Don’t Go There: How to Avoid these 7 Types of Bad Clients

Bad clients take a toll on both your people and your agency’s finances. Taking on the wrong type of clients can negatively impact your cash flow, eat away at your profitability and drive your team to the brink of burnout.

While it can be tempting to want to say yes to all new business, especially if you’re just starting out, sometimes, it’s just not worth it.

Save yourself time, money and your sanity and think twice about working with these types of clients.

The One Whose Budget is Too Small 

If a client’s budget isn’t even in the ballpark of what your agency normally charges, the best thing to do is let them down gently.

“I don’t think we’re the right fit for you right now, but here are two agencies that I think could be great options.”

If a client just doesn’t have the money, finding something that works for both you and the client can be nearly impossible. It’s a path to dissatisfaction and in most cases, won’t be worth it. It’s best to save yourself the hassle and just say no.

The Slow Payers or Worse, The No-Payers

These bad clients are hard to spot without first starting to work with them, but it’s worth finding a way. Clients that are slow to pay or don’t pay affect your revenue and cash flow, putting unnecessary stress on your agency.

The best way to try to uncover these types of bad clients? Make them pay to play. Have a process in place for all new clients that requires a deposit or first payment before you start any work. Set a payment deadline according to your terms and see how that goes. Make sure your team knows not to start any work until you receive the deposit. If they pay late or not at all, run for the hills or proceed with caution. 

The MWTTW (More Work Than They’re Worth) Types

Outside of the clients who can’t afford you and those who don’t pay you or pay you late, the single riskiest type of bad client to take on is one who needs to be overserviced.

Overservicing happens when you or your team do work that is outside of the scope of a project. When you overservice a client, you set inappropriate client expectations that threaten profitability. Overservicing usually also entails overworking your team, which affects morale and, over time, can lead to burnout. 

Simply put, clients who need to be overserviced are more work than they’re worth. They come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all lead your team down the path of wasted time, overwork and burnout, and your agency straight towards lost profit.

Beware of these types of bad clients that tend to send agency teams into overservice mode.

The Dictators and Micro-Managers

The Dictator and Micro-Manager both struggle with trust and control. The Dictator leaves no room for the creative process even to begin, stifling your team members and preventing them from doing their best work. The Micro-Manager drives your team crazy looking over their shoulders throughout the entire project. 

While a client with clear objectives for a project is great, one who believes they know the exact roadmap to achieve those outcomes can be a nightmare. 

If you’ve heard through the grapevine that a client is notoriously dictatorial or overbearing, they may be worth avoiding entirely. That said, I’ve seen many Dictators and Micro-Managers chill out once they start working with a team who builds their trust and has a process they understand and appreciate.

The Everything’s Urgent Client 

“I need this all ASAP! Can we get it by the end of the week?” This is the soundtrack of the Everything’s Urgent client. Occasional last-minute requests are expected in this business. But this type of bad client needs things “ASAP” all the time and often disappears after your team sacrifices an evening or weekend to meet the deadline. 

Abandoning your process to meet a client’s urgent requests over and over again compromises the quality of your work and will eventually put your team at risk of burnout. Working under extra tight deadlines can lead to more mistakes, ultimately costing you even more time and money.

The Ghoster

Ghosters are sneaky. They’re often very enthusiastic and seemingly proactive in initial meetings. Then, just when you need their feedback or answers to critical questions, you’ll find yourself on read.

Ghosters usually pop back up out of nowhere, out of the loop on a project’s status and demanding updates on things that have stalled because of their absence. The Ghoster’s disappearing act creates confusion and misunderstandings that lead to delays, errors and missed deadlines.

Overservicing happens when these clients expect original deadlines to be met despite going AWOL at critical moments. You also sink hours into chasing them for input and trying to reschedule missed meetings, wasting even more time and money.

The Overthinker

The Overthinker can’t make a decision and second guesses the only decisions they do manage to make. They often need to get third and fourth opinions before committing to anything. They struggle to give feedback (because they don’t know what they think) and can lose focus with all of the overthinking they do. 

An Overthinker’s hemming and hawing lead to delays or missed deadlines. Sometimes it causes an entire mid-project directional change. And despite overthinking every step of the way, Overthinkers are often dissatisfied with the finished product.

Overthinkers work best with an agency team that exudes confidence. Use a gentle but firm hand to guide them to decisions. Providing a clear “why” for each decision and getting commitment in writing can help prevent wavering and keep them focused on moving forward. More than any other client type, Overthinkers need regular reminders of your team’s expertise. 


Oh, The VIP. This client type loves to remind you and your team that they can take their business elsewhere if you don’t satisfy them. They may want to skirt your processes and only pay after you’ve delivered the work.

Beware! Of course, every client you work with is important. The VIP expects to be your sole focus, however and expects constant communication and immediate replies. Working with a VIP client is extremely stressful because they make you and your team feel like you’re always just inches away from losing the work if you don’t maintain their high standards.

VIP clients are risky because their baseline expectations are the definition of overservicing. If you get the sense you’re dealing with a potential VIP, critically evaluate if it’s worth it before signing a contract. 

What To Do If You Already Have Bad Clients Who are More Work Than They’re Worth

Overservicing is one of the biggest reasons creative agencies aren’t making more money

Here are a few tips on building a balanced client relationship that doesn’t fall into the overservicing trap:

  • Establish early on that you are the expert. Let each client know that your job is to take their vision and run with it to create something beyond what they can achieve on their own.
  • Set boundaries. Explain what your team needs to do their jobs best and what that looks like in terms of communications and updates.
  • Outline the process upfront. Being specific about how each part of the process works and what they can expect at each point. 
  • Set clear deadlines for important updates and deliverables and build trust with the client by consistently meeting those deadlines and deliverables. 

Having everything documented in writing with a sign-off from your client creates accountability and gives you something to go back to if things start to go off track. Strong internal processes for time tracking, creating timelines and tracking deadlines, and managing billing are key to staying on track and noticing potential problems early. 

Presenting clients with the data to show how their actions are eating into their project budget can do wonders for reigning in a difficult client.

But sometimes, it’s just not worth it. Some bad clients will continue to push your boundaries despite your best efforts to get them on board with your process. Look at the data–if a client is costing you more than you’re making–because of wasted time, overworking, and drains on your team’s well-being–you can’t afford to keep them.

Cut your losses and find clients who value you, your team and the work you do for them.

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