Nancy’s Note:  I just had an an experience with a bad client.  I ignored the red flags and just kept looking at the project, not paying attention to the client. Luckily the plug was pulled and I now,  have nothing to do with that client.  Shame on me!  I should have read Peter’s article and realized that when the client’s brother-in-law, who was the general contractor on the project, walked away, something was radically wrong.

For those who have not read this article before, it definitely is worth the read.  If you have read it, read it again!  I’m going to print it out and tack it on my wall!

For a week now, I have been wondering what will come out the end of my pen. Yesterday morning it discovered me! How to avoid the Bad Client! Nancy and I had brushed on the subject several times before, concluding we can only blame ourselves for not spotting the Bad Client sooner or ignoring the signs altogether!

We are all optimists in the design game, so we would rather jump into our imagination before looking at the client; besides, they don’t know what we know, or they wouldn’t be hiring us.

I have learned over the years, the most costly thing in the world is to be right. I have lost money, materials and friendships over being right. Because a recent bad client experience woke me up early in the morning, I began to work on a resolution to define the best thing to avoid bad clients in the future. The following list is meant to inspire you to make your own variation to fit your style.

1. File a 30 Day Notice of Intension to Lien the property. If you mention this up front and the Potential Client questions you, merely state, “It’s a standard practice and company policy.” If the client seems very upset, you might ask your lawyer to check on the client’s legal status before continuing. It will be money well spent.

2. Questions to ask myself:
     A. How do I feel about the client; first impressions can even occur over the phone.
     B. If other people have failed, what makes me the exception?
     C. How much do I need this job?
     D. Is this a rescue?

3. Questions to ask the Potential Client:
     A. How did they hear about my services?
     B. Who recommended me? Referrals are positive, but still need to be verified; does the phrase “partners in crime” ring a bell?
     C. Do they have sketches, drawings, or clips from magazines?
     D. To save time,I like to hear what they DO NOT want.

4. Questions about the money!
     A. What is their budget?
     B. Who is the person who approves the budget?

5. Questions about the process.
     A. Do they have someone helping them make decisions?
     B. What is the best way for me to work with them?
     C. What problems have they had so we can avoid them?
     D. Have they fired a person or a company lately?

6. Have the client list four companies &/or workers whom have worked for them in the past 1 or 2 years as referrals. Include who, work performed, results, and their contact information; Email – Phone & Fax numbers – Text Number etc.

7. Have a signed detail contract and a retainer or deposit before starting work. If you are providing construction services, create a second contract. You will know by the end of the design phase whether you wish to continue.


LISTEN carefully to what the prospective client is telling you.

Pay special attention to:
     A. People who have failed and why.
     B. Companies the prospective client will not do business with.
     C. Suppliers the client will not buy from.
     D. Comments with the words “won’t” “never” “can’t” “mad” “sued” “fired” etc; any words that tell you of a negative experience.

You can find answers without direct questions by sharing. Affiliations can sometimes define the style of the client, such as education, life goals, clubs and associations. Telling a simple story of a bad experience may illicit the Potential Client telling a worse story, wherein you learn their history. Let them freely share their experiences with you.

Above all do not be afraid to walk away if you have any doubts.  Always, follow your instincts.


150PBs Protrait img_6395Photographer, Writer, Poet, Publisher, Architect, Industrial Designer, Grandfather, Mentor, Friend, Philosopher, and Furniture Builder. I love to travel as much as possible on a crooked path leading into unknowns. The camera and the computer are my favorite tools, although a pencil and a blank page can do as much explaining as a 1000 words. Because I am color blind (protanopia, red-green blindness) I cannot mix paint colors successfully, so most of my art is created from photographs or pencil. While visiting Monet’s gardens last fall, I became acutely aware of the vividness of the colors in his gardens, and the lily pond. I realized because of the moisture in the air, there is a natural sun filter softening the shadows. This simple natural filter changed my perception of color, photography, and painting. I have a new tool to add to my arsenal: soft light! It allows colors to be vivid because the darkness of the shadows in not competing.

I am living in Moon Valley, Phoenix, with my wife, Adrienne Gill and can be contacted at PeterBurt@soaringimages.com