Warning Signs of Problem Landscape Lighting Clients

Warning Signs of Problem Landscape Lighting Clients

By Mike Gambino

If you’re a home improvement contractor whose worked for residential homeowners or light commercial landscape lighting projects, you’ve probably heard one of these statements:

“We can’t pay a deposit, but will pay in full when all the work is done.”

 “My brother-in-law is a contractor and says you’re charging double what it should cost.”

“I talked to seven designer/builders and none of them know what they’re doing.”

Every business will deal with difficult clients at some point. Beyond stressing you out, working with a tough client has other unwanted side effects, including:

  • Profit loss
  • Project delays
  • Damaged reputation
  • Health-impacting stress
  • Business closure
  • Bankruptcy

Fortunately, there are several red flags that can indicate someone might turn into a problem client during the project. When someone displays one or more red flags, consider passing on the job, or charging a premium price to make the inevitable hassles worth your time.

Here are seven red flags to watch for:

Extreme Haggling

It’s okay for clients to negotiate the price and terms of an agreement. If both contractor and client come to an agreement then a deal is made and presumably everyone is happy.

These behaviors enter problem territory when a client haggles, tries to renegotiate price and terms before or shortly after work begins, or expects you to throw in non-scoped work and upgrades for free. The client might question your processes or procedures, or ask you to explain why you’re choosing one material over another.

Besides being annoying, discussing previously agreed line items in depth eats up time and is counterproductive.

One way to stop an extreme haggler is to set a lump sum project cost policy. All of this is included for this price. Refusing to engage in lengthy discussion over line items.

Good clients accept this type of boundary. Problem clients don’t.

Having detailed contracts and pay schedules is important. That way, a client knows what to expect up front and you don’t have to rely on memory if a problem arises—such as the client expecting you to perform work you didn’t agree to and not included in the agreed upon price of the finished project.


Indecisive people who aren’t sure about what they want are the polar opposite of arrogant types who will tell you exactly how to do your job. Unfortunately, they can be just as difficult to work for.

Clients need to provide feedback so the end result is something they love—especially on new build and remodel projects. If a client doesn’t communicate their desires or requirements, it’s nearly impossible to figure out how to please them.

This is risky because you could deliver something they don’t like. The indecisive client will become a dissatisfied client, who can cause financial problems and hurt your reputation.

Indecision without the presence of other red flags isn’t a reason to pass on a job, but it does mean the client might need you to spend more time explaining things and guiding them toward decisions. So, budget for that extra time in the cost of your contract.

As always, careful estimating, planning and documentation of every agreement can help if issues arise.


An arrogant client believes the job is so easy they could do it themselves if they had the tools and time. They might claim someone told them what the job should cost and how long it should take to complete.

When you present your quote outlining the actual amount of time and money it will take to do the job, this client is shocked. They might even threaten to write bad reviews about your company, or tell the contractor state license board you’re overcharging clients. This person’s unrealistic expectations and know-it-all attitude causes them to undervalue your expertise. And a client that doesn’t trust you is a difficult one to work with.

It’s usually best to pass on work for arrogant know it all clients.

Horror Stories of Past Experience Working With Contractors

This client lists off how many other contractors who didn’t seem to know what they were doing. Or, they might brag about firing a contractor for shoddy work. Endlessly speak of past projects that didn’t turn out satisfactorily for them.

Bad contractors do exist and people do have terrible experiences working with them. So, a client telling you about a bad experience with another company is not an immediate red flag.

But, past problems are a sign to dig deeper. Ask questions about the incident to determine if it was a one-time problem caused by an inexperienced or incompetent contractor, or if there is a pattern of failure caused by unrealistic client expectations.

If it’s a trend, that person could turn into your next problem client.

Demand for Contract Revisions

Asking for contract revisions is another demand that is sometimes okay, but can become a problem. If someone wants you to change or remove clauses related to payments and arbitration, it’s a red flag they will be a problem client.

Payment and arbitration clauses are in place to protect both you and the client. If someone wants to change the language in such a way that your company takes on more risk, it may be a sign the prospective client plans to withhold payment or file a claim against your business.

If you don’t know how a proposed change could impact your business, consult an attorney. Otherwise, clients should agree to the terms of your contract without reserve.

Those Willing To Sacrifice Quality And Standards For Low Price

Trying to do the best work when your hands are tied because the budget is too low is no fun and is a recipe for disaster. You’re running an ethical business and want to be hired because people trust you do good work, will recommend the best products and you will deliver total client satisfaction.

Some clients aren’t as ethical and look for shortcuts to lower cost by sacrificing on materials and build quality and then leave you responsible when things don’t come out as desired or don’t last into the future.

If a client insists on skimping on quality or makes it impossible to follow even minimum build  standard requirements to save money or speed a project along, it’s a cue to walk away with your integrity intact.

Your Gut Senses This Could Be a Problem Client

Maybe you can’t put your finger on it, but have a feeling that someone will be difficult to work for after meeting them even after only a short time in their presence. It’s okay to use that gut instinct to make a decision.

There’s a saying that you don’t lose any money on jobs you don’t take. Turn it down without regret if you’re uncomfortable taking the job, especially if you notice other red flags.

If you ignore the uneasiness and accept the job anyway, just make sure the cost and contract details are in writing so you can refer to it if the client becomes difficult.

Despite best efforts, problems with clients can still occur. When that happens, refer to the contract and other documentation to remind the client (and yourself) what both parties agreed to.

Luckily, most clients are a joy to work with and the cautions above never need to come into play. However rest assured there will always be the bad apples who make you want to find another line of work. With a bit of due diligence and common sense many of these unpleasant experiences can be avoided.

This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 29 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.Gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .

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