How can I screen potential clients to remove those most likely to give me more trouble than they are worth?

(This is a generic question, anyway my area of expertise is software development)

  • It would help greatly if you would specify your area of expertise and nature of your potential clients. This way you will get only vague answers as you did in your first question about this topic. – Erchi May 22 '13 at 10:54
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    In your 20 years of experience, what troubles have you encountered? – Andrew May 22 '13 at 10:57
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    Please, do not mark as duplicate. Other question has been downvoted because it's a "open question". So I refine the question here. – Seraphim May 22 '13 at 11:00
  • Hi @Seraphim, if your post is downvoted or closed, use the feedback from other users to edit and improve it. Reposting questions just creates noise and makes it harder for others to find all of the answers that may help them, since those answers are fragmented across different questions. Hope this helps! – jmort253 May 23 '13 at 5:20

In general if it smells fishy, look elsewhere. In general these fall into a few groups but they have a few things in common.

In general, you want customers who down to earth and professional. Customers with their heads in the clouds, or which are unprofessional in their dealings with you, should be fired at the earliest opportunity (preferably before you make a bid!). A few distinct trouble signs I have seen are:

  1. Drama during the bidding process. Big red flag. If things start badly you can bet they will always go sour.

  2. Also in general if I get a sense that there is bad blood between them and a past consultant this can be a warning sign, but isn't always. In general, if I know the other consultant and my opinion is the same as theirs I will take the project. If my opinion is different I will not. Otherwise I will note, and proceed with caution.

  3. Customers with unrealistic expectations. This never ends well. Now there are customers out there with no technical knowledge who are a delight to work with, and there are some who know just enough to be dangerous, and who think they know more than you do. Stay away from the latter.

  4. Customers who don't know what they are doing. If someone sends you a "Contracting Agreement" and it mentions building codes and you wonder what this has to do with software, go elsewhere (yes this happened to me).

Otherwise, a good rule to keep in mind is that projects tend to follow patterns established in the bidding phase or during initial contact, but during the bidding phase everyone is on their best behavior. If the best behavior shows some cracks, you might want to wonder what is underneath.


It's hard to determine who is a harmful client but some basic points would be helpful

1 those who are not Short and Sweet
Good client knows that you are busy ( even busier than them) and they respect your time and dont send dozen of mail if you dont answer there first mail in 2-3 minutes

2 those who said I Need It Done NOW
they’ll expect you to drop everything you’re doing right at that moment and take on their project for less the cost

3 those wants to meet in persona
those client who wants to meet in person more then once/over and hour always been a waste of time avoid these clients

4 same thing(point 3) goes with phone call

  • I definitely disagree with 1) and 3) - some clients think in waves, so they use mail in a chat-like way. It is not pleasant, but that doesnt mean the client is not worth the while. And regarding personal meeting - intuition is big part of running a business and meeting people in person can give your unsconscius mind some fuel. I would be much more suspicious with clients who do not want to meet in person from time to time, because that means they dont care who does the work. And regarding time - that depends on profession. For example in my field personal meeting has to take at least 2 hours. – Erchi May 22 '13 at 11:09

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