Like it or not, it seems that my market niche lately seems to be “highly annoying clients” — those folks that just seem to come with more baggage than the Gabor sisters and more issues than National Geographic.
You all know who I’m talking about. In the first five minutes, they’re telling me why their last guy was such an idiot. Or how their niece could do this for them for free, but she doesn’t get to the halfway house until next week. Little tiny warning flares from God that the road ahead will not be six lanes wide and newly paved.
Once upon a time, I tried to just blow these folks off. But in this time of recession and depression (the recession is making me depressed) you want to grab every nickle that is dangled in front of you. So I thought it might help to come up with some suggestions on how to handle some of the more common varieties of Clientus Problmaticus that might come stomping into your garden.
The Nickle Pincher
This guy is working on a limited budget (aren’t all budgets, by definition, “limited”?) and he thinks you should cut your price to get the work. He talks a lot about all the work you’ll get later, all the big companies he’ll send your way, and all the “exposure” you’re going to get by working for him.
I tell him that sounds great — and give him a first price about 50% above what I might normally offer, then gradually allow him to shave it down lower and lower. He gets the thrill of negotiation, I get enough that my hamsters eat two square meals a day. Win/Win.
Ms. Deadline Adverse
You’ll know this little villain by the fact that she’s late for your first meeting. Late for conference calls, late to return email, and late to pay. You’ll also be getting your drafts signed late, your content and graphics late, and (very probably) complaints about your awful work late in the process — right about when she’s supposed to be paying you.
I’ve found that setting milestones as “final layout delivered 48 hours after client signs off on draft” is a much better deadline than “draft delivered Wednesday, final layout delivered Friday.” It helps focus their attention and protect your soft, pink rear.
The Frustrated Artiste
I’d love to sing like Streisand, paint like Rembrandt, and blog like Chris Brogan. But a man’s gotta know his limitations. (Thanks, Clint Eastwood.) Some clients want to believe they’re actually copy editors, designers, or creative savants. So each iteration of your project comes back with lots of little suggestions, additions, deletions and comments.
My quotes indicate that you get one draft to review and that’s it. Additional drafts are charged at an embarrassingly high fee and take additional time. Unless I screwed it up. Which, of course, has never yet happened. Ahem.
A Ghost Client
If you remember Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore in “Ghost” you’re probably aware of the Ghost Client. They show up when the person who signed the contract seems to have to show all of your work to some other person before they can express an opinion, sign off, or even agree that you’ve completed that stage. And if your Ghost Client is off visiting another Realm when you’re up against deadline, that can be problematic.
I find it quite helpful to specify (either in the contract or the project plan) just WHO it is that signs off at each step of the project, HOW they will be contacted, and the fact that if they don’t respond with XXX hours I will assume they have no issues and will move forward. I then copy this info in the handoff mail that goes out to the team as each step happens.
So far, the only client I’ve never heard back from Patrick Swayze.
Miss Ida Know
When I was little, mom would take the four kids to the ice cream store with 33 Flavors. In a flash, I picked what I wanted and got my cone. My sister, on the other hand, would be there for ages — trying to decide exactly which flavor she was going to try this time. (This may explain why I’m basically “ball-shaped” while she’s still running marathons.)
Never, EVER give your clients too many choices. (See The Tyranny Of Choice if you’d like some background.) I usually offer up three:
- An OK one, that I’d be willing to do
- The most awful, godforsaken ugly thing on the planet
- My favorite
This allows the client to feel as though they’re participating in the process, and whichever one they choose I’m happy. (If they pick the awful one I’ve got fodder for emails to all my friends for the next six months.)
Much like Boba Fett in the Star Wars movies, YhaBut is a strange creature that we humans will probably never understand. He confuses us constantly by saying he completely agrees, and then utters his unmistakable call of “YhaBut ChaKnow” and goes off on a huge list of things we should change, revise, or somehow make different. When he finally runs down, he usually ends with a faint squeak of “I’m just sayin’” to protect his ruby-red tail feathers.
I’ve found that you can often satisfy this bird with “Those suggestions will be great for our next version” or “We’ll make sure to bring those back at the post-mortem” and he’s fine — like the Cuckoo Bird, he’s mainly trying to be noticed by the other birds and doesn’t care if his calls have any real impact. Once he knows you’ve heard and appreciated his unique song he’s off to sing from another tree.
Al is a very, very quiet guy. During the vision, design and draft portions of the project you’ll probably never hear a peep out of this client. Everything looks great, seems fine, and there’s not a care in the world. But come near him with anything stamped “FINAL” and you’ll be deafened by the noise. Suddenly extra copy appears from nowhere — and it’s the most important concepts that have ever been heard.
Photos and artwork will spring from Al’s briefcase like a river in the spring. New colors, patterns, concepts and design ideas leap to the fore. Because, you know, now that it’s FINAL he’s FINALLY going to pay some attention. I love clients like Al. They get charged 100% and 200% rush charges for changes (it’s in the contract) and the deadline slips accordingly (it’s in the contract).
One single “Al” bought me a really nice waterski boat a couple of years ago.
Now, before y’all go off on me in comments — take a deep breath and realize that this blog sometimes uses humor and exaggeration in the interest of entertainment. So while I’m accurately identifying some of these clients, the names (and tactics) may have been changed to protect the guilty — as well as my income.
But my point here, if you’re still reading, is that in times of economic downturn you’re going to have to rein in all these critters if you want to keep making money. So identify them fast, stop them from causing problems, and make sure that they don’t cause you a heap ‘o pain.