Nightmare Clients and How to Avoid Them

I get a few inquiries a week from people looking for a new site or a redesign. However, you might be surprised to learn that often I don't respond to even one. Why? Two main reasons:

  • I can tell that the sender's budget is not going to be sufficient to afford me.
  • I can tell that the sender would be a nightmare client.

No Budget

There's not much I can do about this - either your budget is sufficient or it isn't. Of course, many of the inquiries I get expect that you can get a decent web site (often e-commerce enabled) for a few hundred bucks, but that's material for a different post.

Nightmare Client

I thought I'd bring attention to the nightmare client scenario. I've had a couple of nightmare clients in the past, and I would never work for one again, no matter how much I was offered. It caused me far too much stress for the amount I was earning from the gig. Nowadays, I would much rather pass on the project than risk taking on a nightmare client.

Of course, the key here is to be able to spot a potential nightmare client from the outset so that you don't waste any time responding to their inquiry only to discover this further down the road (hopefully, before you sign contracts in any case).

So, here are a few examples of inquiries I've received to which I have not responded for fear that the sender would turn out to be a nightmare client.

hey guys, i got a domain name and im thinking to use it for mobblog, which is i set an email and ppl send thier pics and comment via mobile, so after i thought to make it normal php blog and ppl still send their pics and comment to the email and i set everything in the site to avoid nude and naked things! so what do u have any idea? or anything :)

Hello I am interested in having a dating website creative sort of one similar to the one located at xyz.com. I have a limited budget but have no real time table so you can pretty much take as long as you'd like. Can you please check out the site and give me some type of quote?

Considering revamping my website professionally. Want some flash and mouseovers. Want the site to be "neat-o". If it's not overly expensive, I will have your company do it.

How to Spot a Nightmare Client

I think there a few tell-tale ways to spot a NC:

  • A poorly written inquiry. Now, there's nothing wrong with a short inquiry (although the more information someone can provide, the better my response will be). However, if you're not professional enough to use proper (or sometimes even any) grammar or punctuation then you will likely not be professional enough to work with. Messages with no caps or numerous typos are a giveaway.
  • Requests for Flash. I'm often asked for Flash web sites, Flash navigation, and so on. This is an immediate red flag. If the person has their heart set on Flash, I'm going to have a hard time convincing them otherwise, and I'm likely going to burn through my budget before I get far into the project. Best to leave well alone.
  • Long lists of minor requirements. Inquiries that present a long list of specific but insignificant requirements - exact number of pages, forms, images, and so on - without talking about the goals of the site, the audience(s) and more general issues generally get short shrift. I find these types of inquiries too confrontational and my expectation is that our working relationship will be along the same lines.
  • Requests for dating sites. There's something about that dating site bandwagon that makes everyone just want to jump on it. I don't think anyone who's inquired about my building a dating site for them has any idea what it takes to make such a site successful. Consequently, they also have no idea as to what it takes to build such a site. I prefer to pass.

If anyone else has some experiences of working with nightmare clients that they'd like to share (in a non-litigious manner), or tips for avoiding them, I'd love to hear them.

Posted on: September 26, 2004 | No comments

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