3 Problem Clients, 3 Useful Strategies

“Dear Web Designer,

Thanks for the site you’ve designed for me, but now that I’ve seen it, I want to make some changes. I’ve decided that the whole colour scheme isn’t working for me, and my cousin thinks that a yellow colour would much better suit the site. Also, I’d like to discuss adding some extra elements….”

After the umpteenth email, now is the time to groan, yell and wonder why you took this client on in the first place.

Fear not though – you can drastically reduce these problem-client situations simply by having a little understanding about basic personality types. When you know someone’s personality type, you can work out the best way to communicate with them in order to gain their trust and improve the communication channels.

Myer Briggs is one of the most common and well regarded personality profiling tests. Based on Jung’s psychological types theory, the profiling identifies a person as being one of 16 different personality types (each type consisting of 4 specific aspects). This is the benchmark on what most personality profiling is based on. Widely used in career development, hiring of employees and better understanding (or improvement) of professional and personal relationships, as a website freelancer or consultant, we can use the basics of this theory to help us with improved client relationships and smoother work flow.

Here’s the good news – you don’t need to do a crash course in personality profiling to understand some common client personalities and temperaments. See if any of these ring a bell with you…

1) The Drama Queen

You know the type; the tiniest of problems is a major catastrophe. They’ll contact you regarding any small change or problem with the site and will want it resolved right away. You suggest changes and they worry about whether it’s the right thing or not. They’ll enlist friends and family’s advice and come back to you with their ‘expert’ opinions. Settling on a final decision is difficult and they are the type of client who’ll want things changed after the design is finished. The Drama Queen client (be it male or female) could ultimately do your head in!

The Strategy

The Drama Queen needs boundaries. They need boundaries for the sake of everyone’s sanity. The best way to do this is to ensure your client on-boarding processes has clearly defined communication methods (and restrictions). Include these in the client contract as well as discussing it with the client to make sure they fully understand the ‘rules'.

There is no one-best-way to communicate with this cient . Over time you’ll work out the method/s that suit you best. You may have a specific email address set-up that they can email 24-7 (very handy for the Drama Queen who needs to express themselves at any hour of the day), but that you only check twice a week on designated days. You could schedule one phone each week set for a specific time and day, or you may need to train them to use a CRM like Asana or BaseCamp. What ever the method is, make sure you are consistent. Don’t waiver from the process because rest-assured, the Drama Queen will test these boundaries.

Now let’s address the best way to work with the Drama Queen. Underneath all this fanfare is someone who has some insecurities and is looking for assurance. What they respond well to is a bit of attention and approval. Acknowledge their requests and compliment them when they have a useful suggestion. Adding to  this, you need to find a way to let them know that you are the expert and that they hired you because of your knowledge and skills. They need to know when to stop. A well set out process and clear communication will save your back here!

2) The One Who’ll Never Meet a Deadline

The first target has almost been met; you are just waiting on the client's content and then you can tick off the milestone. Trouble is, after several reminders the client still hasn’t provided the information you need. The result? The whole timeline is put out, affecting payments as well as your other jobs.

The ‘never meet a deadline client’ may be hard to spot when you shake hands to seal the deal. You usually don’t see the trait coming until the project is well underway. Here’s a little tip that will give you a clue though…

These type of client’s are “big picture” people. Myer Briggs would call this part of their personality an ‘N’ or Intuition. They are the ones who get excited about what the site will look like and do, but don’t worry themselves about the details of how – after all that’s what they are hiring you for. These sort of people are great with overall concepts and usually have a clear vision for where they want their business to be, but aren’t interested in the ‘boring’ logic and processes behind how it will get there.

The Strategy

The moral of the story is to have a clear qualifying questionnaire. This document can be twofold; as well as being a means of understanding what the client wants on a practical level, you can gauge whether their thinking is tuned to ‘big-picture’ or ‘details.’

In your initial meeting (and in the questionnaire), be aware of how the person responds to the questions you ask. Is it big picture thinking, or are they all about the nitty-gritty details? If they are a big-picture person, you’ll need to be extra-clear about the importance of the content deadlines. Consider incorporating the following strategies to prevent problems…

  • A clearly worded contract including dates for content delivery
  • Stagger the scheduled payment dates in your favour
  • Introduce ‘penalties’ such as withholding certain aspects of the project until all requirements have been met

Before all of this even happens though, if you want to win the job with this client, you have a secret weapon.  Knowing that they are a ‘big-picture' person, in your pitch just paint them an exciting picture of what the end product will look and feel like. Don’t worry about wasting time giving them the finer details about how you’ll go about it. If they like you and trust you up-front, they will have full confidence that you're the designer / consultant for them.

3) The Demanding Client

In many ways the Demanding Client is the opposite of the ‘never meet a deadline’ client. In Myer Briggs terms, they would be a “T” Thinker – they base their decision making on logic and facts as opposed to conceptual ideas and possibilities. You’ll be able to easily identify the Demanding Client by what they focus on in the client meeting. Unlike the ‘big picture’ personality, their focus will be on tangibles like conversion rates, how each aspect of the site will serve a specific purpose, as well as breakdowns of your  proposal and fee. Chances are that they will already have statistics they can share with you as well as forecasts and a crystal- clear idea of how they want this site to work for them.

The Strategy

As soon as you pick up that this is the no-nonsense type of guy/gal, you need to turn the meeting into one that hits on facts, figures and clear-cut strategies. This is the language they relate to – no fluffing around with small talk! The client will appreciate this, see that you are on the same page and begin to develop a trust and rapport with you.

The benefits of having a client like this is that they are productive and decisive. You won’t be chasing them for content or waiting long for answers from them. The down-side is that they can sometimes be too assertive in their demands, or have a tendency to think that they know more about the business of web design than you.

The way to circumnavigate this is again by having processes in place that are clearly outlined and understood:

  • Your contract needs to include exactly what will and will not be covered in the agreed upon price. If this client wants extras, make them aware that you can do it but at an additional cost;
  • Keep all of your email conversations on file and record verbal conversations / meetings (with their permission of course) so that there is no debate on what was or wasn’t agreed upon. This type of client can be very persuasive in their arguments, so having back-up of conversations will keep your sanity in check throughout the project.

The Dream Client

Is there such a thing as a dream client? I asked my husband, who’s had his own plumbing business this question. His response was, “There’s no such thing as a dream client, just a dream outcome – when you get fully paid on time and no-one dies.” He’s a little cynical with his line of work at the moment and probably not a great example to use, but it gave me a laugh. The reality is though, each project brings it’s own set of challenges. The way you look at these challenges and learn from them is what shapes you as an ever-improving WordPress consultant. Knowing how to manage different clients, develop rapport and leave them with a great impression is just as important as the technical side of the business.

I'd love to hear about how you handled a problem client and what you learnt from the situation.


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Gin McInneny

Gin McInneny is head of Customer Happiness at WP Elevation. She has experience in website development, digital marketing, videography, and education. Gin brings these skills plus her unique enthusiasm to the wonderful world of WP Elevation.

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