Today's economic climate has led to unprecedented disruptions for small businesses, leaving clients less prepared to spend money on your products or services. This may tempt you to sign prospects who don't fit your ideal client profile, but be cautious. When a sales conversation reveals certain warning signs, moving forward may put you and your company at risk of financial loss, failure, and increased stress

Rather than take chances with less-than-ideal clients, spend your time evaluating your business model and researching where the demand is today. Your high-quality client profile may need to morph a bit to fit the current circumstances. In the meantime, watch out for prospects who exhibit the following behaviors so you know where to draw the line.

1. They say, "I've tried a dozen other consultants, but it's been a waste of money."

You may want to swoop in and be the hero who makes everything right for your prospect, but you will be working against the odds. When someone seeking help from a consultant or coach is perpetually dissatisfied, it usually means one of the following:

  • They don't really know what they want or need (but won't admit it to themselves or others), so the work you do will rarely be correct in their eyes.
  • They don't want to do the work required to complete the goal.  
  • They don't have the budget for a qualified and experienced consultant or coach such as yourself. 

If you accept a client who insists that experts don't know what they're doing, you are likely to end up on their list of know-nothing consultants. 

2. They continue to express strong skepticism even after speaking to references who rave about you.

A prospect believes they are performing due diligence by speaking with your references, yet they often dismiss what they hear in these conversations. When your customers rave about you and your services and the prospective client is still doubtful, it is another sign that they are not ready to take the next steps. When their reluctance is persistent and intense, it's best to send them off with your best wishes. 

3. They ask for unreasonable guarantees.

A guarantee serves little purpose aside from helping your prospect feel more secure in their choice. A deadline and specific outcome are difficult to meet when you must rely upon your client's involvement to succeed. Another point to consider when you are asked to offer assurances to your prospect is the number of unknown factors involved in the job. Until you dig in, you may not know the full scope of the project. It's best to promise your commitment, rather than make any guarantees. 

4. They question your value.

Fair negotiation is part of doing business. However, when a prospect aggressively questions your value, underestimating the skill and experience required to do the job, they will never stop. The fact is, if your job were easy, clients would do it themselves. Don't let a prospect determine your worth. Instead, keep in mind the many clients before them who paid your invoice without question.

5. They ask you to enter into a profit-sharing agreement (in place of pay) but won't reveal their financials or a plan.

Working in exchange for a share of future profits can be very lucrative for some consultants. These deals are complicated, and you must perform a complete analysis before you reach an agreement. If the prospect has no track record and refuses to show you the metrics on past projects, it's a giant red flag. At the very least, it's prudent to see their research and marketing plan. Lastly, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Don't let these precarious times keep you from experiencing the success you deserve. When you avoid the challenges presented by a difficult client, you are free to manage your current circumstances more productively.