As a contractor, your reputation is important to you. You probably know that word-of-mouth from satisfied clients has helped your business grow. Unfortunately, unhappy clients tend to be a lot vocal than happy ones. In fact, a satisfied customer will usually tell around five people about their positive experiences with a contractor — while an angry one will usually tell approximately 10 people that you’re terrible.

A difficult client doesn’t just mean potential damage to your reputation, however. Some clients send up warning signals or “red flags” that they’re likely to be unhappy with you, no matter what you do. A relationship with that type of client can easily dissolve into a nightmare and end in litigation.

So what are the signs that a potential client may be too much trouble to handle? Consider these:

  • They have unrealistic expectations. Maybe they’re convinced they know how much something should cost because they used an online calculator. Maybe a relative told them that they were getting “ripped off” by any estimate that went above a certain amount. Either way, they’re sure your price is too high and aren’t shy about saying so.
  • They’re vocal about past disappointments. You barely have a foot on their property when they’re telling you about all their past contractors who have failed them in one respect or another. Every contractor they have ever had is portrayed as incompetent or a cheat.
  • They have no clue what they want. They don’t want to dictate your work, but they also don’t want to take responsibility for the outcome. They give you vague instructions, have undefined goals and seem to want you to figure out what they’ll actually like.
  • They want a bargain, not quality. They want you to justify every dollar on your estimate and challenge every line item on your invoice. They’re clearly aiming to haggle hard over your fees and seem very grudging about labor costs.
  • They’re okay with dishonesty. This kind of client may try to encourage you to skip permits and ignore safety standards to save time or money. That dishonesty can carry over into all their dealings — including their agreements with you.

Much of the time, you can spot a problem client before you take a job and simply decline. If you’re already in deep, however, and the disputes are growing heated, don’t hesitate to seek legal assistance.