Landing your first few customers is a monumental step; it's a sign that your business is starting to bloom.
Unfortunately, this is also a time when you're most vulnerable. In your excitement to get to work, it's easy to completely overlook the fact that a potential business partnership might be a complete train wreck.
Imagine putting hours or even weeks of time into helping someone, only to have one or both of you terminate the relationship. The concept seems painful when you're new to the game, but it's a reality that every business person will eventually face.
Fortunately, bad customers are like rotten eggs; you can smell them from across the room. Turning down a job may result in missed revenue, but understanding how to recognize a nightmarish client is critical for preserving your sanity and self-respect.
When you're just starting out, it's easy to concede when someone tries to undercut your requested pay rate. This is a bad idea. Agreeing to lower compensation makes you seem weak. If a client manages to manipulate you that easily, imagine what else they could do.
You don't try to negotiate pricing with your plumber or electrician, so why should your services be treated differently? You know what you're worth, so stick to your guns. Explain why you charge what you do, backing your argument with samples. Good clients favor quality over cost. If they like your work, they'll pay for it.
They don't know what they want
We've all asked someone which restaurant they want to go to, only to be met with "I don't care, you pick." It's mind-blowingly frustrating. You pose them a question and instead get a vague response; when you do make a choice, they complain about how lousy the food is. Imagine the same thing happening with a client. If they leave everything up to you, chances are that they won't like your finished product.
The instructions are unclear
Sometimes, clients know exactly what they want, but can't quite express it properly. A little initial confusion doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with a bad client; however, if you hand them the first draft and they still can't seem to explain things clearly, there's a good chance your work will go through endless revisions and tweaks.
Another problem is that your supposed 'mistakes' can make the client think you're incompetent, even though it's their fault. Happy clients provide good testimonials, so don't let poor communication on their part ruin the chance to build your reputation.
One major benefit of being self-employed is that you don't have a boss breathing down your back. It's perfectly understandable for a client to have specific expectations, but having them constantly demanding updates about everything you do detracts from your sense of independence.
While you grow as a contractor, you'll find your 'groove', a certain technique or approach that works for you. When a client forces you to deviate from that norm, it's a recipe for confusion and conflict. Ask your client for some breathing room. If they still insist on micromanaging, then it's best to end things before they get worse.
They're impossible to deal with
Professionalism is critical in any business. Rude or abusive behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Bad bosses are one of the leading causes of turnover in the workplace, and freelancing is no exception.
Constructive criticism is inevitable during your partnership; as long as it's respectful and clear, it helps you provide an excellent final product. However, if the client says things like "this is terrible," it does nothing to further the project and only serves to demoralize you. Don't put up with this. A customer willing to throw insults like "you're clearly not cut out for this" is clearly not cut out to hire freelancers.
Customers who don't respect your rates, offer you no clear guidance, or treat you like a commodity aren't worth the money. Don't let eagerness cloud your judgment.
- Alexander G. Smith reporting for American Screen Printing Association.
ASPA Staff and others