Shattering the Myth: All Clients Are Not Good Ones

Here are five clients you want to stay away from.

learn more about Dana Brownlee

By Dana Brownlee

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Let's face it: Entrepreneurs (particularly new ones) can be desperate to get clients. I get it. You're dying to get clients, build your portfolio and grow your business. Particularly for service-based businesses where you're not pushing product but instead selling yourself, many entrepreneurs are great at "what they do" but horrible selling themselves. As a result, they often buy into the myth that every client is a good client, and unfortunately, that type of thinking is not just flawed but potentially quite risky as well. Not only are there clients or client opportunities where you'd be better off taking a pass, some of them can actually be detrimental to your business so you need to beware of these clients and avoid at all costs.

Related: The Psychological Trigger That's Confusing Your Customers

Here are the five types of clients to stay away from:

1. The Stiffer

As the name suggests this is the client that has financial problems or may just be unethical (and intending to stiff you). You might think this is exceptionally rare, but I have to say that I encountered "the stiffer" during my very first year in business. This particular client was hesitant to sign an agreement before I did the work (first red flag). The person ultimately did sign at the last minute, then proceeded to just not pay me. The client apologized profusely for a few months and ultimately I was forced to take legal action….not fun. Just do yourself a favor and avoid any clients who seem to have cash flow problems or seem hesitant to sign contracts.

2. The Abuser

Unfortunately, some clients can sense a hungry entrepreneur and truly take advantage of that. They may request ridiculously low pricing, disrespect you by constantly cancelling meetings at the last minute or showing up late, paying late or trying to change the scope/terms of the agreement without any additional payment. They don't respect you and you want to avoid them.

Related: Becoming Indispensable to Your Customers

3. The Moocher

These clients aren't actually "clients," because they don't want to pay you at all! Even though you're running a business, they want you to provide product or services for free. In their mind you should be happy for the opportunity to provide "samples to their team, speak to their group or conduct a free initial project," as you are gaining experience, portfolio or what have you.

This one is tricky, because you certainly might choose to offer some pro bono services (e.g. complimentary consultation) as part of your business model to provide a "sample" of your product or service, but this should be your offer not their expectation. When clients begin to ask for free services at the outset, beware.

Another variation of the moocher is the clients that wants you to participate in tons of meetings before making a decision about working with you. Often, they're seeking free consulting, and you have to be really clear about how many meetings you'll conduct (as part of your business development) before you have a signed agreement in place. Don't be lured into giving it away for free.

4. Mr./Ms. Clueless

These clients have absolutely no clue what they want, but they will hold your feet to the fire when you don't deliver. They change their mind at every meeting or introduce radically different information throughout your interactions with them. They expect you to be a mind reader or magician and somehow don't understand how their indecisiveness and vacillation negatively impact your ability to complete the work successfully. With these people you simply can't win, because their requirements are constantly changing. Avoid them like the plague; you'll be glad you did.

5. Mr./Ms. Unreliable

Although there is certainly a bit of hierarchy inherent in the vendor/client relationship, there's also tons of partnership and working together. Most entrepreneurs heavily depend on clients to provide necessary background information, documents, feedback on deliverables, edits and reference data, among other requests, to make the project a success. When clients are unreliable, or worse unresponsive, it makes the entrepreneur's job next to impossible.

It is frustrating to be dependent on anyone who is not responsive or reliable -- it's like swimming through peanut butter. It's possible, but you wouldn't want to try it.

Related: It's Not Me, It's You: When to End a Toxic Client Relationship

Dana Brownlee

President of Professionalism Matters

Having run a small business over the past decade, Dana Brownlee is an advocate for helping other small businesses succeed.  She is president of Atlanta-based training company Professionalism Matters and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer and team development consultant. 

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