Clients to Run From

September 15, 2017

After more than five years on my own consulting, I have had enough experiences with clients to know pretty quickly, who will be a keeper and who won’t. There are some tells from early on in the engagement that will portend whether they’ll be long-term clients or not. The following are red flags. If you experience these, my experience will tell you, run the other way. Fast.

  1. The Cheapskate – They tell you they don’t have a lot of money and would like to try “creative financing”. This usually means they want to pay you based on outcomes of your work. While this favors the client, it’s untenable for a consultant, and is ethically questionable at best. Your work and effort is valuable, regardless of results. Don’t fall for it.
  2. The Ghost – They don’t answer your email after three or four days, or, ever. If, while you are negotiating terms, or discussing on-boarding, and the email conversation drops off abruptly and you don’t hear from them for several days or a week, don’t assume that’s an anomaly. Assume that’s typical. If you’re okay with this, then by all means, go forth. But I find a client who is not responsive on email, even after two or three days, greatly hamstrings your ability to deliver.
  3. The Medusa – When you answer to more than one company leader. This can be okay, until they tell you different things about their needs and your scope. It’s always a pink flag when you find yourself speaking with more than one leader during the on boarding process, but your sign to run is when they contradict each other. This means they either don’t communicate, or there is a major rift within. Either way, this is likely a toxic, no-win environment.
  4. The Flip-Flop – This client frequently changes the parameters of the work, the deliverable, or both. It’s fairly normal to amend the scope of work as you go, as you both learn things about the project. But when the client continually moves the goal or changes his mind, it’s an indication that he really don’t know what he wants or he’s too disorganized to articulate it well. It’s tempting to stay in there and try to figure it out, but it can be very deflating not just to your energy, but your self-esteem because you work is never right.
  5. The Chatty Cathy – The client talks endlessly without giving you a chance to weigh in. This one’s particularly dangerous. It means they’re not a good listener or have made up their mind already. This could put you in the simple role of the doer. Of course, if you are okay with that, then go for it. But I find this type of client does not like feedback, bad news, or counsel that’s counter to their ideas. This could put you in a situation where they make bad choices that reflect on you.