Behavioral Science

11 Excuses Used by Bad Clients – and How To Rebut Them

by . April 23rd, 2014

It’s only human nature to want the biggest reward for the lowest risk and at the lowest prices. Unfortunately, this is simply not how the world works, nor is it how lasting success is generally built.

That doesn’t stop many clients from trying though. This is especially true for small-time contractors and freelancers. While newbies tend to fall prey to clients  looking to get something for nothing, even veteran contractors from get lowball offers fairly regularly.

Have any of these things ever happened to you?

Top 11 Excuses Used by Bad Clients – and How To Rebut Them

11.) “I don’t know what’s wrong. I just don’t like it.”

We’re not mind readers. Even if we were, it would be impossible to read something that simply isn’t there. Either ask them to help you figure out what they dislike so you can work on it, or demand compensation for time, labor, and materials expended. Anything else would be unfair.

10.) “Think of the exposure!”

This phrase is the bane of struggling freelancers and bands everywhere. You don’t see restaurants give out free food  for exposure, hoping that someone will offer to pay for their meals a few years down the road.

9.) “We’ll need you to show us what you can do, then we can negotiate a fee for the next one.”

While this excuse serves to devalue your work like all the other items in the list, it’s also got the added bonus of being downright unethical. If clients need to see what you’re capable of, your portfolio and past experiences should be enough.

If they aren’t, build them.

8.) “Think of this as an opportunity!”

An opportunity for whom? Think hard, because while there may be some legitimately decent opportunities that come up by working for free, there’s a reason veteran contractors tend to roll their eyes at this very phrase.

7.) “We only need you to teach us how to do it.”

While consultancy is fair game, it’s another thing entirely when they use this excuse to get more than just training out of the whole deal. Everything you deliver should be accounted for. Give freebies at your own peril.

6.) “That other guy does this for ______.

Maybe you should go to the other guy.

5.) “We’ll make it up the next time.”

How about you make it up, now.

4.) “We can cover the materials expenses.”

The time and money spent developing your skills did not materialize in a vacuum. Time spent learning how to do what you do in particular, will never come back. Time that could be spent working for decent human beings. Dump any client who refuses to pay for your time and labor.

3.) “Sorry, but it’s not in our budget.”

During negotiations: I’m sure there are others who could help you at the rates you need.

Post contract: I guess you should have considered that before you signed the contract, did you? (You did have a contract written up, right?)

More: F*ck you, Pay Me: Why Creative Workers and Freelancers Need Contracts

2.) “We’re buddies, aren’t we?”

Then why are you wasting my time and cheapening my livelihood?

More: Friendship Dilemma: Charging for Services Rendered

1.) “We’re only paying you for that one thing, since we didn’t use the other ones we ordered.”

You pay for what you order. Not for what you use. Even a five year-old understands this. Delivering orders uses up resources, regardless of whether the delivered goods and services are used.

How To Avoid Bad Clients

4.) Contracts, contracts, contracts!

A written, reviewed, and negotiated contract is the most important thing any self-respecting contractor should demand from their clients. There’s absolutely no reason you should start work before both parties sign a contract that they’ve both reviewed and find acceptable. Always try to see if there are points that you could negotiate.

More: 7 Things Freelancers Should Negotiate on Lowball Contracts

3.) Get a Lawyer

Any business – even a single proprietorship – can benefit from the counsel of a decent lawyer. Just the fact that you’re willing to protect your legal rights will make you appear more professional. Indeed, it can even be argued that anything less is unprofessional.

A good lawyer will save you far more money than you will spend paying them – something even the worst of your clients understand. Shop around for a lawyer and do your homework like you would on anything else important. Make sure not to treat them like your worst clients treat you.

2.) Differentiate!

You need to give clients a reason not to lump you with everyone else in your field. You should be prepared to offer something your clients want that does not involve you grovelling for scraps.

Being good at what you do, or doing something else everyone else isn’t willing to do are two ways to start.


1.) Don’t Be Afraid to Reject Clients

Learn to say no.  Opportunity cost is a fact of life. You will never be able to grab all the opportunities that come your way. By trying to do just that, you may end up wasting the ones you do have by producing poor quality work. Learn to accept that some things will slip past you, and concentrate on doing better on the other projects you do take on.

If you have to reject someone though, don’t burn any bridges. Explaining that you may not be able to deliver the desired work to standards you set for yourself can be a good starting point.

What’re your worst client stories? What other tips do you recommend to avoid bad clients? Comment below!

Image Sources:

Tom Simpson via photopin cc
John Tann via photopin cc


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.