What Do Perfect Clients Expect Of Boutique IT Service Firms?

Did you know that in Great Britain, it’s perfectly legal for men to pee on publicly parked cars as long as they aim at one of the rear wheels and put their right hands on the vehicle?

Yes, it’s a rather convoluted process.

But not as convoluted as working with bad clients who may remind you of the 70s Sex Pistols song, Anarchy in the UK…

“I don’t know what I want but I know how to get it.”

Bad clients make very specific tactical demands on how IT professionals should do their work which they’re experts at, but more often than not without strategies of what they want to achieve.

Oh, let’s clarify something here.

Although I use the terms “good clients” and “bad clients”, “good” merely means that a buyer and a seller have a good fit to work together, and “bad” means they don’t have a good fit.

Nothing evil, nothing sinister. Just the type of clients who don’t fall into IT professionals’ perfect client profiles.

You can also call them dream clients vs. nightmare clients.

So, here are a few attributes which perfect clients expect of their IT professionals.

Let’s start with…


“To generalize is to be an idiot; to particularize is the alone distinction of merit.” ~ William Blake, English poet, painter and printmaker, ranks 38th in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons

Perfect clients seek specialists.

They know their businesses are special, offering specific products/services to specific target markets, so they understand that importance of specialisation.

And just because someone used to be an excellent government speech writer or English literature or linguistics professor, it doesn’t mean that the same person can be an equally excellent copywriter for a specific industry selling to a specific market.

Specialist means different things to different people.

Based on two studies by the Wellesley Group (RainToday) and Broderick & Co., Global Fortune 1000 recruiters’ top two speciality factors are subject matter expertise and hands-on industry experience in the clients’ industry.

So, if the client runs a construction business and needs a content writer, his best choice is a retired construction manager or supervisor who took on professional writing after retiring.

Yes, he may make some stylistic and grammatical mistakes, but they are easier to correct than injecting 40 years of construction experience into a some grammatically correct but contextually empty pablum.

By contrast, bad clients seek generalists with idiotic criteria like, native English speaker or degree in English or journalism.

I’d like to report here that what Peter Drucker, Isaac Asimov and Ayn Rand had in common was that none of them were native English speakers but they wrote some earth-shattering materials in English.

Work Outside Upwork Or Fiverr

They are broke, so they can’t afford to pay professional “real-world” prices for the work they require.

And broken, so they can’t play a professional game. They seek special concessions, discounts and treatment in dysfunctional relationships in which they can dictate to professionals how to do their work.

Raymond Chandler, in his book the High Window, formed a nice description for these clients…

“From 30 feet away, she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away, she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”

Good clients know that good professionals can find work outside Upwork too, so they don’t have to take crap from broke-arse and emotionally broken clients.

Also, good clients who are real experts in their fields, recognise other experts and treat them with respect.

For bad clients, the opposite applies. Basically, the Dunning-Kruger effect hard at work.

Dunning-Kruger victims suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly believing they are better than others. Unskilled people fail to recognise their own incompetence, and they project this denied innate incompetence onto others. As a result, they will…

  1. Fail to recognise their own incompetence.
  2. Fail to recognise competence in others.
  3. Fail to recognise the magnitude of their own incompetence.
  4. After becoming competent at that skill, they recognise and acknowledge their own previous incompetence.

Bertrand Russell once said…

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Along similar lines…

Bad clients don’t have clear objectives; they just want to dictate their methodologies to professionals.

Good clients have clear objectives and eagerly collaborate with professionals as to what to do (strategy) and how to do it (tactics) to achieve them.

Collaboration vs. Dictation

In fact, according to research by Stanford University and the Carnegie Foundation, when you look at the success of collaboration between a client and a professional…

  1. About 10% of success comes from the professional’s expertise.
  2. About 30% comes from the professional’s position in the relationship — peer vs. subordinate.
  3. About 60% comes from the client’s commitment to her own success.

While bad clients are obsessed with #1, good clients focus on #2 and #3

Highly committed and collaborative clients and mediocre and collaborative copywriters are likely to achieve better results than abdicating clients and genius copywriters who operate on a “Tell me what you want and get lost until I send you my masterpiece”.

Here are the typical reasons for project failures…

Poorly defined project scope — bad clients are so obsessed with tactical steps that they ignore project scope.

Poor communication at all levels — bad clients don’t communicate. They demand. As a result, professionals develop a “f**k you” attitude. They do the work, but with a heavy dose of resentment.

Ineffective project leadership — people are working on various tasks, but no one is really in charge at a higher level.

Insufficient planning — in the military’s we learnt the 5 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Instead of the 5Ps, bad clients bring you the 5 Us: Unprepared, Undisciplined, Unaccountable, Uncommitted and Unfocused.

Philosophical differences between clients and professionals — a relationship between a free market capitalist client and a socialist professional is likely to end up in a clash one day.

The same happens when a premium-pricing professional and a discount-obsessed client work together.

Hiring vs. Recruiting

What is the difference?

Quite a bit.

For professions where the difference between competence and incompetence can have serious consequences, companies recruit.

Soldiers are not hired. They are recruited.

Hiring is really a reverse auction. Who can clients get to perform a list of tasks at the lost possible price?

So, they yell to the world that they accept applications. To get some applicants, they give this position an impressive-sounding name.

  • Content marketing strategist: Someone in the third-world to churn out blog posts at $5 apiece.
  • Business development manager: Someone to make 2,300 cold calls a day.

Those clients don’t need the best they can find or even the 11th best. They need someone who can perform the bare minimum for the lowest compensation.

After all, they know they are pretty low-grade in their own industries.

Good clients with big aspirations don’t rely on cheap professionals.

In contract to the retail operation of hiring, recruitment is a marketing effort.

Good clients are looking for the best they can find and they know that those people are already working on something they enjoy.

So, they have to entice those talents away from their current projects and have them invest their talent to those good clients’ projects.

While recruitment is a process of raising the bar, traditional hiring is a race to the bottom.

It raises the bar because in order to find high-quality talents, clients must have high-quality opportunities.

Yes, recruitment costs a bit higher than hiring, but the payoff is significantly higher.

Philosophical Fit

“I like working with good people because if I come up with an idea, they come up with a better idea, then I come up with an even better idea, and so on: It’s a leapfrog process, and the work becomes much better than it would be if I only did exactly what I want.”

Very often, bad clients jump into projects without ever talking to professionals. They chat back and forth a bit and then start the project.

Halfway down in the project, the observant vegan, animal welfare activist professional discovers that his client also operates a chain of borderline illegal slaughterhouses.

And that is likely to cause friction which is the best to end as soon as possible by refunding the client’s money and moving on.

Good clients don’t jump into projects. They ease into them. Buyers and professionals chat a lot to seize each other up for character.


For good clients, the biggest value professionals have to offer is objectivity. Even if clients have in-house IT professionals, they often engage external IT professionals for their objectivity.

And good IT pros with objectivity are much more valuable than excellent IT pros who are hopelessly entangled in company politics and have secret affairs with their bosses.

In-house people focus on being socially-, politically-, religiously- and any other way correct in order to keep their jobs. They never tell their bosses that their babies are butt ugly.

Good clients know that the difference between correctness and objectivity lead to friction, but deal with it, because they know, as General Colin Powell has put it…

“The untidy truth is better than smooth lies.”

As mature men and women, they value honesty higher than politeness.

As adult children, bad clients have the habit of throwing temper tantrums when something goes against their plans.

For them politeness is more important than honesty.

Busyness vs. Productivity

But I could also use the impotent husband syndrome: Lots of effort but nothing to show for it.

Bad clients love keeping their professionals hyper-busy with minutiae, so those “thieving professionals” actually deserve the low price these clients pay them.

Yes, those clients want to see good work, but more importantly, they want to see their professionals sweat, suffer, starve, slave and struggle to earn their money, so by the time they finish their projects, they are dutifully battered, bruised, bashed, bloodied, beaten, crashed and crushed, so they actually deserve their clients’ money.

For those bad clients, it’s perfectly normal to call their professionals in the middle of the night and demand an instant progress report.

By contrast, good clients focus progress and productivity. Since they have peer-to-peer relationships with their professionals and work collaboratively, they always know how much progress they’ve made and how much they’ve got left.

Understand My World

So, manufacturing clients want their professionals to have manufacturing knowledge.

A trucking company client wants professionals to have some knowledge of the trucking industry.

And they can justify the higher price of specialists.

All in all, good clients care about exceptional credibility on the top of expected credibility.

Expected credibility is that you know your area of expertise.

Exceptional credibility is what you know about your client’s industry.

When you understand your clients’ mindsets, you can link your expertise to their agendas and establish exceptional credibility.

Bad clients focus on expected credibility because it’s easy to compare and it’s easy to create a bidding war based on it.

Admitting Mistakes

The mantra is not who to blame for the mistake, but how to correct it.

Good clients and good professionals don’t make an ego issue out of mistakes.

They both know that none of them infallible, so mistakes are parts of the game.

But since many bad clients are ego-driven, no matter who makes the mistake, they tend to blame their professionals. Yes, often even for those results that professionals can’t control.

Client: “You’ve promised me that the new, cloud-based ERP system will improve company-wide effectiveness. Where is my money from improved effectiveness? I demand my money!”

Professional: “Let me talk to some people to see how they use the system.”

Client: “Well, we haven’t used it yet. We are still on our spreadsheet system.”

This sounds ridiculous, but happens more often than we’d like to think. Much more often.

Extra Brain Cells vs. Extra Muscle

Yes, they need professionals to implement the jointly developed solutions too, but first, clients need experts to think WITH clients to diagnose the current situation and then to develop the best solution to move forward.

According to a McKinsey & Co. study, some 68% of projects end in disaster and clients don’t get the value they bought and paid for, because they interfere with the work of the expert they’ve hired to solve a problem.

Bad clients always come with specific tactical requests…

“We need a 432-word blog post by tomorrow, and if we like it, we pay you $5… net 180. If interested, sign our NDA and non-compete and we’ll send you the details.”

“We need a 250-word home page in seven paragraphs by tomorrow, using ABC keywords and XYZ word processor typed at a minimum 55 words per minute.”

“We need a sequence of five emails selling our $15,000 a month XYZ service with one click of the buy button and without even one second of human interaction.”

These clients know exactly what they want tactically. Right or wrong (in most cases), this is what they demand. They seek an alphabet monkey to bang out 432 words for a blog post, etc.

Good clients always come with specific objectives to achieve or symptoms to eliminate…

“We’re in the XYZ industry, and we are seeking a professional to help us to increase our website’s lead generation capability. Apply if and only if you have hands-on experience in the XYX industry.”

“We’re seeking an ABC industry-specialist copywriter to improve conversion rates on our XYZ product page.”

“We’re seeking a B2B copywriter to help us to compile and write handout materials for an upcoming XYZ industry trade show.”

These clients know exactly what they want in terms of goals and objectives. And now they seek professionals to help them to refine the strategy and the tactics to achieve those objectives.


It means both your client acquisition and engagement management must be masterfully choreographed and carefully orchestrated on two parallel tracks: Measurable improvement in the client’s business (using C-suite KPIs) and overall client delight with the quality of the relationship and collaboration.

Just like in healthcare: You need medical expertise and bedside manner. And having worked in healthcare, I can confidently say that no matter how good Dr. House is as a doctor, because of his non-existent bedside manner, in real life, he would be unemployed from graduation until the day he dies. All right, maybe he can clock in a few probation periods here and there, but that’s all.

Tom helps boutique IT service firms to liberate themselves from the yoke of the dreaded feast and famine cycle and fill their books with premium clients.