If you’re a web designer, your business is only as good as your clients. If you have bad clients, they can make your life and business miserable. And if you have great clients, you’re more likely to love your work and you’ll probably be able to accept more clients to increase your income.
This is vital to my business because I plan on developing a client base of 200 clients whose sites I maintain on an ongoing basis. So the makeup of these 200 clients will go a long way in determining many aspects of my business for years to come.
If you’re working with clients on an ongoing basis, building a base of happy-go-lucky clients may not have made it on your To-Do list, but it is SUPER important in determining the health of your business for years to come.
I’ll tell you my secret to having a client base of easy-going people-pleasers.
It’s not rocket science. And it’s really not a secret, but maybe a bit overlooked.
And here it is…
Don’t take on bad clients
Yes, it’s that simple. 20% of your clients are probably causing 80% of your headaches. So do what’s necessary to eliminate them and you’ll make your life and business 80% better!
Many web designers might scoff at this. They probably feel so desperate for new clients that they would never consider turning down even the most blatant troublesome clients.
What these busy web designers don’t realize is that by taking on a time-consuming client, they may be tying up so much time that they are unable to take the next 2-3 clients that come along.
Turning down 3 clients to take care of 1 is not good business.
3 Clues That a Client Might Be Difficult
There’s no set list of criteria to identify a client that’s going to be a pain in your side. But there are many consistent signs I’ve recognized over years of interacting with hundreds of prospects and clients.
Here are a few clues to zero in on difficult clients:
- Complaining About Price – Price is a foundational part of the agreement between you and your client. I love to work with clients who are pleased with my pricing and know they are getting a tremendous value. These clients will be more satisfied overall and more pleasant in their interactions.If you are dealing with a prospect that is complaining your price is too high or continually asking for a discount, chances are high they are going to be unsatisfied and difficult down the road. Don’t budge on price and encourage prospects to look elsewhere if your price isn’t within their budget.
- No Clear Direction – I’ve had clients contact me about creating a website for them, but on an initial phone call, they had trouble describing their business or what the website would actually contain.Or sometimes, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what they are trying to do with their website. BIG RED FLAG. I actually had the owner of the website pictured below contact me while I was writing this article. He inquired about options for redesigning his website, but he was concerned that no web designer would be able to capture his “creative flare.”Upon visiting his website, it was impossible for me to capture much of anything. Two words can be used to describe his website: colorful and confusing.
I couldn’t actually figure out what the purpose of the site was. It had something to do with missing persons, number therapy, and “GobbledyGoo”.
Taking on a confusing project like this with a person who already admitted he didn’t think any web designer was capable of helping him was an easy “NO” for me. I answered this man’s email with some honest criticism and advice, but agreed that it may be difficult for a web designer to help him. Someone like him may be best suited building their site on their own with a DIY website builder.
- Asking for Terms Changes – In order to make business run smoothly, I’ve developed a standardized process of building sites, taking payments, and contracting with clients. When clients ask me to change my procedures, it lowers my efficiency and makes projects at a snail’s pace. It’s also a clue that a client might have more special requests in the future. Take this for example – I had a prospect just the other day email me the following:
I appreciate that you wanted payment by credit card, but if you approve, we would prefer to pay upfront by check after receiving your invoices. In this manner you would receive payment before performing any of your services including both web design and continuing site maintenance.
I suggest you invoice for the full fee for web design and later an invoice quarterly or semi-annually for maintenance
So if this meets with your approval, then you may bill to…
I wrote back to this prospect and politely explained that I don’t send recurring invoices, and only accept payment by credit card. He eventually became a client. I made some small compromises but stuck to my standard operating procedures.
So I’m not recommending you stop talking to prospects that ask you to bend on your procedures. Being rude and not answering their phone calls won’t help anyone..
What I do is give potentially troublesome clients less priority. For example, I may not take valuable time to pursue them with follow-up phone calls and emails.
Instead – I’ll answer all their questions, but let them pursue me. I may even encourage them in another direction that would be a good fit for their needs.
If they take the time to follow-up, I accept that as a positive sign and I’ll be more inclined to work with them. Most often though, if they fit the “bad client” criteria on my list above, I never hear back from them.
The Good Clients
Weeding out the disagreeable clients is more than half the battle, but catering to the good ones is another strategy I use to create a client base that is easy to work with.
Here are a few of the positive signs I watch out for:
- Love the price – My pricing is low, so many people go out of their way to tell me they feel my price is very affordable. I love hearing this. Notice this is in direct contrast to the reason #1 on the “bad” list
- Understand my service – Unlike many web designer web sites I’ve seen, I’ve designed my own website to clearly and completely explain my service, rather than just asking people to submit a form to request a quote. If a prospect has taken the time to read through my site, the initial phone call or email should be a breeze. Listening to a prospect say they understand my service after reading my site is music to my ears and one of the clearest signs of an excellent client.
- Fast timeline – Some web designers may shy away from clients who need a website in a jiffy, but I love clients on tight deadlines.Tight deadlines mean fast projects and fast projects mean the project will not grow larger than initially planned. In fact, the project may even shrink to fit the time allowed to get it done. This is using Parkinson’s Law to your advantage
- Technology-Proficient – I prefer to deal with clients who are competent on the computer.If they can’t send email or do basic word processing, it’s going to make basic communications tricky.When clients are technically challenged by their own admission, it usually means I’ll get hand-written content physically mailed to me or I may spend hours on the backend helping them set up their email addresses on their smart phone.On the other hand, clients who know their way around a computer usually (1) understand how to send content in the proper format, (2) setup their email clients without any help from me, (3) end up doing some of their own website maintenance that I would normally do.
Help me avoid bad clients
Web Designers: What are your tell-tale signs of good and bad clients? My list is not exhaustive and I’m curious to hear your input.
Do you evaluate clients at all or generally accept any prospects as clients?
Survey 10 web designers and 9 of them will probably tell you they are super busy dealing with clients. This is a clear indication that they could probably be shrewder in choosing clients.
Image credit: 1st image from Thinkstock.com under license