Anyone in a service position has dealt with their share of "clients from hell." Designers and contractors of all flavors are creating project ex nihilo from ideas into reality. This process hits all the pitfalls and obstacles of mankind at large. Communication, understanding, foresight, insight, preparation, patience and grace... all of which are hard to come by and in short supply. People aren't trained to create, they are trained to consume. After a lifetime of buying plastic off store shelves for "low prices," people aren't usually ready to enter the world of ex nihilo creativity. Creativity requires a relationship, and in the same way you wouldn't want to date someone crazy, you don't want to do business with crazy clients.
If you haven't already googled it, ex nihilo means "out of nothing." When someone creates a logo, a website, a brochure, an interior design, a custom table, etc., they are starting from the world of ideas and thought and attempting to take it into the world of the senses. During this process, the fantasies are lost, the reality sets in and everyone is usually disappointed. Clients usually "settle" or "give up" rather than feel like they really got what they wanted. People who thrive and succeed in the world of ex nihilo learn how to do a better job of guiding this process, but also do a better job of avoiding immature or small-minded clients. Below are some tips on avoiding "clients from hell."
Make Sure the Client Excepts Responsibility
"I don't know, you're the expert..." If a client is hoping to see an idea in their head enter into reality, they need to accept responsibility for communicating it. You need to make sure you do everything you can to guide them, but at some point they need to meet you. Do they understand you aren't telepathic? Do they expect it right on the first try? Have they taken any steps to show examples of what they want or don't want? If they say "you're the expert," look out, they will become the expert real quick once they see the product.
Good People Make Good Clients
Is your client on his/her fifth spouse, in the middle of a lawsuit, blames lots of people for his problems... then they are going to be a terrible client. If you like someone, respect them as a person, then you are probably going to work well with them. If you feel like you need to shower after a meeting, walk away.
Smart People Have Money, or Know When They Don't
If your client is struggling with money (they usually drop hints), then don't do a "pity" contract. They won't pay you. They will also be impossible to work with. Smart competent people know how much they can afford, and usually have money anyway.
Dumb People Are Very Smart at Using Smart People
The human mind is always good at surviving, even if it isn't good at anything else. Dumb or useless people get really good at using other people. If you are a smart, talented individual, look out! Lots of people are going to try to lead you along to make their lives better at your cost. Respect your needs, draw boundaries and beware of ambiguous promises.
Good People Know Their Limits
Bad/dumb people think they can do everything; good/competent people know their limits. A good client will provide feedback and input as far as their expertise goes, a bad client will tell you how to do your job. Interestingly, a bad client will dictate everything and blame you when it fails. A good client will let you lead, and still understand it is hard to get it right the first time.
Good People Are Busy and Get Stuff Done, Bad People Have Lots of Time and Get Nothing Done
A good client will respond to you quickly, and then leave you alone between deliverables. A bad client will hassle you non-stop about their own concerns, question everything and then not respond to things you need from them. Good people don't have time to micromanage, bad people are bored and LOVE to micromanage to feel important.
Turning Down Bad People Means You Are Free to Get More Good People as Clients
You will stop living in "client hell" as soon as you realize there are plenty of good people in this world. Every bad client you take means you have just closed the door on finding a good one. Your time is your most precious resource, don't waste it on bad people. You don't "need" the bad client, if you are struggling for money or work, a bad client will make it worse, not better.