“We sat there waiting and I started to think he must have passed out in the washrooms,” Manchipp says.

“Just as I was losing faith, his head popped up in the window in the meeting-room door. Unfortunately, the fellow had forgotten to ‘tuck himself in’ as both his cock and balls were prominently protruding from his trousers.”

Cure Studio avoid getting entangled in payment problems by sending a test invoice early on to weed out any issues

Ever professional, the team managed to stifle laughter and carry on with the meeting as though nothing were amiss. They were spared a second exposure as the client was only ‘flying low’ when he stood up to present the brand vision – luckily not a euphemism this time around.

Although the tightest contract can’t protect against screaming Skype calls or stray genitals, both Steve and Simon emphasise the importance of investing time in drawing up and signing paperwork. “A client who changes their mind all the time can make you rich – if you have the right contract,” Manchipp says.

“If the client doesn’t want to work collaboratively or just wants to dump something on you and run, the alarm bells should start ringing“ - David Kimpton

Contracts can be changed

Luke Manning, creative director of Pencil (penciluk.co.uk), a design agency in Frome in Somerset, agrees. When working on a literary project for a client who kept on adding material, Luke made sure to keep amending the contract. “When the text turned up it was horrendous,” he sighs. “Every page that they thought was going to be 300 to 400 words was about four pages of A4.”

It pays to acquire strategies to deal with the heavy burdens awkward clients can impose (illustration by Spencer Wilson)

But Luke still tried to find ways to keep costs down so that they could complete the work – only to find that the client had hired another designer and hadn’t had the courtesy to tell him. Although Pencil lost out on a considerable amount, their solid contract meant that they got paid for what they had delivered.

Problem payments are, of course, the bane of most designers’ lives. After encountering a series of poor payers, James Hurst, creative director of London-based Cure Studio (curestudio.com), has developed a nifty way of testing the financial waters at the beginning of a project. “For every big project we send a retainer invoice,” James explains. “The value is not the important thing, although it’s nice to have the cash flow. [The invoice] flags up any potential accounting problems early on and avoids argument about ‘not being set’ up on their system.”

Both he and Luke avoid snowballing workloads and ‘mission creep’ by running initial workshops and collaboratively developing briefs, so that they and the client are in theory both working towards the same goals. David Kimpton, who founded Kimpton Creative in west London (kimptoncreative.com), agrees with that strategy. “If [the client] doesn’t like the idea of working collaboratively or if they just want to dump something on you and run away, then the alarm bells should start ringing.”

“In a way, there’s no such thing as a bad client, just a poorly structured and managed project, Simon says. “Truthfully, if you start a project well you can cope with any client.”

Problem Clients - The Early Warning Signs

1. The client can’t answer straightforward, basic questions about the nature of their business

2. The client doesn’t like talking about money

3. The client is rude or evasive during initial meetings

4. The client doesn’t have time or isn’t interested in listening to your ideas

5. The decisions will be made by the CEO but you’re told you will never meet him or her


Simon Manchipp

“In a way, there’s no such thing as a bad client, just a poorly structured and managed project. If you start well, you can cope with any client“