One of the perks of being a freelancer or web agency owner is that you get to choose who you work with. If you have any reservations about working with a particular client, you are perfectly free to walk out the door and leave the project.
But all freedom comes with responsibility. If you suddenly abandon a client mid-project, you can be sure that people are going to hear about it. Your professional reputation is at stake with almost all of your projects.
Unfortunately, a problem doesn’t have to be your fault for you to be the one who suffers from it. Difficult clients have an uncanny ability to turn their problems into your problems. Work for long enough in the web development industry, and you’re virtually guaranteed to run into problem clients.
The key to keeping your business running smoothly without sacrificing your reputation is choosing your clients wisely. If you pay attention to early warning signs, you’ll know how to choose clients whose projects are most likely to align with your goals.
Consider Your Ideal Client
Most beginning web developers start out enthusiastically accepting almost any project that comes their way. This is a perfectly acceptable way to gain experience, and it is a great playing field for learning about how to deal with clients.
If your web agency is less than two years old, you’ll want to spend this time carefully observing your clients’ behaviors and considering how those behaviors match your personal workflow. Just like marketers use buyer personas to figure out who they are selling to, you should flesh out a semi-fictional “client persona” that fits the type of person you wish to work with.
Over time, you’ll learn to associate incoming clients with a certain set of attributes. You’ll instinctively know whether you’re dealing with a serious professional or not.
This is because great clients tend to have a few things in common. If you see any of these character traits in a client, chances are you are dealing with someone who is not going to let you down:
- Committed. Commitment comes in a variety of forms and for a variety of reasons. Ambitious, revolutionary creatives can be as committed to a project as highly driven, passionate executive types. On the other end of the spectrum are bureaucratic middlemen who don’t really care about anything other than their own paycheck.
- Communicative. Web development projects are complex, multi-tiered processes that involve different people performing detailed tasks. Even the best projects can fall apart due to communication problems. Clients who are responsive, aware, and involved tend to the best communicators.
- Solution-Oriented. Clarity is important, but there is a difference between being specifically fixated on a certain feature and being specifically fixated on a certain outcome or goal. The best clients are the ones who ask for solutions, not features.
- Organized. Where communication skills lead off, organization skills take over. You will get farther with clients who enthusiastically use project management platforms than with those who insist on listing desired features on the phone.
Look Out For Bad Client Warning Signs
For many web agency owners, identifying a great client is easier than picking out a bad one. It can be tempting to overlook warning signs, especially at the beginning of a web development career.
Not all warning signs are grounds for terminating a client relationship. Most clients are well-intentioned people who really want to get things done. It’s up to you to establish an environment that makes project success possible. Here are some of the most common characteristics you’ll run into:
- Lack of Clarity. Not every client knows exactly what they want, but good clients at least know exactly what problems they want you to solve. Be wary of clients who ask endless questions without committing to anything specific. If things drag on too long, recommend a per-hour consulting contract or paid project discovery.
- Unavailability. Life can get in the way of anything, and web development projects are no different. But if a client consistently is unavailable – missing calls, dropping email threads, and disappearing for weeks at a time – then you are better off dropping the project altogether. Sometimes, you can save the project by agreeing to strict contractual terms, but it won’t always work.
- Penny-Pinching. Everybody wants to get more for less, and every project is likely to come with a bit of haggling and negotiation. But when a client seems overly fixated on cost – to the exclusion of the actual value of your work – you should be concerned. Be crystal clear about how much your work is really worth, and put it in terms your client understands. You’ve got to spend money to make money.
- Constant Stress and Urgency. Organized, communicative clients generally don’t suffer from emergencies very often. If a client has a tendency to need everything done RIGHT NOW, you need to put a robust system in place for documenting your interactions and use the principles of project management to keep things going at a steady pace.
Lead Your Clients By Example
In most cases, the relationship between a client and a web agency is easy to categorize. Clients have technology-related problems they wish to solve and agencies have the skills and resources it takes to solve those problems. As a corollary, agencies typically have expertise in this sort of problem-solving, and clients are well-advised to benefit from it.
This means that in order to attract committed, communicative, solution-oriented clients that are well-organized, you have to be committed. You have to be communicative. You have to be solution-oriented, and you have to approach your own life and work in an organized way.
People with these attributes tend to find one another in the world of business and commerce. The better example you set, the more likely you are to attract exactly the type of client you value most.
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