Client warning signs

After you’ve been in the business for awhile working with clients, you learn to recognize warning signs that indicate trouble ahead. Depending on the warning sign, you take steps to head off the problem or, sometimes, just walk away.

For example, here are two.

  • When clients say things along the lines of, “This shouldn’t take long,” or “This should be fairly simple,” what they really mean is, “I don’t want to pay you very much.”

  • When clients say, "I’ve drawn up a few sketches…, " they often just want to hire a pair of hands to polish up their bad ideas. They will also micromanage, want multiple revisions and, before it’s done, try to eat up twice as much time as the job warranted.

Does anyone else have other client warning signs they’d like to share?


All my big red flags are in proofing:

  • when the client urgently wants to see a proof and I have to remind them they haven’t sent me any content. It means they haven’t thought through the whole thing and they are about to slapdash it together and there will be a lot of corrections later on.

  • when the number of proofing rounds they request starts to creep up. It means they aren’t reviewing things carefully, or there is some dysfunction in their organization.

  • when the number of changes increases, rather than decreases, with each additional proof. It means they aren’t reviewing it carefully early on. Then there’s more likelihood they will want big changes close to the press date, possibly delaying the project, which is a big problem with dated material.


“I’ll know it when I see it.”

“My husband / wife is an artist.” or “My husband / wife is a creative.”

“My previous design…”


Here’s another.

  • Clients who seem enthusiastic but disappear for days (or weeks) at a time. In other words, despite what they might say, their lack of responsiveness can indicate a lack of seriousness and lack of respect for the designer’s other time commitments.

I’ve found this problem is best addressed by always emphasizing timeframes and due dates during the initial conversation, then listing those due dates in the contract (they can always be changed if both parties agree). If the client fails to meet a due date, payment for that phase of the project automatically becomes due. This problem is also another reason to ask for advance payments up front.

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“my son can do this”

“i just through this together and didnt have a lot of time. It shouldnt take you too long”

“how many revisions do i get?”

“your price is a little high” (then go on fiver and get a 5 dollar logo why you contacting me)


" i’m not asking you for much " ( It was a really bad experience, but will never happen again!! )
" i can make it myself, I just don’t have time" ( All the time xD )
" the disappearing client " ( Just Poofs away and only responds after 5 days and tells you that they didn’t like something about the design, AND GOES AGAIN! )

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Here’s another…

When clients start trashing the last designer they worked with, it spells trouble.

More often than not, this is an indication of a difficult client who has unreasonable expectations and blames the designer for most everything that stems from those unreasonable expectation.

If you take on a job like this, be prepared for that same client to start trashing you to the next designer he or she hires.

I can’t talk about my client warning signs, as my clients are designers.

But I do take a bit of issue with assuming a client that talks trash about a former designer is going to be bad. Maybe they just ran into one of the wannabees and are now figuring out they need a pro. On my end of the business I see that a fair amount.

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“Here is the example of a logo” when the client wants you to copy someone’s idea!

When the company contact you are working with isn’t the actual decision-maker, and the decision-maker is nowhere to be found at any of the meetings.

Many times, that person is shown the final product for the very first time the day before project deadline, and without fail they are going to hate everything with extreme passion and it all has to be redone and the deadline has to be pushed out.

More cha-ching for you. :slight_smile:

That’s true.

In all the problems I’ve mentioned, there are ways to get to the bottom of and mitigate the likely consequences. In the case of a client trashing a previous designer, I’d suggest asking the client to explain why the previous designer was incompetent.

If the problem turns out that, for example, the designer sent a 200-page catalog off to the printer with no bleeds and with all the photos saved as .PNGs, yeah, that’s a legitimate complaint.

On the other hand, if the client is vague about why the previous designer was bad or mentions nonsensical problems or says he or she has a history of hiring designers who turn out to be worthless, that points to a problem with the client.

Even when the client can list specific problems with a genuinely incompetent designer, this still points to an issue with the client that needs to be considered when working with that client. That problem being that the client was naive enough to hire the bad designer in the first place. So in that case, maybe the client really did think he could get his promotional brochures done for $25 on Fiverr. Maybe the client is a real cheap skate and just doesn’t want to pay enough to hire someone who knows what she’s doing.

So in the case of a naive client complaining about a genuinely incompetent designer, it’s still a warning sign in that the whole fiasco indicates that the client is likely naive about working with designers. Walking away from naive clients isn’t warranted, but that naivety is something to consider when determining how best to work with that client.

Client contacts me. Ok wants a logo. I give her my number and 2 days in which she can contact me. Both have since passed.

Tonight. Ill call you Friday after 2.

Like…don’t dictact my hours I have things already planned. Secondly, I’m quoting her higher.

You do realize “Friday after 2” means anytime from 2:00:59pm to 11:59:59pm, right?

That falls right in there with, “I’ll have files to you by EOD Friday.”
I’ve given up on waiting late for those because “EOD” never means “before quitting time.”


In my experience it means 5:11 pm; no sooner.

Technically Friday after 2 means

2pm - forever

Technically if they said Friday, it can’t be any other day.
But technically, they didn’t say which Friday either…


LOL, I got my “EOD Friday” files at 11pm last night. With a follow up email that said, “call me.” While I’m sure it means to call Monday morning, I had a really bad urge to call at midnight when I actually got in from fishing and saw the email… (for the record, I had a 2 hour drive to get home)

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