How to Avoid Clients From Hell BEFORE They Ever Hire You

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Some clients just suck. There’s really no nice way to put it. Learning how to expose and avoid them BEFORE you let them hire you will keep you from tearing your hair out (and stave off the gray hair for just a few more years).

Of course, it’s fun to joke about it… but dealing with hellish clients is actually serious as… well hell!

That’s because getting good at avoiding clients who just don’t fit well with your personality and how you operate will help you avoid getting seriously burnt out and overwhelmed.

And, it’ll keep you loving your job which will make you happier (and helps you make more money).

Of course, having been at this for 10+ years…

I’ve had my fair share of clients from hell…

There was the time I had 4-5 hours worth of coding work dropped on me at 7pm on a Sunday night… that, of course, needed done by early the next morning.

There was the client who accidentally copied me on a nasty email sent to co-workers… of course, bringing up stuff I’d never been told about.

And, you always have the clients who disappear for 3 months then show up out of nowhere and need a bunch of stuff done in the next 2 days!

I’ve been there…

But, here’s what I figured out.

Most of it was my fault…

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Not my fault in that I did something shady and deserved what I got… but my fault in that I was taking any client I could and not honing in on my most ideal clients… and only working with them.

When you do that… you set yourself up for heartache and pain (lots and lots of pain).

If you think about it… it’s pretty dumb. Here you are getting paid 1000s of dollars to build what is probably this person’s most cherished possession (at that time) and you hardly take any time to ensure you’re actually a good match.

It’s no wonder it turns out bad.

But, you can fix it…

Here’s some examples of things I’ve learned over the years…

  1. 85% of the people who follow me online are male… but I generally relate better to women (YES, because I’m a big softy)
  2. Roughly 70% of the people who follow me are ages 24-40… but people 50+ tend to relate better to my personality
  3. I have two very distinct groups of followers with very different ambitions requiring very different messaging

And, there’s a whole lot more. I learned all that by tracking it and paying attention… and then adjusting how I communicate and seeing how it plays out.

And, when I got to market anything I do… I understand exactly how to craft the message to attract the right people for the right project.

So, how do YOU do it?

I target my clients in 3 distinct ways:

  1. Demographics
  2. Interests/Keywords
  3. Core Identity

This gives me the information I need to understand what makes my best clients tick and how to reach them on all the various platforms that are out there.

But, let’s break this down in detail:

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By the numbers… eliminating clients from hell…

Step 1: Start tracking demographics. Most ad platforms have at least some variation of demographic targeting… but you can’t target your ideal demographics if you don’t know what they are.

Probably the easiest way to track demographics is to install Facebook tracking code and set up a custom audience of your leads.

Existing clients would be better but you need a minimum number of people (in the 1000s) for Facebook to show you any demographics so that likely won’t work.

Once you have the demographics set up… go into your Facebook insights and see they look like and get an idea of who your audience.

Then, pay attention to the interactions you have BOTH with clients and leads… and get an idea of what ages, genders, marital statues, etc… you resonate best with.

It won’t be foolproof but you’ll start to get an idea of who you like working with.

Step 2: Identify important interests and keywords. You probably already have a good idea of the general interests your clients have that relate to what you do.

For example, I know my clients are interested in membership sites, WordPress, and WishList Member.

But, you need to go further and pay attention to the language they use to describe their problems, goals, etc. It’s very likely that the language THEY use is similar to what your potential NEW clients will use.

You can verify that language by doing some basic keyword research and see what terms people are searching for in Google.

I’ts important for messaging… but also for advertising and search engine optimization.

Step 3: Connect emotionally with their core identity. Here you want to really get to know WHO they are… their hopes and dreams, their fears, their values and more.

You want to try to connect with them on an emotional level… because you’ll instantly gain more trust and be immediately more persuasive.

A good way to do this is to take some time and think about your ideal clients’ typical day. Describe it in detail.

When do they wake up? What’s the first thing they do? Second? Third? Etc.

How do they feel? What keeps them up at night? What do they wish for?

Doing so helps you to get a grasp of what experience they’re really after so you can focus on 1) giving them that experience and 2) crafting your marketing messages to appeal to them.

And, here’s the side benefit…

When you do all of this… someone who’s not going to be a good fit for you will stick out like a sore thumb. You’ll know immediately that they’re not right for you.

And, you can avoid them BEFORE they ever decide to hire you.


Here’s your challenge…

Ideas are good… but you’ll only get results with action. So, here’s what I want you to do right now to get started with all this.

Take some time today and write 2-3 pages describing your ideal client’s typical day. Describe it in as much detail as you can muster.

It won’t be perfect the first time… but it will reveal things to you that you probably never noticed before.

And, each time you revise it… it’ll get better and better… until you reach a point where you know you have your clients emotions pegged and you know exactly how to communicate with them.

So, go do this right now… and let me know what you discover in the comments below.

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John Morris


I’m a 15-year veteran of freelance web development. I’ve worked with bestselling authors and average Joe’s next door. These days, I focus on helping other freelancers build their freelance business and their lifestyles.

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