11 Nightmare Clients Every Contractor Has Worked With

April 2017
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1. The Indecisive Client

The client that is physically incapable of making a decision and sticking with it. Or that’s how it feels, at least. He’s not sure what he wants done, and when he does make a decision, he changes his mind just as quickly.

Red Flag: You should be able to spot an Indecisive Client in your first few meetings - even at the beginning stages of the project, his tendency to change his mind will reveal itself.

Solution: Signed change orders are going to be your ticket to survival with this client. Let him know up front that any changes to the project scope will need to come with the signed order, and be sure to enforce your rule as the project continues.

2. The Obnoxious Client

Sometimes a little knowledge can be a bad thing. And that goes double for a client with a little bit of experience or skill in your industry. Because this client wants to tell you about all of the renovations he has done, down to every detail. Since he considers you a peer, he is going to want to “talk shop” with you during the entirety of the project.

Red Flag: This is another client who will reveal his true nature early on in the game. The Obnoxious client can’t wait to start showing off everything he knows, and will most likely start the gab-fest at your first meeting.

Solution: Ask questions. He likes to talk, so let him do it -- in your initial meeting. Try and determine how much involvement he expects to have in the project. If you decide you want to work with him, set up a time to go over the progress each day. Showing up 20 minutes early to talk shop and fill him in on the progress will let him feel involved, without eating up your work time.

3. The Full-time Client

This client has an expectation of you, and it is this: you must be available to answer her calls, return her emails, and respond to her texts around the clock, 24/7. She thinks that your life revolves around her project, and cannot fathom why it took you an hour to return her call. Working with this client is more like an overtime job than a full-time one.

Red Flag: The Full-time client will probably be a bit pushy when it comes to getting your initial meeting set. You may get a few weekend or evening calls, texts, and emails before you even sit down with her. This is a glimpse into what will come once you start the project.

Solution: Before you begin work, set the expectations of your “business hours.” Maybe that means you return all emails between 6am and 7am, and again from noon-1pm. Maybe you return phone calls within 24 hours, Monday through Friday from 7am until 7pm. You can customize your voicemail message to remind incoming callers of your business hours, and set up your email to auto-respond with the same message.

4. The Excuses Client

Watch out for this client, because he has an excuse for everything, particularly for late payments. He has so many wild excuses, it might even be entertaining... if they weren’t negatively affecting your bottom line.

Red Flag: Unfortunately, the Excuses client may not reveal his true colors until it’s time to collect the bill.

Solution: Protect yourself from any client morphing into the Excuses client by setting up a payment schedule and requiring a deposit on every project. A good draw schedule does more than just balance the owner’s desire to pay for work completed and your desire to get paid on time; it also helps you avoid situations where you are paid late or not at all. An adequate deposit and fair payment schedule, put into writing, is good business.

5. The Shopping Client

Some clients love to shop, and to get the lowest price possible. He will ask you to itemize every aspect of the project for him, and then will come back with his own researched bids to try and negotiate down every single penny.

Red Flag: Asking for a breakdown of project costs is normal, but when a client requests an itemized, down-to-the-hardware breakdown of costs, beware!

Solution: Stand firm on your pricing. You aren’t obligated to work for anyone. If your estimate is outside of the client’s budget, then it is obviously not a good fit. If you start negotiating on your price, the negotiations will never end. In the long-run, turning down a client may actually make you money by freeing you up for a less difficult client.

6. The Unrealistic Expectations Client

This client has champagne tastes on a beer budget. Her grandiose vision of her project could only be accomplished with a budget ten-times what she has quoted, but she isn’t budging on her expectations of the work. Expect this client to use the phrase, “But, can’t you just…” as she tries to get just a bit more, and a bit more, and a little bit more work out of you.

Red Flag: Unrealistic expectations will reveal themselves in your initial meeting, usually in the form of binders full of magazine tear-outs of dream spaces that are nowhere near the quoted budget.

Solution: Ask questions. Again, asking enough of the right questions in your initial meeting will help you flush out an Unrealistic Expectations client. The right questions will also tell you what is most important to her. You can try to help set more realistic expectations by drawing out a multi-phase project plan. Show her how her budget can help her accomplish Phase 1, and be sure to tackle her biggest problem in this phase if you can.

7. The Disappearing Client

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it is the Amazing Disappearing Client! The project is completed and it is time to collect. But this client is nowhere to be found. A family emergency, illness, or business trip has suddenly come up. Your phone calls aren’t being returned, your emails are unanswered, and, unfortunately, your final payment is nowhere to be found.

Red Flag: The Disappearing client is a close relative to the Excuses client. They are mild-mannered clients at first, with no outside signs of what lies beneath.

Solution: Check credit before starting work. If your client has a history of skipping out on payments, their credit history will reflect that. If you want to make a client credit check a part of your process, you can. Be sure to clearly communicate to your clients that this is a standard part of your business practice. You may also accept credit references in lieu of a credit check.

8. The Reluctant Client

This client doesn’t want to hire you. You can tell because he is disengaged, slow to respond, and reluctant to move forward on any aspect of the project. He either doesn’t want the project to happen at all, or he thinks he should be doing it himself. The only reason he is talking to you in the first place is because he is being forced to by...

9. The Hidden Client

This is your real client, hiding behind and pulling the strings of a Reluctant spouse or partner. She is making the decisions, driving the project, and writing the checks. Unfortunately, you don’t get to meet her. You only get to speak to her reluctant counterpart.

Red Flag: In your initial meeting with a Reluctant client, he may seem gruff, unenthusiastic, disengaged, or noncommittal.

Solution: Ask questions. During your discover phase, your questions may reach a lot of conversational dead-ends. Questions that may help you uncover the real Hidden client include:

  • Other than yourself, who else is involved in the decision making?
  • Will your spouse/ partner be involved in the project?
  • What is a good time to speak with you both about this process?

10. The Helicopter Client

This client is a close relative to The Obnoxious Client. She is always hovering while you try to work, questioning your decisions and making suggestions on how you can do things better. The Helicopter client just doesn’t trust you to do things the right way, and she is going to be around to keep an eye on you to make sure you don’t mess up.

Red Flag: A Helicopter client will reveal her doubt about your abilities by “checking-in” often; no matter how well you keep the lines of communication open.

Solution: Communicate often and early with a Helicopter client. If you come across a bump in the road, let her know about it and talk to her about how you have handled similar situations in the past. Like the Obnoxious client, showing up a bit early to have a daily progress “chat” may satisfy her without eating up your work time.

11. The BFF Client

This client wants to take your business relationship to the next level. He wants to be your new best friend. He invites you out for a beer, then over to watch a game. He connects with you on social media (on your personal accounts, not your business accounts). He won’t take no for an answer, and the invitations to hang out just keep coming.

Red Flag: It can be tough to tell when a friendly client will start pushing the boundaries to stalker level. Trust your gut for that moment where you feel they are crossing the line.

Solution: Remain professional. Be friendly, but keep things on the business side. Politely turn down invitations for extra-curricular activities, and keep your side of the conversations professional and work-related. Be sure to invite your enthusiastic new friend to engage on your business social media accounts, and remain polite and friendly.

With all potential clients, remember to trust your instinct. It is always ok to tell a client that you cannot work on their project. If you have a feeling that the project is going to cost you money, time, or be damaging to your business or reputation, don’t accept it. We all have our own stories of nightmare clients, but with a little luck and a little know-how, maybe you can see the next one coming before you get that contract signed.

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