Dealing with Difficult Clients Part II: The Cheapskate


Dealing with difficult people is not an option; it’s a human dynamic we all face, sometimes daily. Next in this series, I want to address a type we all deal with, especially in lean times: the cheapskate client.

cheapskate client

There is a big difference between being frugal and being cheap.

Frugal people:

  • Maximize resources
  • Optimizes opportunities
  • Value quality
  • Understand priorities
  • Not afraid of spending on the right tools and opportunities

Cheap people:

  • cut corners to save a little
  • sacrifice outcome or quality for the bottom-price deal
  • do not value quality
  • under-resource their organization
  • see where they can save but seldom what they can gain

Early in my career as a creative director/designer, I was hired by a former college teacher who was cheap…very cheap. I should have known my challenge when he hired me to develop a book cover. I remember seeing him buy a small soft drink with no ice and a free large “ice” and pouring the contents of the small drink into his large cup of ice in order to save the extra 30 cents it would have cost him to order the larger drink. That’s not being frugal. That’s being cheap.

At the very end of the long book cover design process, he asked me to output film for the printing presses (for those of you who are digital natives, film was used to create the plates for the printing press). I remember telling him that the color proofs were going to cost $120. He balked at the expense and asked why we needed proofs. “Because if something goes wrong during the film output, we can catch it,” was my reply. He thought for a second and decided that the printer would pull a proof as well and that would be good enough. I protested, since I was not comfortable about going to press without a guide. But nonetheless he prevailed.

You know where this is going. The printer did not pull a proof before printing the 5,000 book covers, and there was a major issue with one of the plates. A very obvious, big, and ugly output error. It was neither a design fault nor a printer fault. He tried to blame everyone: me, the printer, the people who outputted the film–everyone but himself. He “saved” $120 in production but lost thousands of dollars, created havoc for everyone, delayed the release of the book, and burned bridges with everyone involved in the project.

After that episode, I developed a strategy to work with cheapskates: minimum requirements on projects that are not negotiable.

Unless you know where you cannot compromise in price, quality, and resources, you’ll end up giving in. The project will most likely fail and you’ll be blamed for lack of performance, and to make matters worse, you might not get paid after all.

Take if from someone who learned it the hard way: know when to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s outside my ability to provide the quality of product I know you want. What I proposed is the minimum I can do.”  Stand your ground. If he’s not willing to pay, then walk away. Trust me, you’ll thank me latter.

What has been your experience with the cheapskate?

  • Annonymoys

    Well said Maurilio. Unfortunately, I work for the cheapskate and I feel we are always behind the curve because of that. We don’t have the resources we need and not because we can’t afford them. I don’t know how long I’m staying here. 

  • Cin Lung

    So true. Let me ask one thing. If a customer is trying to press the budget so much, but living in luxury, are they also cheapskate? I have a customer who bought a service from me to create a software for her company. She refused to buy proper pc to run the software, and insist to use one of their amd sempron computer that was used for regular admin works. Upon release, the software was running ok before using her pc, but when we added a new station pc and used her old pc, the software in that particular pc is in chaos an blamed on us. So, I told her that the computer was not up to the minimum requirements. I even gave her a loaner from one of our pc and the software works fine. Even after that she would not want to buy just a $300 computer and uses my loaner instead. Four days ago, someone tampered with our loaner computer and broke the computer (I suspect it was on purpose), the administrator screen was up which can only happen if someone was tyring to break ito the computer with admin login by guessing the password. So, I told the owner to buy a more appropriate computer for around $300. But, nothing happened, meanwhile she uses her staff to nag me to fix the computer “for free” during after hours on friday night and kept terrorizing me on saturday whole day.

    I mean I even I had to pay my staff for working overtime, but she wanted free service, even afteri i gave her extension of training up to seven months,extension of customer and tech support up to another seven months, put my staff to do 10 days watch at her restaurant all for free just because she bought the software from me. By the way her coverage service contract was over last year.

    Meanwhile, she has mansion houses, yes houses, and living a great luxuryl life. I do not care for her life style, but for goodness sake, I would love to see her invest a little in the business that provide income for her.

    So, is she still considered cheap person? Tell me what to do, so far I gave her si ilar anwers and dodged her staff’s nagging calls untill they realized that they need to pay the price. Plus, they still owe me some money too. Oh the dillema.

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