Categories / Inspiration

15 Signs You Need to Let That Toxic Client Go

Laura Busche March 31, 2021 · 5 min read
While I’ve seen many designers worry about getting fired by some client who’s giving them all the signs, it is quite rare to spot the opposite. It’s hard to come across a designer who questions if and for how long a client relationship should continue; someone who truly values his/her work so much that the option of actually firing the client is on the table. Truth be told, many clients deserve to be fired too. Their habits, attitudes, and behaviors are sabotaging any possibility of completing a successful project. They’re making you question your own ability out of a lack of appreciation for the design process. They’re, in a word, toxic. Understandably, some designers believe (or would like to believe) that the signs presented below can be fixed. That they’re some kind of symptom of a curable disease. If you have the time and patience to spare, I wish you luck. By all means go ahead. Now, if you’re the kind of designer who just doesn’t have the time or energy to fix clients that don’t want to be fixed, check out these 15 signs that it’s time to call it quits:

1. Crazy deadlines

LetClientGo_1 When someone respects your work, they’ll make an additional effort to make sure you have enough time to deliver your very best. Granted, sometimes urgent matters come up that ask for tight deadlines. What I’m asking you to evaluate is how often this one client brings up a task asking you to drop everything else on the queue. Customers who don’t understand the idea of planning can mess up your own attempt at expanding your client base. Think about it: how could you ever work for someone else when there are all these fires you’re constantly having to put off for a that one client?

2. Off-limits

LetClientGo_2 Reclaim your sleep and time off. Late night calls are not part of the contract. If your brain doesn’t get enough rest, your creativity will suffer significantly — and you might only notice the impact in the mid-long term. The issue there is that certain selfish clients will demand your attention beyond business hours without any regard for all the other work that you’re responsible for. Set your limits or call it quits.

3. Unpredictable

LetClientGo_3 If you are the praying type, this is the one that makes you pray. Your relationship is a massive roller coaster full of undefined expectations and unnecessary reactions. Fear is no solid foundation for a client-creative relationship, so, if this is your case, it might be a better idea to part ways.

4. Copycat

LetClientGo_4 NO, I won’t copy whatever you found on Pinterest. YES, I’ll be inspired by it and create something new and better because that’s how capable I am. But you hired me… so you should know that, right?

5. Design Committee

LetClientGo_5 It’s no secret that small teams iterate faster. Teams in which neighbors, distant cousins, and spouses intervene generally don’t turn out well.

6. He’s a fan of the pop factor

LetClientGo_6 Define pop — we’ll go from there.

7. Take it easy

LetClientGo_7 The problem with clients who avoid briefs is that they’re often also avoiding focused work. They want to get the best of what you have to offer but fail to define those expectations from the beginning. What ends up happening is a chain of unconformities that can drain you mentally and emotionally. Get it on paper or run, run far away!

8. He consistently underestimates you

LetClientGo_8 Maybe this person should just go ahead and design it on his own, in Microsoft Paint.

9. Cheap

LetClientGo_9 Among the many valid, understandable excuses for failing to pay, vacations are not one. One should never sit and watch how the client’s money is going everywhere else but your pockets. Clients who don’t prioritize your payment often do not prioritize the work you’re creating for them — and that’s a huge problem.

10. Imposing

LetClientGo_10 Don’t you ever send your creative muse on a suicide mission. Some clients will never understand that when you’re hiring a designer you’re contracting a talented problem solver, not a preschool kid drawing within the lines. When you spot these kinds of clients, make sure you protect your creative spirit first. More clients will come, and you’ll need to be prepared for them.

11. Commanding

LetClientGo_11 Nobody needs that kind of pressure in their life. Don’t be someone’s work wife.

12. Rude

LetClientGo_12 Absolutely no excuse for being rude within a work environment. And since we all agree we’re good with one mom, there’s no need for nagging either.

13. Demeaning

LetClientGo_13 Excessive changes and revisions are part of some people’s modus operandi. They simply won’t change because your contract establishes a set number of edits. Their system doesn’t recognize those clauses, and won’t honor them. You’ll find yourself debating with someone who cannot see design as a business and expects you to pursue a seemingly endless amount of creative directions. Let go.

14. Unfocused

LetClientGo_14 Alert: one client should not ruin your decision to become a designer. If this relationship is starting to affect your calling, rethink if it’s worth having it at all.

15. Anxious

LetClientGo_15 Some people can’t manage anxiety. They’ll utter words they don’t mean, yell unfair demands, use hurtful words, and completely suck all the positive energy you bring. If you’ve considered firing tranquilizer darts all over the place, maybe it’s time to end this client relationship.

Your turn!

Have you come across any other signs that it’s time to fire a client?

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About the Author
Laura Busche

Brand strategist. Creating design tools to empower creative entrepreneurs. Author of the Lean Branding book. MA in Design Management from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

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