Recently I’ve been writing some articles that are angled more on the project management/IT consultant view than strictly a direct hire, working in a PMO-type of project manager. As I continue down that path I’d like to discuss the concept of watching out for, recognizing, and handling potential project clients who may be problematic or difficult to deal with.

When you sit down with a new project client the first thing you’re going to be thinking of is putting your best foot forward and listening very carefully to what they are saying so that you correctly perceive their real need.

However, that will not always be enough. You must also be watching out for yourself and determining if this is even a client you want to do project work for. And figuring that out is up to you – they certainly aren’t going to tell you up front if they have a hidden agenda or if they’re going to be very difficult to work with. You have to listen for cues and make your own determination.

That said, there are three types of potential project clients that you likely won’t want to touch and I’d like to discuss these three types here. We will identify their characteristics or likely telltale signs and try to better equip you going into your next new client negotiation meeting.

The rate chiseler

The rate chiseler

Experienced PM consultants warn you to be wary of clients who are overly creative with payment methods, in particular clients who tempt you into working for royalties on the project outcome instead of offering cash for your project work. Never fall for the statement, “The market is huge for a system like this – you’ll be able to make a fortune when this thing is done!” All that project customer wants is a free project and a share of your future profits for ‘making you rich.’

Watch out for project consulting customers who express surprise – or even irritation – when you charge for things like hour-long support calls or site visits to explain things that have already been documented (and similar legitimate billable actions). If you’ve made it clear up front that these are things the client should expect to pay for – and if you’ve built appropriate tasks into the project schedule that they can view with a tool like Seavus Project Viewer, then the client should be willing to pay up. The client who is constantly trying to get free work from you is not a client you want to deal with. You can sometimes identify these clients in the sales process when they repeatedly try to get you to do significant amounts of work for free, or if they show irritation when told that you charge for all but the first meeting with a client.

The ego hog

The ego hog

Another problem client who raises a red flag is the ‘ego hog.’ This type of client tries to turn every situation into one with a winner and a loser. The tip-off that you’ve encountered this type of client may come during contract negotiations when the client shows inflexibility about modifying even the smallest of terms he’s suggesting. He may become insulting and possibly even aggressive. Or he may attack your qualifications and abilities in a personal way. This should represent a huge flashing red light to you and tell you to “run, don’t walk” from this situation. Do you really want the work that badly that you’ll deal with this type of behavior on a potentially long-term basis? I don’t think so.

In this same vein of client is the know-it-all who responds to your initial attempts at solving his problem by shooting them down trying to blow you away with techie snippets he’s obviously picked up from the internet. This is the type of client who is likely to try to get a detailed proposal out of you only to turn it down and take that information somewhere else and try to get it down cheaper – with your ideas.

The rush, rush client

Finally, be wary of the client who seems like he is in such a rush that he wants you to get started immediately without a signed contract, spec, or any ‘trivial’ paperwork relating to the engagement that might keep him from meeting his deadline.