How To Attract Perfect Clients (And Repel The Clients Who Drive You Nuts)

If you're a freelancer or service professional, you know the pain of the “problem client”. Once they are “inside your gates”, they cause nothing but trouble.

They complain about everything from the font size in the PDF you gave them, to the claim that you didn't give enough detail in the product, or that you have too much information in the product. They pester you with the most requests, that go beyond the scope of what they paid for. They threaten you.

You've been there, surely. You've said to yourself, “Oh, great. He's one of those. A problem client.”

Once you realize you have one of these trouble-makers on your hands, you are faced with two choices: continue to receive the abuse heaped upon you… or fire them. Neither of these is pleasant. But my advice is: as soon as you recognize one of these clients, show them the door. Get paid for the work you've done, pay them back for any work you haven't done, and move on as quickly as possible.

But how do we end up with these “Problem Clients”? Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to avoid working with these jerks to begin with? Well, I've got good news – you can learn to attract your “Perfect Client”, and repel the “Problem Client”, by using these ‘5 Filters for Client Selection.'

  1. The best defense is a strong offense. In other words, to defend yourself against being bamboozled into working with a jerk, offend the jerk first. So they won't ask to do business with you. You do this by sending them signals that you and they have different value systems, and different rules of engagement.
  2. Boldly state your core beliefs, especially the controversial ones. Most will advise you to keep your most personal beliefs “out of your business”. I say the only reason to do that is if you have decided to wear the mantle of mediocrity. Don't wear the mantle of mediocrity; put on the garments of greatness. Only work with clients who meet your criteria. Say what you believe in. And don't take the “pansy way” out, by sharing  lame, “safe” beliefs that you know everyone would agree with (like “I believe in honesty, puppies, and being nice to little old ladies.”)
  3. Be consistently authentic. Don't “construct” a persona to present to your audience, as others so often suggest you do. Just be the real you. The only reason authenticity feels awkward is you've gotten into the habit of “faking it”. Being real helps create a lot of polarization you want, and it does so automatically and effortlessly. As Bill Johnson says, “If you pay attention to what you think, you'll never have to think about what you say.”
  4. Constantly communicate your criteria for working with clients. Of course, first you need to know those criteria. So take some time to make two lists. List #1 is “the things I like about my perfect clients.” List #2 is “the things that drive me crazy about my problem clients.” Once you have written down these two lists, the fun begins.
  5. Charge premium prices. Nothing drives away the whiners, complainers, and downers faster than a steep rate. And if you don't hide the fact that you're expensive, but proudly proclaim it, you will not only drive away the pot-stirrers, you will attract better clients. I have worked both ends of the spectrum. And I can tell you without hesitation that on the whole, clients that pay $2,500 for your services will be far more likely to make your life miserable than those who paid $25,000 for that same service. I know this seems counterintuitive, but it is true.

How To Put These Filters To Work For You?

Decide that starting today, you simply will not accept clients who bring any of the”stuff that drives you crazy” to the table.

You will only accept clients who fit your “perfect client profile” to a tee. No exceptions.

How do you do this? I think the best way is to find natural ways of “seeding” these criteria right into your marketing and content. Use strong language. Here's an example – you use copy similar to the following on your website, or in a blog post or email:

What I look for in a client is:

  • Someone who knows the value and power of direct response marketing, and deploying that power on the Internet.
  • Someone who is willing to pay to get professional help with their marketing and business building efforts.
  • Someone who has in fact already invested money in training or consulting before, and actually did something with that training.
  • Someone who is hiring me for my expertise and plans to heed my advice.

Conversely, here are a few things that I will not tolerate from a client:

  • Rate-grinding.
  • Trying to sell me a “sob story” about why I should work with you cheap (or free.)
  • Unrealistic expectations.
  • Constant complaining.
  • Micromanagement.
  • Grammar police.
  • Failure to respect boundaries.

I don't share these criteria to make you angry or to judge you; I've just learned who usually turns out to be a good match for working with us, and who doesn't.

That copy makes it easy for potential clients to get a sense of whether they want to work with me, or not. They are making the selection themselves.

And in case you missed this: I just now did what I'm telling you to do. I gave you my criteria for working with someone… so if you are a person who complains a lot, or wants to micromanage a freelancer, or who is looking for a “cheap date”, you can clearly see we won't be a good fit for one another.

On Final “Magic Bullet” For Finding Perfect Clients

Make them apply to work with you (and mean it).

Give your  potential clients an application form, or require them to go through an interview process. Make it clear you do not accept everyone who applies.

The purpose of this tactic is not to deliver a veiled sales pitch. It's to get very clear on what you are selling, who it is for, and for whom it is not. Some people really do use “applications” and “interviews” as part of a sales process, and though they say they don't just take anyone as a client, in fact they will accept anyone who can write a check that will clear.

That approach will just get you more clients that make you miserable (and vice-versa).

You have to mean it when you say you are screening people to determine if you are a good match. And when you mean it, both sides win.

I have turned many clients away, clients who really wanted to work with me, because I knew we didn't have the right chemistry, or share the same values.

You must be prepared to do the same.

What To Expect From This Polarizing Approach

Will you get complaints about all this? Yes.

Will some people feel the need to write long diatribes, explaining why you are wrong to operate your business this way? Yes.

Will some people stop doing business with you? Possibly.

But your people – your “tribe” – will hear your voice above all the confusion in the marketplace. They will be drawn to you. They will rally to your cause. They have been paying attention, and already know and agree with your core values.

These people are your people.

Lead them well, and they will pay you well.

And you will find yourself attracting more of these “perfect clients”, and repelling the “problem children”.

Question: How do you deal with problem clients? Click here to share your thoughts on this article.

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at

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  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Ray, thank you SO much for this. I follow the application & interview process and am very “matter-of-fact” when it comes to who I will/won’t work with. I’ve definitely had my share of ‘lessons learned’ when it comes to client personalities. I’m adding some of your suggestions to my site now. Thanks again! P.S. When you say: “and I can tell you without hesitation that on the whole, clients that pay $2,500 for your services will be far more likely to make your life miserable than those who paid $25,000 for that same service.” – it brought my thinking up to a much higher level. I’ve already increased my rates for 2015. Thank you!

    • Jevonnah, you won’t be sorry about increasing your rates. 🙂

  • Sharon Brodin

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom on this, Ray. I’m just starting to build my freelance business and will be keeping this advice handy!

    • Glad it was useful Sharon – this is a big issue for freelancers, so it’s good to get ahead of it when you’re starting out.

  • Dr. Michael Hudson

    As always great insight Ray…your thinking aligns with some of the things I have been addressing lately…saying no to the types of clients who just don’t fit and who create nightmares (often recurring and long-lasting) for me. If people follow your model and craft their own set of filters I think they will find that they understand their business better and have a stronger vision of what they want–something everyone needs (and too many lack). WELL DONE!!

  • When I was young, my father gave me a project to sift stones out of a big pile of sand. I had to use one of those manual sifters – the one where you shake it back and forth. I don’t have any recollection of what he did with that sand, but I do know I got rid of a lot of rocks that day. The criteria you use to sift out the bad rocks (clients) reminds me of that day. Thanks Ray for the article!

  • It is so tempting to compromise when you are just starting out, as I am. This post was so well-timed, Ray. I need to keep this article handy so that my client relationships work best – for both of us.
    Thanks, Kathleen

  • Great article Ray…really appreciate you sharing these insights to help me along on my journey of finding my perfect clients. It certainly does sound counter-intuitive but it makes sense even from my own perspective of the people I choose to follow online. Sometimes you just need to read it in print for it to be clear!

  • Donielle Buie

    Thanks for this great post, Ray! I worked in client services for many years and unfortunately felt much of the pain you described with challenging client (and the joy with great ones!). I am preparing to launch a service business focused on busy families (transporting kids to and from activities) and I am currently conducting some (potential) customer interviews. That process is really helping me to discern who I want to work with and reminding me to charge what my service will be worth! Thanks and Happy 2015! Looking forward to learning from you.

  • Ray, my friend, you are a mind reader. The timing of this post could not be better! Last year, I had a few clients that sucked the life and $$ out of me. I realized that I let my guard down and lacked necessary boundaries and (to paraphrase Nancy Sinatra) let their boots do some walkin’ all over me. I love your 5 filters, especially #5: Charge Premium Prices. One important lesson I would like to share is fee structure. Make sure you have a set fee structure and that you stick to it. In my case, I need to be paid on delivery of final drawings. Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  • Great advice Ray.

    I have been screening all of my potential clients since the later portion of last years and I have already made up my mind that I will not work for a nickle and dime kind of client.

  • Ron K

    Thanks so much. Just ran across your site while working on my 2015 goals (Best Year Ever). This post is absolutely the best I’ve read on how to keep trouble “out of the kitchen” in one’s business.

  • This is an excellent article. You really do need to get rid of those clients who will suck your energy out, and in doing so you will become an even better specialist/ coach/ consultant. I love the actionable tips included… make them apply to work with you.

    Great Article.

  • Perfect timing for reading this article. We are dealing with a problem client as I type this and it has been a nightmare! Thanks for the great advice, Ray! Will definitely be applying it to my business!!