The ones that want you to give them everything, at the highest quality, but then nickel & dime the budget. The ones that hire you to do a job but don't trust you to actually DO the job. The ones who won't acknowledge that they don't know what the hell they want. The I-already-know-how-this-works-because-I've done-this-before people (except that they don't know how it works) and the can-you-do-it for-cheaper? folks. Ridiculous turnaround times, unrealistic expectations, clients who think they can do your job better than you, & clients who just want to use you for your resources--these folks can quickly become an entrepreneur's worst nightmare.
Whether you're a Photographer, Graphic Designer, Personal Trainer, Copywriter, Fashion Stylist, Videographer, Baker, Producer, PR guru, Interior Designer or any other kind of creative business owner, you'll probably encounter one of these people at some point during the life of your business. Do I hope that they never--EVER--cross your path? Of course. But the reality is that they probably WILL show up along your entrepreneurial journey because they're there to teach you how to show up more fully in your business. Knowing them will raise your blood pressure, create tons of physical stress & almost make you were sitting in an office cubicle instead of crafting a career you love...but these people can be really great for your business if you can learn what they're really trying to teach you.Let me explain.
Over the course of my 5.5 years in design, I've probably had 3 clients who I'd put in the no-matter-what-happens-please-absolutely-never-ever-call-my-line-again category. Some as recently as 2015. With two of the projects there came a point where I thought, "there's not enough money you could pay me that would make this a pleasant-enough experience to continue"--too many changes to the scope, too many fluxuations in the budget & not enough trust to execute the project in a way that would make this collaborative design process fun. And for awhile I did what we normally do in these cases--complain to family & close friends about what an absolute hemorrhoid these people had become. But that quickly got old. And I knew deep down that they weren't just there to get on my nerves but that they (and my experiences with them) could teach me something, if I changed my perspective.Because all the "awful clients" are really doing is showing you where you need to "tighten up" in your biz--where you need to be more specific in your contracts, raise your prices, eliminate some services or set clearer personal & professional boundaries.
So I did. And here's what I realized: that in the beginning of my career, as a fresh & bright-eyed designer, I'd constructed an ideal client profile that consisted of something like this: Good eye.Great budget. And that was pretty much it. What I most wanted were clients with a good eye for design who'd let me execute my vision + a sufficient-enough budget ($10k & up) with which to execute said design. They should "benice", "be cool" and "be flexible". And when I found those people, I was straight up overjoyed. But now that I've had time to develop as a designer, expand my professional interests, work with a variety of clients & grow as a person (read: I've acquired some skin in the game),that short list doesn't cut it anymore.Not if I intend to continue doing work I love, for people I love working with.
Here's the invaluable insight The Awfuls have helped me realize: I'm no longer willing to settle for clients with just "good money & good style" and I can no longer focus on the traditional quantitative demographics like age, education level, marital status, family makeup & income level to identify the people I most want to work with(categories we entrepreneurs are traditionally taught to use). Instead, I've shifted to a Values-Based Client Profilewhich means I care more about WHO my clients are and what THEY value then what they're bringing to the table.TheAwfuls have schooled me on this: My ideal/targeted clients are people with a high level of personal integrity--ones who take responsibility for their behavior. They're people who value my time as a professional & who understand that Interior Design is a professional luxury service. These people trust the process of design and understand that there's no one size fits all design approach. My ideal clients believe in the importance of self-care & view the creation of a beautiful home as an extension of their well-being. They communicate authentically, are decisive, have a great sense of humor & genuinely want to work with a designer. Do I still want them to have a stylish eye & enough of a budget to execute their wishes? Absolutely. But I don't worry about those things because they're encompassed within the values/standards I set regarding the people I want to work with. Because someone who understands that Interior Design is a professional luxury service would never belittle me or themselves by asking me to render a service for less than it's value. Someone who really wants to work with a designer will give me the freedom & trust to work my magic and create something jaw dropping for them. Someone with a high level of personal integrity is honest about their budget upfront. See what I mean?
Here's another example: If you're an "artisanal croissant maker", your client is not "anyone who can afford $2.25 for a piece of bread". It's someone who LOVES a delicious buttery & flakey croissant. Someone who will find a bakeshop they love & drive 20 minutes clear across town on a Sunday morning to read the New York Times & have a croissant because it's their "thing"--an act of self-love. It's someone who believes in the value of knowing where their food comes from. High quality butter.Locally grown ingredients. Developing relationships with the people who make their food. A person who believes that not just anyone can make "good bread". If you're a croissant artisan or specialty bread maker, your clients are not "anybody who will buy a croissant"--you want the people who appreciate the value of the service you're providing. And if you really love what you do, you should want the same thing, too.
I'm not implying that when you encounter The Awfuls that it automatically means you need better people--that was just one of my lessons. I've also learned that if I have a misunderstanding with a client it's probably a sign that I need to update my contract & make sure the major details are in writing. And I've learned that I needed to stop giving clients discounts that they didn't ask for because giving without explaining the true value of the discount means they won't understand the value of the service they're receiving. And because of that, they will ride me bareback (not to mention that clients who want a discount should AT LEAST have the balls to ask for one). Because I've had the ability to create my own path, I intend to work with the kind of people I genuinely want to be around. Think about these questions with regard to your biz: For whom are you making your product? How do you want your clients to interact with YOU? Who do you want them to be in their personal lives? What does investing in your product mean that they value?? I NEVER would this kind of clarity about my business & my tribe if it hadn't been for The Awfuls. When I got fed up enough & realized I never wanted to work with those kind of people again, it gave me the push to figure out the kind of people I DO want to work with, which has made all the difference. And it's also why I don't really believe in "awful clients"--I just see them as the guides who show us where we aren't in alignment with who we really are & what we really want. All they're really here to do is point you towards greater happiness....so acknowledge what you need to change & go change it. 'Cause your best work is still waiting for you.