Design • Website Development • Education




July 4, 2019


DIFFICULT CLIENTS – AN HONEST LOOK – Ask anyone who has been in business for some time, and they will tell you that while most of their clients have been happy with the product or service they provide, there have been one or two who they couldn’t please no matter how they tried.

Naturally, this is a stressful situation, as no reputable and passionate business owner, especially a creative business owner, wants a client to feel less than thrilled with their interaction with them. But, with that being said, it is important to remember that you absolutely cannot make everyone happy. Think of all of the time you have dedicated to projects that make you (and the client) unhappy, that could have been spent working with wonderful, lovely, people that appreciate you as much as you do them.

Let’s take a look at some of the clients that may spell trouble for you as a creative business owner and what you can do to combat it and move on, hopefully in a way that will de-escalate the situation and will leave some level of comfort on both side.

  1. The “Nothing you do will make me happy” Client:

We all know a person exactly like this, in our personal or business life, and we know exactly how they think about most everything. Honestly, there are just some people in the world who can’t be completely satisfied, may that be with the services you provide or even with their own work and services.

While it may seem like this type A Personality is working against you from day one, typically they are just perfectionists and nothing will ever measure up to their standards, making them nearly impossible to please.

At the end of the day, this client is exactly what the title says, nothing you do will make them completely happy. Just roll with it and finish the project to the best of your ability with the most positive attitude you can. Eventually, I think most business owners learn to recognize the signs of this type of client from the start, and will make an educated decision on whether they wish to accept them as a customer.

2. The “I have no idea what I want, but will know when I see it” Client:

This client is actually really similar to number one in terms of your chances of making them happy. If they are entering into a project with no clue what will work for them, that should be an immediate red flag that they aren’t ready to start the process you are offering.

Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way a couple of times throughout my career, and have gotten much better at guiding them to where they need to be in order to get started.

Accepting this client without first guiding them in the right direction will be a huge detriment to your time and your business, making waves that will ripple throughout your schedule. The honest answer is this client will most likely need to see multiple revisions and concepts and may never actually see the magical “one”, creating negativity about your business in their mind and leaving you feeling less than confident about your work.

3. The “What can I get for Free” Client:

Since you are offering a service or providing creative intellectual property a client can’t steal from you, right? No way.

I once had a client break a website that I made for her a year after launch, contact me to request my help fixing it,  and agree to my terms of $75 an hour for 2 hours (it took me 4, but I felt bad for her, so only charged for 2) to get her reinstalled. I fixed her website and made all of her requested updates, and once finished she locked me out of the site and disputed the credit card charge claiming that she didn’t authorize it. This not only means that I gave up 4 hours of my time for free and took away from the experience of my other clients, but I was also charged $75 from the credit card company as a dispute fee. Basically, I paid money for the pleasure of fixing her website.

Now, it is easy to say: who would have known that would happen? But the honest truth is I already had that vibe about this client. My initial experience with her hadn’t been the best as she had asked for a lot of things that weren’t in her contract for free, and would freak out if I wasn’t able to help her.

I knew exactly what kind of client I was dealing with, but I allowed my personal feelings instead of my “business owner” feelings to decide how I handled the situation. I literally still think about that client frequently (which I need to get over!!!) because it hurts my heart that there are business owners out there that will treat other this way, when they themselves KNOW how difficult it is!

Honestly, there is no easy set of rules that you can follow for this client to make the process smoother and reduce your risk. My advice in this situation is that as soon as you get that vibe, you should discontinue the relationship, whether that means finishing up the project they did pay for and then moving on or refunding them and sending them on their way.

As much as you or I want to see the good in people, in my experience, this situation will not end well and you will be on the receiving end of a great deal of grief.

4. The “Never-ending Project” Client:

If I am being real, issues with this client may be as much your fault as theirs unless you set solid boundaries and keep lines of communication completely open with them. If you finished the project months ago, but they are still contacting you for revisions; etc, it is your responsibility to be strong and say no. Make it clear when you initially finish the project that this is the end of your paid time together (but you can totally still be friends!) and that if they have any additional requests they should make them now or expect to pay your hourly rate in the future. My best advice is to get used to treating all of your clients the same across the board when it comes to your work with them, unless you have specifically made additional promises regarding their situation. Set your rules and stick with them.


  • First of all, make sure you have an iron clad contract. Make sure that each and every client that books with you signs that contract, no exceptions.
  • Provide your clients with a fact sheet, timeline, or informational package that will lay out the process of your services, the timeframe it takes you for each milestone along the way, and what they can expect from their finished product. Providing them with as much information as possible directly out of the gate will alleviate any confusion later if the client tries to insinuate that they aren’t happy because you didn’t follow protocol.
  • If things start to take on a negative vibe during your process, gently but firmly guide the clients attention back to the positive and let them know that you are doing your very best for them. The most important thing you can do for yourself and your clients is to not allow their mood to alter your work. It is super hard, but if you can maintain a positive attitude even when they are creating stress for you, they will not be able to point at you as the reason they are unhappy.
  • Have a solid questionnaire that will help them to do a bit of self discovery and will get them in the brainstorming mindset.
  • Ask the right questions. Find out where their head is at from the start and utilize any information that you have received.
  • Be very honest from the beginning of the project.  Insure that they understand that  you have a specific style of work, and that if they aren’t already in that mindset and know that they want that style, you may not be the right fit for them. Help them go through your portfolio so they understand what they will be receiving if they hire you, and if they get off track during the project, kindly remind them of your creative abilities and portfolio.
  • Let them know that you offer only a certain number of revisions and ask them if they are comfortable with that before beginning. If they truly don’t know what they want, they may realize that they need more time to think prior to spending money on a project that may end up costing them a fortune.
  • Document any and all agreements, revision requests, edits; etc. This will save you a great deal of hassle if a problem should ever arise.
  • Last, but definitely not least, remember that while most of your clients are going to be beautiful people, you can’t allow a few bad experiences to jeopardize your success. These are all learning experiences that you will have during the process of running your business, and has absolutely nothing to do with your amazing talent and creativity. Power through the stressful events and take what you have discovered with you to the next level.

Let us know how you combat difficult or impossible to please clients in the comments! We love new advice!

  1. Setty says:

    Tori, although I visited your site for a completely different reason, this article caught my attention for the obvious reasons, like you, I’ve had my share of such clients and it’s still hard to make peace with it sometimes. Reading your article empowered me and turns my thoughts towards focusing on what I do best (funny, most of the time I believe I excel at what I do) and on solidifying my processes. Thank you for posting this here. Us creatives sometimes forget that to stay on top one has to go through several shadows and get the “dirty” experience teach us where not to walk.
    Have a beautiful day!

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