How to Avoid Booking the Client From Hell: 7 Signs You Should Pass on the Work

I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 10 years now and one thing I have dealt with in EVERY business that I’ve owned is the dreaded client from hell. Often they’re disguised and you don’t really know who you are dealing with until it is too late. Thankfully, I’ve had to become a master at weeding these types of clients out and in doing so have created a peaceful, fun and fulfilling business. If you are a freelancer, business owner or deal with any type of client, then this post is for you.

One thing every entrepreneur has in common is the client from hell. The client who sucked the life out of you and along with it, time, energy and money. The one who you told family, friends and even strangers at your local coffee shop about because THAT is how much they sucked to deal with. Clients from hell all have a few things in a common and the trick is to spot them BEFORE you book them.

How to avoid booking the client from hell

So…how do you spot the client from hell and avoid the inevitable pain and suffering that comes with them? Here are the top 7 signs to look for plus a FREE questionnaire and checkilist!

The Potential Client

…won’t stop complaining about the last person they hired

This is a very clear sign that something is wrong. Ever hear the the saying “What Sally says of Susie says more about Sally than it does about Susie”? It’s the anti-gossip saying and the same goes for business. If they’re so willing to bad mouth their last person, they’ll do it just as easily to you. It can also be a sign that they are very difficult to work with and you’ll never make them happy.


I once had a client go on an on about how terrible her last web designer was and how she just couldn’t believe what she went through. As she continued talking about the situation I could start to hear and understand her designer’s point of view. It was very clear that she was going far over her scope of work and the poor designer finally just refunded her money to get rid of her-WOW! But the way she spoke about it was as if SHE was the victim of the story which meant that I could be in for the same thing.

If they won’t stop complaining about the last person they hired, RUN for the hills!

…won’t give you a budget

Refusing to give a an estimate on what the client wants to spend for anything is not a good sign. When a client refuses to give me a budget I know it’s a red flag. It basically says they have either been “burned” by a prior designer and will take that out on you or that they generally don’t value what a designer/agency does. Giving the person you may hire a budget can only help you and if it’s not something you can afford then you’re always free to use another provider.

How to avoid booking the client from hell with this FREE client checklist and questionnaire!

…insist on speaking after work hours

Against my better judgment, I recently signed on a client I had a feeling would be a problem. The client didn’t have the other red flags that appear on this list but kept insisting on speaking after work hours. This was before we even signed them on, which some clients will push these limits to see how badly you may want their business.

Since I’ve been a business owner for over 10 years, this is something I no longer allow to happen. The truth is, unless you’re a doctor, nothing is so much of an emergency that your client needs to speak with you at 9PM. Setting these boundaries from day 1 are SO important but I’ll save that for another time, post or possible ebook. Just know if your new lead/possible client insists on speaking with you at all hours, it’s not a good sign.

…disappear then reappear

Inconsistent communication seems harmless enough. So what if your client emails you Monday excited to start your project but then disappears for weeks? Though it most likely is not intentional, a client who disappears and then reappears will cause a complete scheduling disaster. Imagine that you’ve signed on a new contract and set to start on the 1st of the month. You send them client homework or a questionnaire and eagerly wait to hear back. It takes them WEEKS before they get back to you.

Now you’re in to the next month but you’re already booked solid. The client magically appears and expects you to begin work right away. So, you’re stuck trying to juggle more clients than you planned for and possibly messed up your schedule for the next few months. It’s a giant headache, so client communication and consistency is SUPER important.


…want you to work for free first (LOL!)

When a potential client wants you to work for free in order to win their business, this is a sign that they don’t value the work that you do. If they don’t value what you do, you are going to have to fight the entire way with their project. You should also be prepared for them to ask for MORE freebies, discounts and other things you would never give to any other client. You’re in for months of headaches or you could do the free work and have them disappear. Either way, it serves no one any good to work for free and that includes you. No matter what stage of your business that you’re in, skip over this client immediately.

…don’t want to sign your contract

One of the funniest emails I’ve ever gotten from a client has been “Your contract seems to be more in your favor than in mine.” It’s funny because if you think about it, of course our contract is going to be worded to protect our agency. Read any contract for something you purchase and you’ll see the same thing. Ours is pretty standard, we don’t offer refunds since you can’t “return” a website and if you don’t pay your invoices, you don’t receive our services.

A client who takes issue with a contract is usually a client who will not abide by your contract. This client is the same one who will make late payments or none at all. They will also add HOURS of extra work for you because they don’t want to follow a scope of work. No matter who the client is or how badly you need the work, NEVER take on a client without a signed contract.

…complain about you before you’ve even taken them on as a client

I had a potential client fill our project submission form on a Saturday and schedule to speak with us next week. When Monday came around and I responded, they complained that it took us two days to respond to their email. Mind you, they were aware it was a weekend and still thought to complain about our service. If a client is complaining about you before you even begin the work, this is not a good sign.

Avoid clients from hell for GOOD

Those are just 7 signs though there are so many more. I’ve had the joy of experiencing every one of the clients I’ve mentioned above which has benefited my businesses tremendously. And now, you don’t have to deal with all the headaches I had to deal with since I’ve put this together for you.

I’ve also put together a FREE New Client Questionnaire and Checklist for you so that you don’t have to deal with client headaches like I did. YAY!

After dealing with my fair share of terrible client experiences, I now consider myself to be a master at client selection. I spend my days not only attracting great clients but keeping them on and getting tons of referrals in the process. A happy, awesome client means a great experience for both parties and growth for your business too.

And if you think about it, what’s the point of being an entrepreneur if you don’t spend your days happy + fulfilled?

How to avoid booking the client from hell with this FREE client checklist and questionnaire!