Bad Clients: How to Spot and Avoid Them
As a surprise to nobody, I love me a good dog, and there isn't a breed I don't want to give a good pet to. But as wonderful as puppers are, there is a type of canine that has escaped the cuddles of pretty much everyone on the planet... the ghost dog. Now, they're *technically* called short-eared dogs, but everyone calls them ghost dogs due to the fact that they're nearly impossible to find, track, and get close to. Living deep in the Amazon, researchers only tend to see 1 ghost dog a year (and that's providing that they're actively being tracked and looked for.) These good doggos are geniuses when it comes to avoiding people.
And in our day to day work as a freelancer, there will be times where we need to channel our inner-ghost-dogs and avoid certain people, too. Namely, bad clients. Whenever we do encounter a potentially bad client, and we want to do everything we can to spot and avoid them. While there is no strict definition of a bad client We all know their traits: They don't pay on time (or at all), are extremely demanding, give unrealistic deadlines, and can even be emotionally unstable/abusive. These aren't all the traits, but can definitely come up time and time again. Essentially, a bad client is someone who, despite our best efforts and attempts to keep things sane, civil, and productive, are just an absolute terror to work with. And of course, they should be avoided Not only because they're a massive energy, financial, and emotional drain, but because working with them can prevent us from finding good clients. We're often so exhausted after engaging with a bad client that we don't even have the energy left to find or do work with the good ones. So, the more time we spend on bad clients, the less time we have to find quality work, or work with the good clients we already have. That's a very dangerous place to be in as a freelancer. But, bad clients are rarely intentionally malicious Which can make them hard to spot initially. They're not oozing stink lines, nor do they have mustaches that they regularly twirl. Most also don't think "ahhh I'm gonna GET this freelancer so good" but their general lack of awareness can make working with them horrific. So how do we spot them? With good old fashioned questions, of course! Here are a few that you can ask during your first meeting with them to get a good grasp of where they're coming from:
What do you expect this project to do for you, your team, and the industry?
What are your hopes, dreams, and fears for this project?
What inspired you to make this game now of all times?
Have you worked with a <sound designer/composer/whatever it is you do> before? What was that experience like?
Anything else you want to ask
We're not looking for any particular answer, but we'll immediately know how serious they are about this project based on how they answer. For example, if they waffle around, and talk at-length about a whole lot of nothing and never really answer your question, that's a big red flag. This can show us that their project may not go anywhere. Now, if our gut is telling us that this person is a bad client, how should we turn them away without burning any bridges or seeming antagonistic? Thankfully, turning away clients is quite easy All you need to do is say something along the lines of "I don't think this project is a good fit for me, but I appreciate you reaching out." If they're someone who is truly not worth working with, then you don't need to give them any recommendations on who else to hire. That's it! Simple as that. Most clients will just walk away at that point, and if they ask you "why not?!", you don't need to answer. "But Akash, you tub of artisanal chocolate frosting," you ask "I have a bad client right now. Can I get rid of them? Shouldn't I try to fix the situation?" As often as possible, it would be wise to do your best to rectify the situation with a potentially bad client. It could be a simple misunderstanding, or a mismatch in communication styles that's causing the issues, and once those are brought up and solved, it can be smooth sailing from then on. But, if even after trying to better understand their position, they're still an absolute terror to work with,then it's time to fire them.
Yes, clients can be fired Ideally you'll talk to them on the phone/Skype/Zoom/etc to let them know that you won't be continuing with them any further, but email also works, especially if communicating with them in real-time is a drain in and of itself. Here is a script you can use to politely, but firmly, discontinue your work with them. Modify it however you see fit: "Hey [NAME], It's been great working together, but due to personal reasons I won't be able to assist you with [WORK] as of [DATE]. I know it's short notice, but after thinking about how to approach this as professionally as possible, I decided some notice was better than no notice. [You can list reasons of why you're quitting here, but this is optional] To avoid an interruption in service, please find another provider who can meet your needs. Thanks for your understanding and support. Below is a list of what you can expect from me between now and [DATE]: - Item 1 - Item 2 - Item 3 [List something here about payment. Do they owe you one more payment? Are you walking away part way through a project, so they're off the hook when it comes to paying your final fee? Be clear about what's expected payment-wise] Thank you." And from then, you're free. Unless there are some serious or legal issues that come up that you absolutely need to address, there's nothing else you need to do. And if you're in my premium Game Industry Professional course, the contract templates you have an entire section that protect you in these scenarios. Of course, always talk to a lawyer to be sure. So let's summarize what we talked about today
There's no strict definition of a bad client, but we know them based on how utterly draining it can be to work with them
Bad clients don't just drain us, but exhaust to the point where we can't even take the time to find good ones
Asking deeper questions can help us determine if clients know what they're doing or not Ideally, you'll try to rectify the situation with the client, but if they are completely oblivious, then we can use the script up above to fire them
I can and will have my very own ghost dog sanctuary one day
So, in some cases, it would be wise for us to become like my friend and yours, the ghost dog And avoid certain clients that may come up. That way, we'll be able to focus on the higher-quality work that matters to us without the constant emotional drain that a bad client can provide.
And if you're looking to find non-stop, high quality clients Then my free courses and newsletter are for you. I've developed them to help people just like you find paid game audio work anywhere in the world. Sign up, and you'll get two free courses, exclusive articles, free sounds, and more. Sign up and get access right here!