7 warning signs of a bad client for marketing and consultancy businesses

Client selection is essential to businesses offering consultancy or retainer services. Often as consultancy businesses we feel like we need to service every lead or pursue any opportunity to do business. However, we only have so many hours in a day and can only service a certain amount of clients effectively. Serving everyone without any sort of criteria is not going to work.

As Dan Lok says:

“If you want to be effective, you have to be selective”

Dan Lok also says, ‘the quality of your business is determined by the quality of your clients.’ This is the ultimate truth. Your clients are your click. They are the ones who should have your back like you have theirs.

I’ve spoken recently of finding the ideal client. This post however is about determining clients that are definitely not a good fit for our businesses and the signs to look out for.

1) ‘Money is no object.’

So we ask a potential client if they have an idea of their budget and they tell you ‘money is no object.’ We might be inclined to get all pumped up about this ‘no-brainer’ deal we’ve just been offered by this ideal client. Time for a touchdown!

Time to bend over backwards and get the deal! Sorry to burst the bubble. Clients that say this to you are not going to be a good client and aren’t worth our time. Money is always an object. Money is always a problem. How are we going to define expectations if money isn’t an object? How are we going to define measurements for success if money isn’t an object? How are we going to define a ROI if money isn’t an object?

A client saying ‘money is no object’ is not clear about what they are trying to achieve. A client who is not clear about what they are trying to achieve is a client that isn’t clear about whether they are going to commit.

‘Money is no object’ roughly translated means ‘you do all the work. Throw some ideas at me, I’ll let you know if they are any good’. ‘Money is no object’ roughly translated means ‘I’m a hero, I don’t need you, you need me’. ‘Money is no object’ is a red herring. Stay away.

2) ‘Do you have a money back guarantee?’

Consultancy services are outcome based. They are also often dependent on the commitment of the client to the process. A client looking for a money back guarantee is someone who is predicting failure and safeguarding themselves. They are already thinking about how the relationship won’t work. They are already thinking about how they can get out of making a decision without taking any sort of accountability.

Our type of service is time based. There are so many factors that go towards creating success. There are so many factors involved in discovering a business alone before any results are delivered. We can guarantee that we will deliver on what we promise to do and when we promise to do it but that’s it. Anyone offering a guarantee on a consultancy based service is not telling the truth. Consultancy based services require agreed outcomes and objectives and agreed steps for getting there. The client has to agree on the strategy involved. They need to share ownership if things don’t work out as they had planned. We need our clients to go all in. They shouldn’t be looking for a way out before they do.

3) ‘I don’t really have any major pain or problem.’

Our clients need pain. They need motivation. We need our clients to commit and we need a purpose to commit to. If they don’t have to do it, they don’t have to commit. Maybe they won’t in the end. A client who has no obvious pain or problem to resolve may decide you’re ‘not the right fit’ at the point that you present the proposal (usually when they see the cost). If they are just exploring and not actively looking for help, this is likely. They are also more likely to shop your offering around. No urgency means no hurry to spend money.

Our services aren’t cheap. Clients that don’t have a pain to resolve can be less focused. Abstract focus makes delivering results very difficult. Clients like this can ask a lot of questions. They often want to shift their approach and strategy. They often want to workshop more ideas. They often need to be repeatedly followed up. This all takes time. Time is money. If you aren’t working to solve a specific problem, you are running the risk of not providing a valuable service and having a disappointed client in the end.

4) ‘I’ve been burned before.’

It’s funny. When dating, we don’t really want to be the rebound relationship. This is the same with business. The rebound relationship can sound like an easy sell. I mean, how difficult is it to be better than a**hole or fairer than a shyster right?

This is a clear warning sign. Client’s that have been burned before rarely offer an objective point of view on the experience. They don’t mind bagging out another business, yet they aren’t going to tell you if they had anything to do with the breakup. They don’t want you to know they if can be stubborn, moody, high maintenance, paranoid, cheap, dishonest, hypocritical, selfish, flighty or unfaithful. They are playing the blame game from day dot. They are warning you, right there and then that they are going to be picking at your every movement and wondering what you are doing with their money every minute of the day.

5) ‘I’m desperate, please help!’

If a client needs to be rescued, this isn’t a good sign. Maybe they have tried everything. Maybe their business is in trouble and they have a huge amount of pain. Maybe if you can’t help them, no one else can. Feel good! Be a saviour! That’s what Jesus would do!

We aren’t miracle workers. It’s sad to say, some people just can’t be helped. If someone can’t help themselves, how are we going to work together with them to help them?

If someone is struggling with business, it isn’t always a business issue. You aren’t going to know if something deeper is going on below the service. Maybe they have a negative relationship with money. Maybe they struggle with accountability. Maybe they have a negative association with capitalism. Maybe they have a negative association with trust. Maybe they don’t like to take advice. Maybe they don’t like to take critique. Whatever the reason for their struggles, someone yelling ‘please help’ at you isn’t the way you want to go into a business relationship.

6) ‘I’ve just got another 6000 questions’.

Yes questions are important. Indeed, they are important to establishing trust throughout the sales process. However, too many questions are a different thing. Ever get that client that needs to know every single aspect of every little step of every part of the process of your service before they commit? This is a sure sign that your client management time is going to be extended from the day they sign on. These types of clients are telling you in no uncertain terms – I am unable to trust. Those who don’t trust you aren’t going to be a good client. They are saying, ‘I don’t want to collaborate, I want to control’. They will attempt to micromanage the service that you are offering. They are likely to be emailing you continuously, calling you continuously, going outside of the boundaries continuously. They’ll question everything you do. They will question every move you make. They won’t be able to be decisive. You won’t be able to make the project successful.

7) Oh my god what a ridiculous fee!

In our business, the fee is relative to the outcome. The fee is an investment for a positive return. The fee is what we are worth because we know what we are doing. We don’t need to justify this in comparison to our competitors. We don’t need to tell people why we charge what we charge. We need to make the outcome worth the investment. That’s it. Good business owners already think in this manner.

A client that says ‘Oh my! That’s high! I can get that from Jimmy the all-rounderdown the road for half that price!’ is someone that we simply do not want to deal with. They aren’t looking at the big picture. They aren’t considering the outcome. They aren’t considering the fee an investment – they are considering it as a cost. They are always going to be looking at us that way. As a cost.

Someone who is always looking at us as a cost is considering us a commodity. Consulting isn’t a commodity and if someone views you that way right off the bat, tell them goodbye.


As consultancy based businesses, we have to be strategic. We have to prevent risk. We have to maximise outcomes. That means our focus must be crystal clear about the ability to deliver those outcomes. It is always, always about the outcome. We must beware of clients warning us right from the beginning that the outcome is the last thing on their mind. At the end of the day, we may get the sale, we may get the money, but the cost of our reputation will far outweigh any benefit we perceive. We all know, upset people want to tell everyone about their ‘bad experience’. When they leave out the part where they contributed to it. At the end of the day, that’s on us.

Tell us your client red flags.

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