ClientsFromHell.net is a popular site. It’s estimated to be one of the top 25,000 sites in the world, one of the top 10,000 sites in the Unites States. This site is most popular with people in creative industries, like design.
It’s also one of the most detrimental sites to the health of the design industry — and not for the reasons you might think.
There are no clients from hell. There are only designers from hell.
In order to understand the context of this statement, let me explain what this website is about. Basically, Clients From Hell is a site where designers share their most harrowing stories about “bad clients”. Many “designers” find these stories humorous, but it fosters a dangerous belief in the design community.
This site encourages the idea that clients who make non-constructive requests or unreasonable demands deserve to be lambasted and mocked online. This reinforces the fallacy that the designer is always right, and that clients are better seen and not heard.
I find this false sense of smug superiority to be quite disgusting. Designers who ridicule your clients — are you ready for an uncomfortable truth?
No one can become your client unless YOU allow them to be.
Finding A Good Fit
Vetting potential clients is an important part of any good consultant’s process. Not every prospect is a good fit for every consultant. Determining if you can work well together before starting a project eliminates 95% of the potential friction*.
* Not a real stat, but pretty damn close.
What are some of the reasons a client and consultancy may not be a good match?
- Different expectations of what the service is.
- Budgets are not aligned.
- There is a better suited consultant for the problem.
- The problem is too small for that specific consultancy.
- The problem is too large for the consultancy.
- There is a lack of trust or respect for the consultant.
- The client needs more time to prepare<./li>
- Timelines are not going to work out.
There’s many more reasons why a potential client may not fit with a particular consultancy on a specific project. In all cases, the consultant should endeavor to send the prospect to a resource that can help them. In this fashion, the designer can give some value to the client, even if they do not work on a project together.
What are some questions the design consultancy must answer to determine if the potential client is a good fit?
- What were the replies to the contact form?
- What info was gathered from the initial phone call or meeting?
- Is the potential client willing to follow the designer’s process?
- What is the decision making structure of the client’s organization?
- Is the budget a good fit for both parties?
- Will this project have a good return on investment for the client?
- Do we get along? Will it be easy to work together for the duration of the project?
- Do we listen to each other?
- Would I enjoy doing this project with this client if money were no object?
Failure to answer these sorts of questions is one way designers end up with clients that they later resent. However, this is not the client’s fault. Every designer must decide to take on a project on their own. No one puts a gun to their head, and this is why I don’t understand the “clients from hell” mentality.
Nature Abhors A Vacuum
There’s one more reason that unprofessional designers end up resenting the clients they work with. It is their failure to effectively lead the projects they are commissioned for.
Clients come to us for structure. They come to us for process. They come to us for answers.
But if the designer does not lead the project and have a process in place, the client will sense the need for someone to take charge, and step into that role. I believe this is the main source of the entries on the Clients From Hell site.
Projects suck when communication is unclear, and the designers have not explained their process. My advice? Leave no doubts in the clients’ mind. Thoroughly explain how the project is going to run before it even begins. Clients value the minimization of risk. If you disappear for too long, or they feel like there isn’t a process in place, that’s when they will feel the need to step up and impose some sort of order. Designers, be prepared before you begin, and communicate frequently.
Have A Spine
It kills me when designers see every client request as something they must immediately put into effect, if they know that it is bad for business. If you’re a designer, and you’ve made a design decision, then be prepared to explain why it is the best decision possible. Creating is only one aspect of the job. Good design still needs to be sold.
Most clients will defer to a logically sound explanation. But occasionally, you will have to work a little harder to convince a decision maker.
This does not mean it’s a shootout at the OK Corral. That sort of stance doesn’t do much good. But you should be able to present your decisions in a convincing manner, and use your words to persuade the client why you did something a certain way.
No is a word that is necessary to use sometimes. Clients do not hire consultants to be yes-men or yes-women. They hire consultants to tell them hard truths and steer them towards the paths that will make them successful. Having a solid backbone is a per-requisite for being an effective designer.
The pages of Clients From Hell are filled with the crying of designers who never grew a spine. I drink their freaking tears.
Client Services Aren’t For Every Designer
Client services is a much different type of beast than say, building the next social network. In a large startup, it is easier to not talk to people outside your own four walls. You can sit at a computer for years and never talk to a single user or customer. To me, that’s a real shame.
Client services requires you to be a good communicator. You to be able to speak honestly. You have to be compassionate. You must be able to present good ideas and defend the reasons behind your decisions.
But when you throw your clients underneath the bus, YOU are the one who looks foolish, not your client.
We can all do kick-ass work, if we choose clients that fit what we are good at and what we want to work on. Life is too damn short to complain about our own decisions.