The Picky/Vision Matrix – Why Some Clients are So Much Easier than Others

The Picky/Vision Matrix – Why Some Clients are So Much Easier than Others

Over the years, I’ve worked with a huge variety of clients. Many have been incredible. Most have been good or great. And a handful have been nightmares.

If you’re a web designer, developer, graphic designer, or any other type of creative who produces something for your small business clients, then you’ve probably encountered the exact same thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have great clients. I’ve been very fortunate to figure out early on who I should be working with and to actually encounter those people regularly. Coming up with this matrix has a lot to do with that.

If you’re one of my current clients and you’re reading this: you’re one of the good ones!

And don’t take any of this post as complaining, either. This is simply the knowledge I’ve gained from going through some bad situations.

The Picky/Vision Matrix

The Picky/Vision Matrix is a graph I devised to describe a variety of different client types I’ve encountered. At its core, it is simply a graph of how picky a client is in their tastes versus how good of an idea they have of what they want.

I’m sure you can see where this is going!


On the x-axis, we have their “Vision”. How well they know what they want. A zero means they haven’t the slightest clue what they want. They’ve come to you with some vague notion that they need a website, but haven’t done any research or put any thought in to it.

A ten means that they know exactly what they want. They may have already had the designs done, maybe they’ve already created all of the content, and have a perfect vision of the finished project.

Then we have our y-axis. This is the “Picky” scale. A zero means they are extremely laid-back. They are cool with anything. If you build it, they’ll approve without a single modification requested.

A ten, however, means that they are going to nitpick every single detail. Be prepared to either implement pixel-perfect accuracy or spend endless rounds of revisions.

And that’s the matrix! Not too complicated. Where things get interesting are the different combinations of traits that can arise.

The Four Quadrants

There are four main quadrants within this scale, and there are different things to watch out for with each. Knowing this can help equip you for dealing with various clients.

These are the main four types of clients.

Easy Going

These clients occupy the bottom-left quadrant. They have no vision for what they’d like, but they also aren’t picky at all. These can be great clients as long as they trust you to do a good job.

You also have to do a good job to begin with as well, because they aren’t going to tell you if something is amiss. Generally they are going to take your advice and let you do your thing. For many designers, especially the more “out-there” ones, this is the greatest type of client. You can finally use all those funky colors and obscure designs you’ve been waiting for.

The Power Client

These clients are in the top-right quadrant. They know exactly what they want, and are going to make sure you give them exactly that. They don’t want you to improvise or add you’re own twist, they just want you to do it.

For the right designer, these can perfect clients. They probably came to you with a completed plan, and will make sure you stay on track to make their vision come to life.

This is often ideal for website designers who don’t actually have a design background and would rather focus on the development. There’s no ambiguity and you know exactly what you’re getting in to.

However, with these clients you have to make absolutely sure you can deliver exactly what they are requesting. Because if you can’t, they’re not going to be happy!

There is also the possibility that they are going to be price shopping the project quite a bit and are mostly only interested in the bottom line. Because they’ve already decided what they need, they just need a basic developer to make it for them. That’s a lot less expensive than hiring an expert who can guide them through everything and help them make decisions. They don’t need your added value and won’t pay for it.

But if they decide you’re the right fit (and you actually are the right fit), they’ll be loyal and provide you with consistent business.

The Nightmare

This is the client that has absolutely no idea what they want, and yet is extremely picky anyway. They occupy the top-left quadrant.

Now, I don’t want to speculate on what makes people this way. You would think that if you have no idea what you need, that lack of knowledge would preclude you from saying “no” to designs and ideas. Because how do you know it’s not what you need?

It seems to me to just be an unfortunate personality trait some people have. It’s not tied to any industry or group. Although, in my experience, it’s tied to other undesirable client behavior like constantly trying to get a better rate (‘I’m going to bring you so much business later!’), paying late (or never), and trying to change the terms of your agreement after it’s already complete.

It’s also possible that these are all just associated with those who live exclusively in the armpit of the small-business world: Craigslist. For those of you just getting started: Craigslist is a great place to find clients if you want to learn valuable lessons very quickly, but a bad place to go if you want to make money. Or if you aren’t a masochist.

With that being said, it’s not totally impossible to find good clients in this quadrant. The right designer can coax information out of the client and has processes in place to educate them and also get a feel for their tastes. From there, they have a good shot at giving them exactly what they want.

It doesn’t hurt to just be incredible at what you do as well, and blow them away with the quality of your work. Actually, that doesn’t hurt in any industry, I imagine.

The Unicorn

This is it. This is what everyone strives for. Many will seek this client, but few will actually get them. This is the client that knows exactly what they want, and isn’t picky. They occupy the bottom-right quadrant.

These are by far the rarest clients, and with good reason. It requires two personality traits that are somewhat mutually exclusive. Generally the only people that are going to put the time into cultivating their vision for a project to the extent required for this are not at all the type of people who are going to be laid back and flexible with your interpretation of what they’ve created.

But when you find them, it’s amazing! The sales process is generally straightforward because they’ve already prepared exactly what’s needed. The build is easy because, again, you’ve got a flawless roadmap. And then once it’s built, you’re pretty much done! They are happy and generally already sent you the final check last week because that’s just the type of people they are.

Total project time comes in at about half of your estimate, if even. That’s pure profit, and everyone is happy. If only life were always this easy.

It takes an especially enlightened individual to fall under this category. In my experience, it’s generally not going to be someone who has significant emotional investment in the outcome of the project, such as the business owner. Instead, it’s almost always going to be a person who does it as just another aspect of their job. This is going to be your marketing manager or employee who has other responsibilities but still wants to do a good job with the website.

If you ever have a Unicorn, you need to treat it right and never let it go. Do good work and they’ll be happy.

How can you pick your type of client?

Since it can be difficult to read a person in the first meeting or two, it’s often quite hard to determine what type of client they’ll be. Over time you’ll get a feel for it, however. Certain traits tend to cluster towards one type or another.

Their level of preparation and description for project they are requesting will give you a good idea of their vision. How they react to suggestions and changes might give some hint of how picky they are.

However, what I’ve learned in my years of doing this is also that, to some extent, the designer creates the type of client they end up working with. Let me explain.

If you’re a terrible designer, every client is going to be “The Nightmare”. Think about it: if all of your work is horrible, your client is going to seem really picky. They’ll say, “yeah, I just don’t know about this design… Is there something we can do to improve it?” And they might not have any suggestions, and you’ll start thinking they have no idea what they want and that they’re too picky.

But you’re the one with the terrible designs. It’s likely that if your first draft had been a beautiful work of art, they may have said, “Yes! That’s it! We’re done here.”

As someone who started out not really knowing what I was doing, and slowly building a team that actually does produce great work, I can tell you that simply being better improves the “quality” of your clients immensely. It’s no coincidence that my impression of the clients I was getting when I first started was much, much worse than my impression of my current clients.

Additionally, quality attracts better clients as well, and it’s not just a case of the same people reacting more positively to you. People who know what they want are more likely to pick you because of your past work, and are also more likely to trust your choices because they are confident you know what you are doing.

When your work is bad, the people who hire you anyway usually just do it because you’re cheap. And cheap clients are generally bad clients. It’s difficult to make a living being the cheapest and worst. So your only choice is to get better! Or change careers.

You Can Use this Information to Improve Your Business

Having a good grasp of this information can actually help improve your business in tangible ways. Primarily:

  1. You are better equipped to choose the right clients to work with.
  2. You can justify any investments to improve the quality of your work, which is always better.
  3. You can better determine the causes of your successes and failures in past projects, and use that information to make better decisions in the future.
  4. You can adjust your pricing a bit depending on the type of client you are working with (you can charge Unicorns less because your costs are lower).

Developing this mindset has actually helped me tremendously in my business. While things were rough at the start, I quickly learned who I should be working with and how to attract more of my ideal client.

I am happy to say that today, I have some of the best clients around! Surround yourself with people you enjoy working with, and you will not only have more success, but you’ll be a lot happier doing it, too.

Good luck finding your Unicorns!


About Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson is a website developer and designer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a passion for code and WordPress. He spends his days building WordPress websites for small businesses, developing new code with the online community, and living life.

2 Comments on “The Picky/Vision Matrix – Why Some Clients are So Much Easier than Others”

  1. Thank you for posting this. I use your matrix with a game board spinner to give my Photography students a personality to try to appease with pretend freelance jobs. Breaks up the monotony of some of our critiques.

    To make the project challenging for the whole class I also add that getting a “unicorn” or “easy going” might lead to better interactions with the client but not necessarily better results when the project is viewed by the real world so they may need to be more SELF critical (for our purposes)

    Thanks again

    1. That’s actually hilarious! I’m glad you were able to get some use out of it.

      I hope it’s helping some of them out. I certainly would have liked to have been warned about some of these clients!

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