It happens to every business: you take on a new customer and the anticipated happy experience turns into a nightmare that stresses your staff, demands many more hours of work than expected, results in a financial loss, and leaves bad taste in your mouth. Unreasonable clients and customers who will never be satisfied lead to employee turnover, job dissatisfaction, and declining morale.

How does a responsible businessperson avoid the pitfall of the unreasonable client? How do you recognize which clients are worth chasing? The first considerations in qualifying clients concern whether a prospect values your time, expertise, and the service or product you provide.

Potential clients who don’t value your service or time will demand your time, attention, and expertise to solve their problems without actually hiring you. Beware of prospect who “will just use you for information without any intention of doing business,” says Melinda Emerson in her article “How to Qualify Potential Customers.” In such a scenario, she advises giving “just enough information to demonstrate that you know how to solve their business challenge.”

Potential clients who consistently miss appointments do not value your limited time. Emerson recommends disengaging from prospects after two failed appointments. Should the prospect keep attempting to reschedule, “simply say you are unavailable due to a huge new project, or give them a bid that you know far exceeds their budget.”

New entrepreneurs often make the mistake of accepting every contract offered, because they’re just getting started and want to establish a client base and reputation. Often potential clients understand this mindset and take advantage of it by requesting low bid rates, accelerated delivery schedules, and extra services. They’re pre-qualifying vendors, too, to see who can deliver the results they want for the absolute lowest price.

The result of accepting every offer that comes along is stress and a reputation for being the low bid provider. Qualifying clients means “making sure that prospects have budgets and are likely to buy,” says Ruben Gamez in his article “How to Qualify Your Business Leads Like a Top Agency.” In short he warns, “When you don’t qualify leads, you wind up with bad clients, and servicing bad clients comes at a high cost.” And they don’t give referrals, either.

Weeding out good prospects from bad means turning down jobs. Before you know which prospects to turn down so you can focus on the good ones, you must determine the key characteristics that define a good client. If you already have a portfolio of work, analyze the clients who commissioned your favorite projects and identify their common traits for pros and cons. Then break down the list of pros into “must-have” and “nice-to-have” characteristics. The “must-have” characteristics form your qualifying list. A prospect must meet those qualifications in order for negotiations for proceed.

Amber Leigh Turner’s article “How Prequalifying Your Potential Clients Could Save Your Time” suggests asking the following questions:

1. Is the prospect requesting services you offer?
2. Is the prospect serious?
3. What is the prospect’s budget?
4. Will your schedule accommodate the project?
5. What’s your gut feeling?

Once you’ve determined that the prospect feels like a good fit and that you understand the project challenge, propose a good solution and submit an estimate (for small projects) or a proposal (for large projects).