I know how painful it is when you get a nightmare client. You know, the one where it all starts off nicey nicey and then things start to go wrong. Something may have happened such a missed deadline or you struggle to agree on something. Or (and here’s the worse one) everything’s going swimmingly and then they speak to a “friend” or a “colleague” about the project. You know, that person who’s had NOTHING to do with the project so far, so what the f*ck can they know right?

But whatever happens, the short version of the story is project starts well, something sours the relationship and then you get THAT EMAIL.

You know the one that looks like War & Peace which sites every email, exactly what you said and when, what it said in the contract etc., and you are hurt.

Does any of this sound familiar? Would you like me to breakdown WHY it hurts so much, WHY it happens and how to avoid it FOREVER?



So as a digital or creative expert, you do what you do out of passion. In truth, we’d do it all for free we love it so much (or at least we used to.)

We read about it, watch videos about it and stay up until ridiculous O’clock working on it. AND, it doesn’t feel like work.

And we’re all good people right? I mean at our core, we are essentially people who are trying to make the world a little bit better because we existed, which I think makes us good people right?

And we therefore think that everyone else is like us. We think our client understands the creative process. We think our client wants the same thing as us. And do you know what….we’re dead wrong!!! Ever seen this video…


So your client’s world meets our world and we ‘hope’ all will be ok. Well as a wise man once said “hope in reality is the worst of all evils”, and so if you’re relying on ‘hope’ that your client is a great fit for you, understands you, what you do and how you do it….you’re screwed.



There are a few fundamental (and totally avoidable) reasons why this happens, and we could go into them in depth. But for the sake of this article, let me outline two of them.


The first is that YOU allowed this client to start working with you. YOU agreed to meet with them initially. YOU produced them a proposal. YOU said WAHOO…..let’s start!

What vetting processes do you have in place for new clients?
Do you have a strategy in place that prevents just anyone from meeting with you and your company initially?
Do you have a strategy for deflecting the crazies before they even contact you?
If you have not answered a resounding YES to all three of these questions, then you are open to nightmare clients.


The second reason this happens is because you haven’t taken complete control over every aspect of the process from the outset. And when I say from they outset, I mean form the moment they agree to meet with you.

This is YOUR business, YOUR game, YOUR rules. Unless you take COMPLETE control, again, you’re screwed.

If you allow any part of the project to fall into their control, you’ve lost it.

So if you have to wait for THEM to sign off a milestone or for THEM to make a staged payment or for THEM to give you feedback on something. Control has gone. And once control has gone, chaos sets in.

That’s when a 4 week project turns into a 4 month project. It’s when that client get’s pissed off AND the one waiting patiently behind them because their project gets delayed.

It’s when you have to start working late again which you swore you’d never do.

It’s when your wife starts saying “Why are you still on your computer at this time? You should be in bed….with me!”

And it’s when you begin to think (and I quote the above film here) “How long have I got to work in this bastard game, it is doing my head in?”

Does THIS sound at all familiar?



So asking yourself “How long have I got to work in this bastard game?” is the wrong question.

“How can I take CONTROL of this game?” is a better one.

“How can I WIN this game, consistently, every single time?” is an even better one.

You see it comes down to YOU, which might seem harsh, but it’s not, it’s great news. Because if YOU are the problem, then YOU are the solution.

Know I know this might not necessarily solve all your problems instantly, but I want you to understand that it is solvable. The game can be won and you deserve to win it.



OK, so let me help you straight away to take the first step to solving this.

This is something I help my coaching clients to instal in their agencies and it is pivotal in taking control of a prospective client from the outset…

  • Create a simple form on your website which asks a few key questions that you need to know, prior to any meeting with a prospective client (that would instantly ween out the nightmares.)
  • Once they’ve arranged a meeting with you, you then direct them to the form to complete BEFORE the meeting. Personally I would accompany the email with a video outlining what they need to do and why and also telling them about you guys. Why waste 20 minutes of every new minute talking about the same shit you always do. Film it, send it, done!
  • If they don’t complete it before the meeting, contact them to reschedule the meeting, saying that it would be a waste of their time as they haven’t provided the relevant information (this can all be automated.)
  • If the refuse to complete it or just don’t, get rid of them, because what chance have you got of them making that payment on time or signing off a design if they can’t fill out a simple form.
  • You’ve got to take control of the process right from the outset or you have zero chance of regaining it once the project starts. You’re the expert here and regardless of what you may think, they actually WANT you to take control.

And if you don’t take control, when THAT email hits your inbox you’ll think “SHIT…..I wish I’d listened to James.”

So the reason a client becomes a nightmare is because you didn’t take control.

Sorry. I love you, but it’s true.

YOUR business, YOUR game, YOUR rules. Take control.





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