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Why does this happen and how can this be avoided? Here are 4 reasons this can happen and what to do about it.
- The client is under pressure.
They may be pressured to complete in a timeframe that isn’t reasonable. Or they may be required to produce certain results within tight financial or legal contraints. Sometimes this may involve pleasing a committee or a difficult boss.
In this situation it's best for the designer to figure out a way to anticipate these problems ahead of time. Ask ahead of time to meet all the parties that will review the project. Then develop an estimate that takes into account the work required, and the expected outcomes. It's also good to be specific about what is expected of the client and what is expected of you, the designer. When the client gets moody or seems demanding, try not to take it personally. Just ask how you can help to make things go smoother. That can go a long way. In the meantime, keep the client abreast of your progress daily to minimize surprises.
- They don’t know what they don’t know.
Some people don’t have a clue what it takes to produce good design. The act of design is a mystery to them and an invisible process. Sometimes it's not so much that it's a mystery, but rather a lack of respect for the profession. These people view design as a fun hobby for the enthusiast. They think they could probably do it too with a little time and commitment. But they are willing to pay someone else to do it, who has an interest. But it's not worth a lot of money.
This situation is tough because it involves educating the client and following best practices as a designer. (It doesn't help when clients have worked with designers with unprofessional attitudes previously.) But a designer has to be specific and inflexible when it comes to good business practices — such as working with a contract or getting sign offs. Also get in the habit of spelling everything out in writing.
- They can’t pay.
They may be cheap or untrustworthy (more about that below). Perhaps they don’t have much control over the financial situation, and they are having a behind-the-scene struggle. Or they simply don’t have the money because a deal fell through, they were required to pay a legal fine, or they were robbed.
Start-up businesses tend to have these types of problems. Quite frankly it's a good idea to avoid working with startups unless you know the client or owner well, or you really believe in what they are doing. In any event, start every job with a good contract and payment terms. Always collect a deposit in the beginning if you can. (Hey, you can always guarantee to return it if no work is done.) And if they run into a hard time, it's good to just cut your loses or work out a kill fee or payment plan. No matter what, be sympathetic unless they are unethical.
- They are unethical.
What do you do if the client is a liar? They never had any intention on paying you. They may also have a sleazy personality. They tell crude jokes, talk about people behind their backs, or exploit others.
The best advice for these type of clients is not to work with them. But if you find yourself unknowingly working with this type of client there are a few ways of dealing with the situation. First, you can be very honest about how uncomfortable they make you feel. And be very professional in how you handle them. Since you are working with a contract, you may use this as leverage for later legal action if required. Last, just get through the job and never work with them again.