Client Red Flags: 3 Warning Signs of Bad Architecture Clients

August 6, 2023

Tyler Suomala

Founder of Growthitect

I had an alarming realization this week.

I spend so much time writing about how you can attract high-quality clients that I’ve neglected the other side of the coin: avoiding low-quality clients. We’ve all experienced the pitfalls of low-quality clients at some point in our career:

  • Loss of talent

  • Endless scope creep

  • Long hours due to unrealistic expectations

  • Burnout that results from mental and emotional exhaustion from clients

We don’t want that. But sometimes it seems difficult to identify a low-quality client before getting a signed contract.

Picture this: you're presented with a golden opportunity, an awesome project that gets your team excited. But as the project unfolds, you find yourself entangled in a web of misunderstandings, scope creep, and unmet expectations. Does this sound familiar?

This scenario often stems from underestimating the significance of red flags during those pivotal initial client interactions.

Here's the catch – many architects, in their eagerness to secure projects, tend to overlook those blinking warning signs. The thrill of winning a project can cloud their judgment, causing them to downplay potential hazards. And if you only focus on “getting the project” then you’re far more likely to experience a consistent flow of low-quality clients.

Aligning yourself with the wrong client can lead to a whirlwind of wasted effort, budget overruns, and a team teetering on the brink of exhaustion. If your visions don't align right from the start, you're setting yourself up for a bumpy ride that might end in disappointment.

So what are these “red flags” that should catch your attention?

01 // Bad past experiences

Clients with a history of bad experiences might indicate indecision or difficulties in effective communication, both of which can escalate into prolonged project challenges.

Listen for statements like:

  • 🚩 "Our previous architect was a nightmare to deal with."

  • 🚩 "We had countless issues during our last project."

  • 🚩 "We had to sever ties with our previous architect."

What to do when you hear it:

It's time to play detective! Dive into the specifics of these past experiences. Uncover the underlying causes, gauge their expectations, and determine whether their vision harmonizes with your project approach.

02 // Unrealistic expectations

Unrealistic expectations may suggest a client who isn't fully aware of the practical constraints or intricate dynamics of architectural projects.

Listen for statements like:

  • 🚩 "I want a unique design, but I have a tight budget."

  • 🚩 "I need this project completed in a short timeframe."

  • 🚩  "I'm envisioning a design that's truly revolutionary and groundbreaking."

What to do when you hear it:

Validate their aspirations while gently nudging them towards a more grounded understanding of the project's scope, timeline, and financial parameters. A sprinkle of real-world examples and clear explanations can help align their expectations. Closely monitor their reaction, response, and understanding.

03 // Lack of clarity or commitment

A lack of clarity or commitment might indicate a client struggling with uncertainty, making it challenging to navigate the project seamlessly.

Listen for statements like:

  • 🚩 "Let's jump in and figure things out as we go."

  • 🚩 "I'm not entirely sure what I want yet, but I'll know it when I see it."

  • 🚩 "I've worked with several architects, none of whom truly grasped my vision."

What to do when you hear it:

Become their guiding light! Delve into their goals, unravel their pain points, and initiate a comprehensive discussion about their vision. Outline your approach, emphasizing the significance of collaboration and clarity to create a project that truly reflects their goals.

Pause and ask questions

A red flag statement shouldn’t be an immediate disqualification. It’s simply a cause for curiosity.

Pause the direction of the conversation and go down the rabbit hole of their statement. It’s important to understand the core issue by asking great questions, listening intently, and validating legitimate concerns.

In the end, you need to trust your gut.


Not every opportunity is a diamond in the rough. Some projects come bearing unmistakable red flags, indicating potential roadblocks. Your mission? Sharpen your instincts, lend an attentive ear, pose probing questions, and decipher these signals to decide whether a project holds promise or peril.

Listen for:

  1. Bad past experiences

  2. Unrealistic expectations

  3. Lack of clarity or commitment

Stay watchful and reserve your world-class talent for world-class clients 🙂

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