How to Spot the Early Warning Signs of a Bad Freelance Client

We’ve all been there at some point.

Most clients are a joy to work with. They pay you on time, you get along with zero issues, and working with them is genuinely a pleasure.

But then there’ll be a client who is consistently clingy, messages you at all hours of the day (every day), and who follows up on every move you make before you’ve had chance to complete a full cycle of breath.

However, whilst demanding clients may be a bit of a pain to deal with, at least they know what they want and when they want it. And it’s unlikely that you’ll be chasing them up to pay your invoice on time.

The problem arises when they have unrealistic expectations or they don’t appreciate that they’re not your only client.

There will come a time when you realise it’s just not worth it. The money isn’t worth the extra stress of putting up with a bad client. And you simply don’t have to accept every job that comes your way.

So what are those all important bad client warning signs so you can steer well clear before you get started?

They question your competence

I recently came off a video interview where I was questioned over my ability to do ‘complex’ work. Complex, in this case, meaning helping to arrange an office away day and poaching potential employees on LinkedIn. It apparently wasn’t enough that I had a law degree, had practised criminal law, and had almost five years experience of providing executive assistance support to C-suite executives. A clear sign that my expertise wouldn’t be respected.

They try to heavily negotiate on your fee

Whilst there’s nothing wrong with a bit of negotiation, your fee is your fee, and whilst you might have a little bit of wiggle room, if someone is offering way below market rate it’s a clear sign they’re not the client for you. The worst type of clients are those who know your rate from the outset but still put you through a vigorous interview process and drop it in right at the very end. “Oh by the way, I see what you’re charging but it’s way too much. I was thinking about half that price would be reasonable.” Okay, on your bike sonny Jim.

They tell you that the last three people they’ve hired have been no good

Run for the hills! Seriously. I doubt that the problem has been the last three people, particularly if they’ve been hired and fired in fairly quick succession of each other. Think about the common denominator here. It’s likely that a frequently disappointed client won’t like what you bring to the table either. Save yourself the heartache, and the self-doubt, and quit whilst you’re ahead.

They speak as if you’re an employee

One of the biggest no-no’s for me is if a potential client starts speaking to me as if I’m going to become an employee of their business. They speak salary, regular hours, and a lengthy interview process. Sometimes they even utter the words ‘full-time’. In this case, a freelancer is not going to be the right fit for them. We freelance for a reason — for the flexibility and freedom.

They have issues signing a contract

If they refuse to sign a simple contract detailing the scope of work and your rates, this is a big red flag moment — particularly if they can’t give any specific or viable reason why. They might even refuse to acknowledge a contract has been sent to them or say they will ‘sign it ASAP’ but nothing materialises. Don’t start work until a contract has been signed and if there’s been that many problems re signing a straightforward document, it’s a clear signal to move onto the next client.

The longer you freelance and the bigger variety of clients you have, you’ll soon learn who is right for you and who you shouldn’t touch with a barge pole.

And whilst times may be tighter than usual, don’t be tempted to sign prospects who wouldn’t normally fit your ideal client profile. It may seem a good idea in the short-term, but it will only cause you grief and further problems in the long run.

Listen to your gut-feeling and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

WRITTEN BY: Amy Cubbon

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