On the cusp of losing a client? Here’s how to catch the red flags



Agency competition is real. Often times your competitor next door has stolen a few of your clients due to cheaper rates or hard selling techniques.

You’re not the one to blame– clients have the freedom to choose who they want to work with based on rates, experience, and plenty of other factors you don’t even know about. At the same time, you want to evaluate that your client is a good fit for your venture, but regardless of how hard you try, you will inevitably come across a problem client who seems great at the onset, and then somewhere in between things start getting sour. 

So, what do you do to avoid these situations? Can you successfully manage a problem client without losing money? There are plenty of things you can do to avoid getting burned.

But what are the red flags, and how do you catch them early on?

Prior to accepting a new client, there are some red flags to look for…things the clients says, or does that are signs of more trouble once the project lands in your hands. If you find any of these red flags, it does not mean you should automatically terminate the relationship but it does mean you need to do a thorough evaluation.

“Can you just change a feature really fast?“ 

We have all heard it in the past… “Can you design a quick poster for me with the logo you’ve been working on?” or “or can you give me some social media images for icons?” In some cases, the client will say these things because he or she doesn’t really know the actual work involved. When you know in your head this is a 4-hour job that the client isn’t get billed for. In some cases, it might be used to downplay the work and force you to cut on the budget. So what do you do? Try to explain to the client why that particular request is time-consuming and insist that your price is the price. Based on how he reacts, you will know whether your relationship will last, or… not. 

Setting unrealistic deadlines.

If your client starts demanding everything ASAP, or checks in on your project, like every hour.. you need to be wary. At times turning down such projects can be easy, mainly because what they want cannot be done within their timeframe. Other times that might not be possible. And guess what? You just sacrificed your current project to get it done. It’s important to keep in mind that a client like this will always be like this. He or she will expect the next project completed with the same level of urgency, and will always leave you scrambling with other clients. The bottom line; such relationship may not be sustainable. The suggestion? Only say yes when you can deliver or charge rush fees. This should clear the problem right up and make the client change in an effort to save money… If he opts out, that relationship is dead.

Questioning your standard rates.

Is your clientquestioning your rates and saying your competitors are cheaper?…

Well then this is not your ideal client. There is nothing wrong with a client telling you that they cannot afford your fees, but it is different is they are saying its super high. It’s an early sign of mistrust. There’s no solution but to let that client go. Don’t even give it a second thought!

Did they fire their last designer?

People in general only like to tell one side of the story and you will never know the other side. The original story may be the truth, but how can a person only trust one side of it! If it is true, you might be just the right agency to step in and save the day! Or… maybe the client has become too hard to satisfy… 

You don’t "get it.”

You have done numerous projects in the past. You are awesome at listening to your client’s instructions and requests as well as coming up with an appropriate plan. In fact, you won an award for your true understanding of people and projects. But how come you have not yet captured what the client wants, even after several discussions? 

The disappearing client…you haven’t talked for days.

You might have experienced a project that seemed to drag on and on forever, with minimal or no communication at all. Other times, you are sending mails and the client is taking up to 2 weeks to respond! (That is crazy!) So every 2 weeks you only get ONE gigantic follow up. It might come as a shock, but this can actually be a sign that the client is talking to other designers and is possibly shopping for better prices. Or another scenario: maybe they are too occupied to commit to the job. All in one, it is never a good sign. 

Spec work: This is a sign of a client that asks for too much and never follows through.

“Can you give me an outline,” is a lot different than “Can you give me 10 wireframes so I can see that you’re on track?” Know the difference. This means a client is trying to see designs for their upcoming project prior to actually hiring you. Of course it’s good to have a few case studies and referrals to browse through, but you should win the job based on your experience and qualification as outlined in your proposal. It’s SUPER likely that the clients will have asked several web agencies to come up with the concept, while spending little time to enable any understandings of exactly what he or she wants. 

What do you do when the above red flags pop up?

Evaluate then move on

If the above red flags sound even worse in your X scenario, then you need to stop giving the client any more headspace, cut your losses, move on, and learn from it.

What could you have done better?

Was it the communication? Is there anything missing in your client acceptance procedure that allowed such clients into your system? Were you not transparent on your time and billable hours? Do you need to get clients personal numbers up-front and review each one of them? How about asking for a 50% deposit? 

Use what you have learnt from the lost client and leverage it for a better future. Remember, do not take it personally. It’s all the fun of the agency business.  Besides, now you have the time and knowledge to win that next big project.

What red flags do you look for when you feel like your losing your client?

Talk to me on Twitter or shoot me an email at kate@dashable.com.

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 Author: @keswanberg