1. No Respect or Trust
You should never invest yourself, be it business or personal, if there is no respect and trust between you and the other party. Not only will it be impossible to build something great, but you'll degrade yourself in the process. Don't be a mercenary or a whore. Work with smart and trustworthy people and do it with all your heart.
2. No Passion
If the work you have to do doesn't interest you, quit and find some that will spark your creative juices and bring some glitter to your eyes. Life is too short to spend it doing uninteresting things. The more passionate you are, the more great things you'll produce, attracting more interesting people and opportunities.
3. Soul Twister
The problem with the Rat Race is: even if you win, you're still a rat. Never ever compromise your integrity. Refuse to do anything that goes against your values, regardless of the amount offered. In these times of shallow relationships, opportunistic individuals, information overload and ever increasing social media powered word of mouth, trust is the new currency and high integrity individuals will dominate the business world.
4. Unrealistic Expectations
We've all had a client who wanted the best product or service in the World but had absolutely no idea of the required costs. These are the ones that will tell you they want something like such and such dominant player in the industry (Facebook, Google, Nike, eBay, Red Bull, etc.) but will fall from their chairs when you'll present a budget equivalent to less than 1% of what the big players are spending. In the end, it all comes down to that simple equation: Better, Faster, Cheaper: pick any two.
5. Not Enough Time
This one is a classic. The client comes to you already late and wants his project delivered in an absurdly impossible short period of time. He will say things like: "How bad do you whant this job? How fast are you guys really are? I don't care if you have to work nights and week ends. Etc, etc." What he should be asking is: How desperate are you to accept this job? And you can bet that you'll rush for nothing because the client will eventually postpone the project several times.
6. Not Enough Money
You can generally spot this client as: (1) He will refuse to give you his budget for the project and (2) he will say things like: "Money is no object." and "If the value is there, we'll pay the price." Run away, he doesn't have a dime!
Some other times, as your business grow, earlier, smaller clients won't be able to afford your services anymore. You should both acknowledge it and admit that it is perfectly OK to part ways given the circumstances. If you're smart, you'll help these client find a new smaller partner to replace you.
7. Outside Your Area of Expertise
Sometimes the client is great, the project is interesting, but is falls outside your area of expertise. Better refer the client to someone who will be better able to help him. You might lose money in the short term, but you won't kill your reputation with a failed project and your client will respect you and might work with you in the future if he has an opportunity.
8. Too Big
This one killed more small businesses than can be counted. The one in a lifetime opportunity, the big project that will help you join the major leagues can also be the one that will kill you. Big clients are notoriously demanding. The processes, meetings and politics will take insane amount of time and eat your profits. Because they have so many people knocking at their doors, the big clients will make you work longer, harder and for less - because they can. Finally, the bigger the client, the slower they pay. Late payments on huge projects have a very damaging impact on cash flow.
The client that wanders way out in the left field but thinks he's on top of his game. Will come up with absurd ideas and won't listen to advice from people more competent than himself; because in his World, no one can be better than he is. Will end up working with a yes-agency intent on taking as much of his money as possible before someone at his company realizes that the guy is incompetent and swings the ax in his direction.
10. Doomed Project
Some projects are born to fail. You just can feel it by the way strange people are always involved (overconfident, naive, lunatic, untrustworthy, psychotic, bipolar or outright criminal) along with bad planning, missing info, tight cash flow, unclear expectations, overly optimistic projections and unrealistic expectations. Avoid the trap.
11. Idea of the Century
Every day, someone comes up with this game changing idea, the next big thing after peanut butter and Harry Potter, but doesn't have a penny to make it happen and you have the incredible chance of being offered a partnership in this new business that will revolutionize the World. In the meantime, you get to work for free and take all the risks while your genius clients doesn't risk a dime. In the very unlikely event that his idea does work (after 20 years in business, I have yet to witness such an event), your genius client will make more money than you, without any risk or effort. What a great plan - for him.
A variant of this one is: Work for free or at below cost price and, since I'm such a big shot, I will bring you a lot of business in the future. Will never happen. Ask yourself how come such a successful businessman cannot afford your services at the regular price.
My great friend and overly successful businessman Jean-Claude Bouillet once rightfully told me: "The longest distance in the World is the one that separates the mouth from the wallet."
12. Bad Timing
At some other time, this project and client would have been perfect, but the timing is not right. Maybe you presently have more job than you can handle or you need to replace a key player in your team or have pressing personal issues that need to be addressed. Better pass your turn than take a project that you'll turn into a fiasco.
13. Only Money
If the only reason your are working with a client is money, walk away. If there's no interest, passion, excitement, respect and fun, what are you doing? This is your life! Are you really willing to do anything and interact with anybody just to make a buck?
The hardest thing is learning to say no. The appeal of money is hard to resist, especially if you're an entrepreneur and have bills to pay.
In the long run, however, if you only invest yourself in great projects and constantly deliver quality, you'll attract enough smart clients that you'll never have to worry again about having enough job.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Of course, to be able to do this, you need 3 things:
1. Strong sales skills - to replace your bad clients with newer, better ones
2. A great product or service - to attract and keep great clients
3. A financially healthy business - so you can afford the luxury of refusing money in the short run
Ditching clients is not easy, and a few will be frustrated. Some people in your industry might label you as cocky, pretentious, snob or crazy; but in the end, you'll earn yourself a strong reputation for honesty and quality with like minded people and you'll attract great clients: smart, knowledgeable, organized, fair and demanding business partners that will help you grow your business as well as grow as a person.
P.S.: There are always clients worse than yours. For a good laugh, visit Clients From Hell.