easy as they’ll often pick the first version of the first draft and declare it perfect. They’re very enthusiastic and generally a delight to work with.

Even when the appreciative client does not like something they often word things in ways that make you happy to continue work on the project to get it pitch perfect.

The Lows:

They’ll make the rest of your clients look bad.

How To Work With One:

Sit back and enjoy the glory. Make sure you get them a very nice Christmas gift and throw in a freebie every now and then. An appreciative client is like gold to a freelancer, so do your best work and make them feel like a VIP.

Client Breed #6

: The Get-a- Good-Deal Client

The Get-A-Good-Deal Client

How To Spot One:

The get-a-good-deal client is a wheeler-dealer and believes that the price you first give is just a starting point for negotiations. You’ll know you have a get-a-good-deal client on your hands because agreeing on a price and job description always involves a bit of to and fro. Often times get-a-good-deal clients are successful entrepreneurial types who have haggled their way to wealth.

The Highs:

Get-a-good-deal clients are often great for getting repeat and referral work having their fingers in lots of pies and you can sometimes make deals that payoff well for you as well as them.

The Lows:

If you aren’t a good negotiator or you don’t recognise a get-a-good-deal client soon enough you can wind up feeling taken advantage of as they take whatever there is to be had. Unethical get-a-good-deal client’s are usually up for ‘no harm trying’ mentality that can see them trying to get out of paying for certain things or at their worst bullying you for more work or discounts.

How To Work With One:

The best way to deal with a get-a-good-deal client is to fight fire with fire so to speak. Taking a get-a-good-deal approach back on them usually negates their strengths and ensures that you cut a fair deal. This means coming in high and then lowering your prices and being very assertive on points of payment and workload.

Client Breed #7

: The I’ll-Know-It -When-I-See-It Client

The I'll-Know-it-When-I-See-it-Client

How To Spot One:

The I’ll-Know-It-When-I-See-It client shares much in common with the uninterested client except in a more frustrating way. Their indecisiveness and inability to articulate what they are after makes them one of the few clients that it is generally best to steer clear of.

The Highs:

If you can produce the “It” for this type of client you can possibly win them over and turn the I’ll-Know-It-When-I-See-It client into a very appreciative and trusting client who rejoices in having found someone who has their same ‘vision’.

The Lows:

If you don’t produce the “It” this type of client can quickly become highly frustrating as you stab franticly in the dark while worrying about blowing your budget and timeframe.

To make matters worse the I’ll-Know-It-When-I-See-It client often becomes agitated or unhappy with you if you don’t magically produce “It” leading to strained relations and a project that rapidly goes south.

How To Work With One:

In order to work with a I’ll-Know-It-When-I-See-It Client you need to remember two things:

– First be VERY clear with how much revisions cost. If you don’t do this you WILL blow your budget
– Second unless you can produce “It” you could be in for a rough project, accept this fact.

Client Breed #8

: The Always-Urgent Client

The Always-Urgent Client

How To Spot One:

All their emails are ‘highest priority’ and their couriers are always red-hot. They work on weekends and late into the night and think that everyone else does too. Additionally the always-urgent client often seems to think they are your only client and that their job should therefore be your highest priority as well as theirs.

The Highs:

Since there is never any room for prolonging a job the always-urgent client will usually okay jobs relatively quickly. They often won’t have time to okay a quote so you end up charging by the hour.

The always-urgent client generally knows when they are being unreasonable and will do their best to pay you quickly, which is handy for cash flow.

The Lows:

The always-urgent client adds stress to your life, and if you want to keep them you may need to work late nights or over the weekend. You may also endure repeat late night phone calls and nonchalant requests that you build websites, organise photoshoots and produce detailed illustrations in oh… say a few hours!

How To Work With One:

The always-urgent client must be taken with a grain of salt. Everything will be desperate so you must decide when it is worth the inconvenience to yourself and your other clients. You must make it clear to the always-urgent client when their requests are unreasonable, right from the beginning. As always, keeping this light-hearted and jokey is the way to go, thereby defusing situations where you might otherwise come off as aggressive.

The always-urgent client is similar to the disinterested client in that they both require extra care. You may need to chase up the always-urgent client if you know a job is coming up in order to give yourself more time and as with the disinterested client, if you take care of them when it counts they will be loyal to you.

A word of warning though, having multiple always-urgent clients can lead to severely stressful situations as everything is needed now, now, now! So unless you thrive on pressure, you are advised to limit the number of this type of client you engage.

Client Breed #9

: The Decision-By- Committee Client

The Decision-by-Committee Client

How To Spot One:

Usually inhabiting the world of large corporate clients, the decision-by-committee client can still be found in smaller operations where they share their decision making with a spouse, neighbour or dog. The decision-by-committee client is one who lacks a single point of authority and for which every decision must be approved by many people.

The Highs:

Since decision-by-committee clients don’t have anyone making firm decisions it is sometimes possible to just do whatever you think and sneak it through under the radar. This can easily backfire though, so be careful.

The Lows:

The decision-by-committee client at its worst is achingly slow to work with and when many people have thier pet peeves you can wind up with a highly inferior product to show for the work. Decision-by-committee client almost always reduce to the lowest common denominator and if there is one person who dominates they are usually the one person you wish *didn’t* dominate.

How To Work With One:

Unfortunately decision-by-committee clients are a fact of life when it comes to working with large corporate clients and this is one reason why it is important to charge high when dealing with the big guys.

It helps to be firm and quickly identify the h4er members of the committee and target them for responses while trying to win them over by conceding lesser points and sticking to your main guns.

Client Breed #10

: The Doormat Client

The Doormat Client

How To Spot One:

The doormat client is the client who puts up with anything and just keeps coming back. They are usually very unassertive and seem to be content waiting for ages for you to get back to them or accepting less than perfect work.

The Highs:

The doormat client is often also very appreciative which is always nice. Its also relaxing to have a client who doesn’t mind waiting around.

The Lows:

Unfortunately doormat clients often bring out the worst in freelancers. Without the pressure of a potentially angry client a freelancer can easily become laissez-faire about their work and wind up taking advantage of the client’s passive nature.

How To Work With One:

The doormat client requires great discipline to make sure that you stick to your timeframes and deliver the goods. If your client doesn’t protect themselves then it is up to you to do so for them.

While you may wish to take advantage of their generous nature on occasions when you are stressed, you should try your best to treat them the same as every other client.

Client Breed #11

: The Budget Client

The Budget Client

How To Spot One:

Every client is on a budget, but some clients just seem that much tighter than the others. The budget client can be the result of doing a friend or relative a favour, or equally just a regular client who never has any cash.

The Highs:

Budget clients are sometimes appreciative of the work they are getting done so cheaply – though unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

The Lows:

Budget clients are cheap and at their worst still expect the same service and workload as their higher paying brethren. This makes them both annoying and bad for business.

Budget clients are at their worst when they exhibit traits from other clients such as ‘Always-Urgent’ or ‘Paranoid’, in which case its just not worth it.

How To Work With One:

Make sure your budget client realises they are on a budget and that therefore their work may not always be first priority and that you probably can’t get those extra changes or revisions in because it simply doesn’t make good business sense. If your budget client gets aggressive or manifests other negative traits, accept that they aren’t worth it and let them go.

Client Breed #12

: The You-Should- Be-So-Lucky Client

The You-Should-Be-So-Lucky Client

How To Spot One:

The you-should-be-so-lucky client is much cooler than you and they know it. They generally have a cool but low paying project for you and are in an industry everyone wants to work in…think music, film and fashion industries in particular.

The Highs:

The right you-should-be-so-lucky client looks great in your portfolio, and your friends will think you’re cool. You’ll make some handy contacts and your professional credibility will probably benefit. You’ll also be hanging out with the cool kids – TAKE THAT HIGH SCHOOL!

The Lows:

You won’t be paid much and the you-should-be-so-lucky client will act like they’re doing you the favour, not the other way around. If you do enough jobs for a you-should-be-so-lucky client you will start getting jaded about the industry and feel mistreated for your efforts.

How To Work With One:

The you-should-be-so-lucky client can be a great asset to your portfolio, but that will be the main reason to do the job. Because everybody wants this type of job (until they’ve actually got some) there are many talented but green freelancers more than happy to work for almost nothing. If you are a student this can be a great thing to do, but for a seasoned freelancer it can impact your cash flow. So pick your you-should-be-so-lucky clients carefully and use them sparingly to impact your portfolio or break up the monotony of corporate jobs. And of course, make sure you enjoy being that damn cool!

So That’s Our List

Have we missed any clients? And which are you favorites …

Note: A few times a month we revisit some of our reader’s favorite posts from throughout the history of FreelanceSwitch. This article by Jack Knight was first published April 13th 2007, yet is just as relevant, fun, and full of useful information today.

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