Types of IT Clients

We all have been looking for that elusive perfect client. The one that fully connects with your way of working, the one that doesn’t hassle you in your free time, the one that does not challenge every little estimation, the one that never asks for a change in the original scope. We keep searching but we never find him.

Client Meeting

IT clients, even large corporations, are people, and each one is different from the other. That’s a fact. It’s easier to find your soul-mate than the perfect client. The only thing you can do is get better at reading people so that you can understand from the beginning your client’s type and what you can do to improve your interaction.

Below are a few different client types that are common in the IT sphere. Learn about their personality traits and how to deal with them.

1. The Clueless

The Clueless has no real idea of what they want. His requests are vague and often contradictory. While it may feel great to hold his hand in the beginning of the project and take advantage of his personality to carry out things your way, this will definitely result in a huge amount of change requests later. This client will likely agree with you mostly because he pays attention to your level of confidence and excitement, not because he’s actually understanding your arguments and explanations.

Advice on how to handle this type of client
  • Always document every major decision from the beginning. Make him review and approve any approach via email at the very least.
  • Restrain yourself from giving too many suggestions in the beginning of the project. It doesn’t matter how excited you are with the level of freedom and agreement you’re getting from the client, all this will radically change later on.
  • When describing technical options and approaches, make sure you use analogies and visual aids that are non-technical and right for your client’s age. “It’s just like Snapchat!” makes no sense to a 60-year-old clueless client.

2. The Emperor

The Emperor does not ask, he commands. This type of client will always treat you like you owe him your very existence. He has no concept of business hours and will gladly call you at 1:00AM demanding you to check why his application is not working on his iPad. He knows what he wants (most of the time) and he has no interest on your opinion. If there’s anything he does not know, he expects you to find it out and do it without bothering him.

Advice on how to handle this type of client
  • Be extremely thorough with your contracts and agreements. If your going to develop as a slave, you might as well be paid well and on time.
  • Make sure that your client understands the concept of business hours and that a meeting at 11PM costs double.
  • Do not get too much involved in the project. The Emperor will never praise your work or give you any type of recognition. At the same time, creating distance from the project will make it easier for you to ignore his calls in the middle of the night.

3. The Dreamer

The Dreamer is out of this world. His mind is full of big plans and even bigger requests. If it’s a Hype, he wants it on his project. This client’s personality revolves around ignoring any feedback that goes against his dream so don’t even bother to argument with him. If you’re not ready to bend your rules and re-do work over and over, then stay away.

Advice on how to handle this type of client
  • Always ask the Dreamer to give you examples, most likely you will hear “This is brand new, there’s nothing like this in the marker yet!” but nevertheless, try.
  • Be strict with budget and time-frame or adopt an hourly cost engagement from the start. The Dreamer has no clue of the amount of money needed for researching and developing something “brand new”.
  • Be sure to discuss details with the Dreamer. They usually have a clear vision of the “start” and “end” of what they want but no clue of what’s going to happen in the middle. Sitting down and talking about it might open his eyes and make your life easier.

4. The Nagger

The Nagger is a control freak. He will start as a normal, confident client that knows exactly what they want but as soon as you start developing, his true self will emerge. This client always needs to micro manage everything and nothing you complete will ever be like he wants. And don’t even try to explain him change requests. The Nagger will go crazy if you even hint that it was because of him you did not deliver what he had in mind.

Advice on how to handle this type of client
  • Make sure your estimations include time for changes. The Nagger will make you  sweat for every penny you will charge.
  • Choose wisely, if the project is not interesting and if the client is a nagger, you’re better off not working with him.
  • Ensure that your contract defines a limit of changes done to each feature and very strict acceptance criteria. If you don’t, you might end up with a never-ending project on your hands.

5. The Harpy

The Harpy will suck the life out of you. This client’s main concern is to get the most amount of work for the least amount of money. There’s no chance you will ever close a deal with a Harpy without a discount and you might as well forget about extra costs because the Harpy will never pay them.

Advice on how to handle this type of client
  • Start your estimates assuming that you will have to give a discount to the client. It’s the only way to make money with the harpy.
  • Make sure your contract is legally binding because the harpy will not pay you without a fight. If there’s a way for them to deny you payment, they will do it.
  • Do your work by stages and demand payment for each one before starting the next.

6. The Hive

The Hive is a problem from day one. The first person that talks to you is not really the person that explains the requirements, and the person that explains the requirements is not really the person making the decisions, and the person making the decisions is not really the person paying you. You’re getting the idea already. Hive clients are extremely complicated to handle because the overhead effort will drive you nuts.

Advice on how to handle this type of client
  • Be ready for the overhead and plan things ahead. Communication with hive clients is best done via email and with enough information to keep the mail chain going for at least a week.
  • Make sure you find the decision maker, he’s the person you need to please with your work. Don’t bother explaining things to all the other people involved if they cannot affect the development directly. Inform everyone but discuss and decide with just one.
  • Ensure you have the green light in terms of time-frame and budget from the person responsible for the payments. Hive clients have a way to delegate responsibility forever between them and you don’t want to get stuck chasing 10 different people to get paid.

Clients are not the Devil

Two business men shaking hands

While this post focuses mainly on the bad aspects of IT clients, the reality is that “devil clients” are as rare as “perfect clients”. Like I said in the beginning, people are different and everyone as good and bad personality traits. My focus was to present the bad/risky traits so that you can identify them and prepare yourself before you start a business relation.

Remember, your clients happiness is the most important factor for success. Without your clients to spread the word, the world will never know how awesome you are.



Daniel R.

PHP developer and consultant. Enjoys solving problems, building apps and (occasionally) breaking stuff. Currently lives in Poland and works for an american startup focused on data-gathering.