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How to Find Good Clients (and Leave the Bad Behind)

By Tony Delmercado – COO at Hawke Media & Founder of

One of the biggest misconceptions in business today is that there are no bad clients. Anyone willing to pay for the service is worth serving, even if he is challenging to work with — right?

Not exactly. A bad client relationship leaves both provider and customer unhappy, and a contentious split will only hurt both sides. One group feels it paid for more than it received, while the other gets an unfair reputation of being unable to meet its customers’ needs.

good-clientsBad clients can also damage morale. When a team bends over backward trying to satisfy a client who simply can’t be pleased, protocol goes out the window. Such a departure from standard operating procedure signals to staff members that the company might be desperate. Why else would it be taking on clients it knows aren’t the right fits?

Consequently, businesses that take on bad clients lose credibility both inside and outside the workplace.

How to Identify a Bad Client

Most bad clients reveal themselves through a few warning signs long before it’s time to sign a contract.

  • Unrealistic Expectations. People who run companies aren’t afraid to lay out their expectations, which is great because if those expectations are unrealistic, then agencies can clearly see the potential for trouble early on in the process.

    We worked with a client who wanted us to cover everything for marketing: logos, branding, campaigns, the works. We were excited about the freedom. But, after we had agreed to absolute threshold benchmarks and got paid significantly less than we should have, we realized this company had no methodology in place to measure success. Within a month, the partnership was over.

  • Financial Troubles. Dealing with clients who watch every nickel and dime is like fighting in a phone booth. If the client can’t afford to make a genuine effort in the first place, then the agency can’t be successful.

    We tried to work with one client who had a great brand and attitude but didn’t even have the money to spend on email service providers. We took on the project with the right intentions but were unwilling to put up all the capital ourselves for something that was ultimately the client’s responsibility.

  • Messy Trail of Exes. Clients who have been with three or four other agencies in the past year and had bad experiences with all of them throw up several red flags. How are we different from those past partners?

    If things didn’t work out for them with any of those other agencies, then we quickly recognize that they probably won’t work out with us, either.

  • Inability to Value Partners. At our marketing agency, we naturally want to work harder for people who appreciate us and value our experience as a partner.

    Companies that hire us for thought leadership or bandwidth have the right idea, whereas those who hire us because they can’t figure out marketing and want us to take care of all their problems on our own do not.

  • Unclear Hierarchy. One important question to address upfront is: Who makes the decisions?

If we want to work with a client but can’t figure out exactly whom to talk to when we need something, that’s usually a sign of problems within the client’s organization that will prevent us from working well together.

Finding the Right Clients

The right clients make open communication a top priority and have clear, reasonable expectations. Finding those clients is a matter of learning what they look like and positioning your business to be ready when an opportunity comes along. The following three precepts help us to quickly identify the right clients when they approach us and ensure that those relationships will be mutually beneficial.

1. Self-Fulfillment

The more we take on good clients and succeed with them, the more other good clients will seek us out. It’s hard to do, but the key to jumping into this virtuous cycle is to get to the point where we value the money but don’t need it. It’s easiest to raise capital when the company’s on an upswing; that is precisely when people want to work with us the most.

2. Clear Standards

We make it clear what kinds of relationships are desirable and which are unacceptable. Sales staff members should be personally knowledgeable about this topic so that they can keep these standards top of mind. Commissions are tempting, but setting expectations upfront, raising the minimum amount spent on a client, and waiting at least six months to see returns on monthly contracts will provide the incentive to seek out better partners.

3. Proactive Branding

Seeking ideal clients in secret and differentiating only after they get in the door does not work. We make our expectations and desires public. When asked what our typical client looks like, we always respond with the exact types of businesses we prefer so that we can focus on doing more work with better partners. From personal branding to website content to trade shows, everything we do is focused on building a reputation that encourages the right people to look for our business.

Instead of accepting everyone who wants a contract, we narrow the focus and work harder for the clients who are really worth it to build fulfilling, sustained success.

By Tony Delmercado – COO at Hawke Media & Founder of

Tony Delmercado is the COO at Hawke Media, the founder of, a passionately curious entrepreneur, and an all-around solid dude. He enjoys building businesses, playing golf, improving his Krav Maga and jiujitsu game, writing, studying business tax loopholes, and eating Mexican food. He spends his weekends at the T&A Bungalow in Chesterfield Square hanging with his lady, Anthea; his son, Onyx; and his dog, Naz.