Avoiding PITAS, Time Sucks, and Money Pits

What is a PITA?

PITA is an acronym used by small businesses owners that stands for pain in the ass. We use it to describe jobs that take up too much time or money (often both), are difficult to accomplish, or require us to interact with a customer who is impossible to please or is rude.

We all try to avoid these dirty jobs as much as possible, but it’s easy to get sucked in when business is slow.

How to Avoid the PITAs

When it comes to your business, it’s best to just avoid the PITAs altogether. They’re not worth it, and it’s not going to end well. Let’s see what we can do to dodge them.

A PITA never ends well.

Look for Red Flags

You’ll know if a job is going to turn into a PITA if you pay attention to certain signals.

They low-ball you or try to haggle.

It’s normal for potential customers and clients to price compare and shop around for the best deal or the best service for their money. It’s not acceptable for them to pitch a counter-offer to your quoted price. That means they don’t know your worth and don’t respect you as a professional. They’re just looking to avoid spending any money

They make threats.

Avoid prospective clients who threaten to give you a bad review or blast you on social media if you don’t do what they want. You don’t need that kind of toxicity in your business. And chances are, even if you do what they want they’re going to trash talk your business anyway. If not in a review, then by word of mouth.

They offer to pay you in exposure.

Some people think that they can get freebies by offering someone exposure or referrals. It’s just a really bogus way to steal time and resources from small businesses and self-employed individuals who have slim profit margins as it is. And it’s simply rude. Even if you would have liked the exposure or referrals they’re offering, these guys are just out to take advantage of you and will rarely (if ever) come through.

Know Your Worth

You can avoid the hagglers by knowing exactly how much you’re worth. Do some industry research and find out how much your competitors charge for the same services. Not just local competitors, but those in other areas as well. And then don’t try to undercut them.

You’ll also need to figure out how much you’re willing to work for, and make sure your price is high enough to accommodate that.

Anyone who is serious about their investments will be willing to pay a reasonable price. And you’ll find that serious customers are turned off by bargain basement pricing because they understand that quality has a cost.

You don’t have to accept every job that comes your way.

Just Say NO

You do NOT have to accept every job. Even if you need it. Not everything is a good fit. Maybe you don’t like the client, their personality just doesn’t jive with yours or they’re rude or disrespectful …or too needy. Maybe you’re not comfortable with the scope of the project, or there’s an ethical concern with the subject matter.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is, if you get a bad feeling or aren’t happy with the work, just say No. In these cases, it’s best to try and determine that before there’s a contract and to refer to the client to someone else (when possible) so they’re not left to fend for themselves. Often, a potential customer will be grateful to you for admitting you can’t take on their project (instead of just muddling through and doing a sub-par job) and that you’re willing to point them in the right direction.

Use Contracts

If you decide to take a job, make sure to draw up some sort of contract or agreement that you and your client can review, agree to, and sign before you get started. It should state the scope of the project, the price, when payment must be tendered, what’s expected of the client, and anything else you think may come up.

It’ll probably take you a few jobs to really hash out what needs to be included on your contract, but having one prevents scope creep and protects you in case you need to take anyone to court (or they take you to court). Don’t work without one.

How to Get Out of a PITA

Let’s say you didn’t manage to avoid the PITA, and now you’re tearing your hair out trying to deal with it. It may be tricky, but there are some ways to get out of the job if you’re careful about it.

Refer Back to the Contract

If the project is a PITA because the client has unrealistic expectations or is trying to get you to do extra work, you should refer back to the contract you (hopefully) agreed to at the beginning. Let them know that if they want to add anything, there will need to be a new contract and a new discussion … and a new price. That’ll usually cool them down a bit.

Communication is Key

When the trouble with the job is that there are too many hands in the pot, you need to send a message to the first person who reached out to you and make it clear that there’s a communication issue which will definitely affect the end result and the time it takes to complete the job.

Let them know that their group needs to designate one individual to interface with you, and any group decisions need to be made before hand and given to that person. You may also need to restate your respective roles: what you agreed to be responsible for and what they agreed to be responsible for.

Doing this will turn your PITA back into the reasonable job it started out as, and your client will be impressed with your professionality and communication skills.

Set Expectations

 If you’re dealing with a particularly demanding client or a customer who is impossible to please, the best thing you can do is set expectations. Let them know exactly what you can and are willing to do and why. It’s important to make sure they understand that it’s not in their best interest for you to try to manage or support things that are beyond your control and that it would just be a waste of their time and money for you to try. If possible, give them alternatives. People like to have choices.

They’ve Got You Over a Barrel

You didn’t have a contract, you have already plugged more time and money into this thing than you ever should have, and you know it’s all downhill from here. You have two choices here: suffer through it or fire the client.

Suffer Through

The job has to end sometime. If it’s not going to put you out of business, it’s just giving you gray hairs, you might decide to just keep plugging and then learn from the experience next time.

Fire the Client

The best way to do this is to let the client know that you are not going to be able to meet their needs. If possible, try to refer them to another provider. Hopefully you had a contract with a clause for conditions under which you can cancel the contract. If not, make sure you finish up what you can and refund what you can’t. You may be out some money, but at least you don’t have to deal with this anymore.

Dealing with the Fallout

Chances are, whether you refused the PITA in the first place or had to get out of it after taking it on, there may be some fallout. Maybe the customer left a bad review or told other people not to do business with you. Maybe you’re out some of the time and money you spent on the project. Here are some ways to make the best of a bad situation.

Bad Reviews

Be Professional.

This is your chance to showcase your professionality and customer service skills. Answer any bad reviews with an understanding tone. Thank them for their feedback, and assure them that you will be looking for ways to improve your business practices in accordance with it.

If possible, offer a discount or refund. If you’ve already given or offered them a discount or refund, say so in your response. If their expectations had been unreasonable, gently note the reason you couldn’t fulfill their request.

Don’t Worry.

Studies have shown us that many people don’t trust reviews that are only positive, they like to see at least one negative. Otherwise, they don’t believe the reviews are genuine. Obviously you don’t want to go around trying to get a bad review, just let that happen organically.

Drown It Out.

If you’ve recently gotten a bad review from a disgruntled ex-client, now is a good time to ask your favorite clients for a review. Tell them you’ve enjoyed doing business with them, and you’re looking for people who would be willing to leave a candid assessment of your business for other potential customers (do not say that you’re trying to balance out a bad review, that’s not appropriate). Many will be happy to help. The one bad review will have a lot smaller impact when it’s buried in a sea of good reviews.

Lost Time

 You can’t get back time you’ve already lost. They haven’t invented a machine for that yet. What you can do is learn what you can from this experience to reduce time spent on future projects.

Make your process more efficient.

Set up better, more collaborative ways of communicating, such as shared documents and forums instead of email. Find better tools for managing your time. Collect more information up front so you can spot the PITA before it happens. Give free consultations via in-person meeting or video conference to get to know your prospective client better before you start working together.

All these are excellent ways to avoid PITAs in the future and to make your good jobs better.

Improve your documentation.

Whether it’s your service offerings, price points, or your client contracts, you can add to your documentation to make everything easier next time.

Lost Money


Unlike time, you can sometimes get back lost money. It may not be possible every time, or may not be worth it when it is possible. But it’s worth looking into.

Consult a Lawyer.

It doesn’t hurt to see if there’s anything you can do to get money that wasn’t paid to you, reimbursement for damaged equipment, or compensation for damaged reputation, especially if you have a contract. At least sit down with a lawyer to see if there’s any recourse and if it would be worth pursuing.

Rework Your Pricing or Offerings.

Other than just not getting paid, the most common way money is lost by small, service-based businesses is through inadequate pricing. If you didn’t make enough money from a job in relation to how difficult it was or how much time it took, it may be time to revisit your pricing structure or service offerings. 

You can switch from a per-job/per-service pricing structure to a per-hour pricing structure and vice versa. You can change your scope of service to leave out any tasks you would rather not take on, those with low-profit margins, or those which aren’t popular enough to justify the resources required.

Value, Value, Value

The most important takeaway here is value. Value your time, value your money, value your good clients. Overall, value yourself. As long as you have value, you have a pretty good barrier against clients and projects that waste time, energy, and money. 

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