My Favorite Client… NOT!

Have you ever landed a client who seemed like a gift from above? Someone who promised you creative freedom, unlimited future work, and who genuinely seemed interested in the success of your business, but then it turned into a nightmare? Here’s one business owner’s story.

We’ve all had them — the client from you-know-where.

Tad (not his real name) was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He was humble, funny and more than willing to let me call the shots. Exactly what I wanted in a client! I outdid myself on a quote (at no charge to him, mistake number one) and won his trust. I remember he said: “You were priced higher than the others and had the least amount of experience, but I liked your style.”

And this kind of statement is okay. While price IS a big consideration, personality and confidence is sometimes worth the extra amount. But . . . experience? You can’t put a price on experience. You just can’t. This part is just my intuition and doesn’t necessarily mean a client is wrong for choosing you for style over longevity. I just hope it would trigger a small cautionary warning for you. Don’t get snowed by flattery like I did.

So what did I do? I proved I had the experience. At no charge to him. Mistake number two.

In hindsight and in this situation, what that line of his meant was: “A new business. She’s still learning the ropes. Maybe I can capitalize on that.”

Capitalize on it he did. I made it easy for him by not educating myself or having enough confidence to realize at the time that MY time was worth money, no matter how new I was. And you won’t realize this until you spend time doing your research. Take it from me. I did hours and hours of work for Tad without payment. Yep. I was positive that this client would turn into a big account. His words, his smile, my inexperience . . . landed me right on my behind. It wasn’t until months later that I finally got paid in full for a job that had become less than nothing to me.

If I could do it all over again, what would I do?

  1. Get a deposit up front, no ifs, ands, or buts. Doesn’t matter how new I am, doesn’t matter how sincere the client sounds. It’s nothing personal, it’s BUSINESS. If I work, I get paid. Especially if it’s a new client.
  2. Hold firm and do not complete any more work until further payment is received. If I lose a client because he’s not willing to pay me for what I’ve worked on so far, that’s okay. If he’s not going to pay me, he’s not going to be able to pay anyone. And what about the clients who could have been paying me for work during this time?
  3. Deal only with him, not with his assistants. Too much can be easily misunderstood via a third party, especially if communication isn’t the best to begin with.
  4. Trust my instincts no matter how new I am. Do you see a recurring idea here? If you “feel too new” you haven’t done enough research.

I went round and round with this client and his “assistant,” and I can honestly say that it was the worst few months of my life. I wanted to believe him so badly (and he had a good idea, really, he just didn’t have the money to produce it) that it clouded my judgment, something that would have never happened had I taken the time to research my business and prepare a business marketing plan.

On a positive note, we don’t get good without experiencing a couple of lemons now and then. The lessons I learned from this client were invaluable, but this is one lemon that’ll never be put into my lemonade. I think I’d be able to spot that color of yellow a mile away.

So what about you? What did, or are, you learning from dealing with a client that will help you identify, deal with, or avoid another such client in the future? If hindsight is 20/20, what would you do now that you didn’t do then?

A lemonade drinker, Andrea King is the owner of Aardvark Creations <>, which offers writing, editing, desktop publishing and graphic design. She is editor of a book review column for an online ezine (The Pen Is Mightier), and also runs an online writer’s critique group. Contact her at

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