7 Bad Clients and How to Spot Them

hurricane flag

Whether you’re a brand-new freelancer, or an established veteran, there are going to be times when you come across a bad client.  They may seem like mild-mannered Dr. Jekyls at first, but then they turn into slathering, dangerous Mr. Hydes.  Here’s a field guide to bad clients (and how to spot the red flags).

1. The Schnorrer (sponger).  The schnorrer loves freebies, and is always trying to get more.  They’ll take a few minutes of your time here, another few there.  It seems innocuous, but pretty soon those few minutes start to add up.

Tell the client you’re implementing a minimum fee structure.  Bill in fifteen or thirty minute increments (if you charge hourly), and invoice the client monthly.

If they want free samples (especially suspiciously detailed free samples: a 500-word blog post with 15 ways students can save on summer travel in Ontario), politely decline and point them to relevant examples of work you’ve already done for other clients.

2. The Waffler: They take up lots of time, want endless meetings, but can never quite bring themselves to sign on the dotted line. If you can’t get them to make a commitment, try the “reluctant rock star close.”  Tell them you want to work with them, but your schedule is getting tight, and want to make sure you can give them the attention and time they deserve  If they’re not ready, that’s OK, but it will mean you can’t turn everything around as quickly. (thanks to Peter Bowerman for this idea).

3. The Cheapskate: Close cousin to the schnorrer, they’ll offer to “buy you coffee” or take you to breakfast in return for “picking your brain.” This can be tricky if it’s a friend. Offer to share a limited amount of time with them. Do it over the phone if possible, and be very clear about what you can and cannot do for free (or for coffee).

If you get the same questions repeatedly, set up pre-written answers, or point people to resources on your blog or an FAQ page.

4. The Guilt-Tripper: (often non-profits) they’ll try to make you feel guilty about turning them down, insist you cut your rates, or even demand that you work for free. If it’s a cause you love, and you have some extra time, or are just starting out, then sure, work for free or cut your rates.

If not, politely and firmly point out that you devote X time to non-profit and have reached your limit, or cannot take on any additional pro bono projects.

5. The Illusionist: It will be the next [Facebook, Twitter]! We’ll pay you in stock! It may be; but it probably isn’t. Don’t do it.

6. The Nickel and Dimers: They question every expense, and every minute you spend working on their project. Get around this by charging a flat project rate, rather than by the hour.

Explain in your contract exactly how many revisions are included, and which expenses will be billed. If they want extra revisions, quote them a fee, ask for a paypal payment and set a start/end date.

(I’ll sometimes do a tweak for free, as a favor: I tell clients that a tweak is changing your shoes; a revision is changing your shoes and putting on a different jacket).

7. The Discounter: related to the nickel and dimer, they want a price cut on everything. If they can’t afford the full package, offer a streamlined version, with fewer revisions or a reduced workload, such as 15 blog posts instead of 25.

Have you had bad experiences with clients? What happened and how did you handle it?
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

Has this gotten worse with the economic downturn?

image: NOAA

What Your Clients Really Want: Why You Need a Marketing Persona

Ostrich Close-up

Image by wwarby via Flickr

Have you gotten up close with your people?  Not your family, or your friends, but your people — the people who read your blog, buy your services, or spread your posts around the internet.

If you’re going to successfully market your services, it’s a good idea to create marketing personas.  A persona is just a fancy marketing term for mini-profiles of the people who are your ideal customers.

Who is your ideal client?

Ostriches? (hmm, ostriches, they like to put their heads in the sand and hide from problems).  Or tigers? (they glare at you and they can rip your arm off if they want).

But, since you’re probably not marketing to animals (I don’t think they have credit cards, so probably a good thing), you’ll have to think about the people you want to reach.  SEO whizzes? Electrical supply companies? Green tech companies?

Look at your client/prospect files.  Is there a pattern?  Do you have a specific niche market? Maybe you have a lot of law firms as clients. Or, you might find that many of your clients are medium-size marketing agencies.  What do they have in common?

Are you offering something that nobody else is doing? If so, you could eliminate your competition.

Create a detailed profile for your marketing persona(s)

Build up as detailed a biography as possible.  You may find you need more than one.  You might have a persona for first-time users of your product and another for people who are more experienced.

You can even give them names (either real names or names that reflect their stage in business or life).  The idea is to use those personas as a mental shortcut in your marketing.  If you tell yourself you are marketing to Newbie Joe, you know exactly what that means.

What do they worry about?

Do they want to set up a blog?  Does it seem like a huge obstacle to them?  Are they unhappy with their web sites, but hesitate to act because they’re afraid they’ll get ripped off, or it will cost buckets of money, or take forever? Maybe they just don’t know who to call, or who to ask.

Can you help them solve that problem?

Remember the salad dressing rule. Focus your energies on people who have a problem you can fix (and how much better they will feel when you do).   You could  have the world’s greatest baby food formula, but trying to sell it to people without small children is a waste of time.  They won’t care.

And, keep your head out of the sand (it’s really hard to get it out of your hair).


The Three Building Blocks of a Successful Marketing Campaign

Yesterday’s post talked about a dumb marketing mistake.  Today’s post will turn around and focus on the three building blocks of a successful marketing campaign.

building blocks

Image by nerissa’s ring via Flickr

Every campaign and every business is different.

However, every successful marketing strategy has these basic ideas in common, no matter what your business, who your audience is, or what you are trying to sell.

First, you must know who your audience is.  The more detail you have (in your head, or on paper) the better.

Next, you need to know what they are thinking: what are they worried about, what are their goals?

Finally, you have to know why they should choose you (instead of anyone else) to help them with those problems.

Who is your audience?

Who are the specific group(s) of people you want to reach? Be able to describe your ideal client, whether they are new moms who want to lose weight or owners of crossfit training centers. Give them personalities and names if you like. If you offer services to two different kinds of people or companies (say both brides who want help choosing lingerie or men who want help buying a gift), then separate them. Don’t write the same stuff for both.

What are they thinking?

Taking the example above, the brides will have different concerns than the men. The brides will want to know: will it fit? will it show under my dress? how hard is it to put on? is it pretty?

The men want to know if she’ll like it, if it’s too sleazy, is it the right size?

Two completely different sets of concerns.

Why you?

Be clear about how you’ll help and what problems of theirs (not yours) you solve. Spell out why your approach is special or different, and show your personality when you do – be the person who offers overwhelming value or insanely great service or personal advice on selecting exactly the right lingerie for brides-to-be. Detail the reasons they should hire you, rather than someone else. Pile on the value. Make buying a “no-brainer.”

So, what’s your strategy?  Are you focusing on a particular audience? Not sure? Want an opinion (I have lots!)?  Just ask.

Marketing and the Salad Dressing Rule

Thousand Island Dressing on a plate of salad. ...

Image via Wikipedia

I just read about this today on the Well-Fed Writer blog (seems appropriate, doesn’t it).

The salad dressing rule means that when you’re marketing salad dressing, you first look for people who already enjoy and appreciate a fresh, crisp salad.

You ignore anyone who hates veggies, frowns at salad and would much rather eat a Big Mac and fries.

Market to the people who want you

Spending a lot of time and effort selling snowshoes to Arabian desert dwellers is a waste of effort.

Selling design services or writing to people who don’t see the value in those things is also a waste of time and effort.

Instead, focus on those who do appreciate (and understand) the value that strong writing skills brings to a project — sometimes literally.  If you write strong ad copy for example, your architect client may earn more money from her ad than if she wrote it herself. Make sure to point that out.  If she doesn’t agree that professional copywriting is important, she’s not the right client for you.  Move on to someone else.

Why your dressing is the best (for them)

Once you find people who already like salad, then you have to make it clear why they should buy your dressing, rather than someone else’s dressing.

What do your clients want from salad dressing anyway?  What’s important to them (not you, them)?

Do they want the freshest possible dressing?  Make yours daily (and tell them that).  Or, are they concerned about pesticides or artificial ingredients?  Point out that yours is organic.

Why do people who already buy your dressing like it?  If you’re not sure, sit down and think about it.  If you’re still not sure, talk to some clients and ask them.

Of course, unless you actually sell salad dressing, your real clients are more likely to be concerned about earning more money, having less stress, or doing something hard more easily.  Find out what most worries them, what keeps them up at night.  Then structure your product pitch to solve those problems.

Once you’ve done that, go have a nice salad. 😉

Is Your Marketing Like a Bomb Blast?

explosion symbol

Image via Wikipedia

Ever hear someone say they’re going to do an “email blast” or a “phone blitz”?

If you’re talking about your marketing in terms that sound more like you’re in the army than in business, it may be time to rethink what you’re doing. We do tend to think of marketing in terms that sound vaguely militaristic: targeting customers, planning campaigns, deploying ads. But we’re trying to win hearts and minds, not blow them up.

Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a “blast.” Ouch!

Do some research

When the phone rang yesterday, I was in the middle of a project. I glanced at the call ID and saw it was an insurance company – but since I do have a policy with them I answered. The trouble was that they had no idea who (or what) they were calling.

The man asked to speak to the head of the HR department. Haven’t got one, I said. Then he (somewhat puzzled) asked for the benefits manager. Don’t have one of those either, I said. Then he made some confused sounds and hung up.

He clearly was working from a list of names he’d gotten somewhere, with little thought about whether it was the best marketing list, or if the names on it matched his ideal client profile. I don’t have a benefits manager, an HR department, or an employee manual. My only full-time employee is my cat.  He doesn’t take vacations, although he does give marketing tips.

Make real connections

When prospecting (however you do it), you first want to pick people and companies who have a need for what you’re offering. No sense trying to sell diapers to people with no children (or grown children). While I’m not the customer he’s looking for, a little research might have given him clues to what I actually cared about – maybe a better deal on the policy I do have.

Don’t annoy people, get permission to talk to them and then be a problem solver, not a pitch man. What if instead he’d sent a booklet with tips on getting better/faster turnaround and service if I have a claim.  Or, sent me a birthday card in a few weeks?

Has this happened to you too?  What did you think?