The freelance groups I belong to are filled with tales of client relationships gone wrong. One thing that most of them have in common is that there were client red flags from the beginning. In fact, many bad client relationships start off on the wrong foot with someone who is unrealistic, unreasonable or too demanding.
The key to avoiding bad clients is to recognize these issues before you’ve signed a contract. Here are some of the client red flags that I’ve encountered (and/or heard about) as a freelancer:
You know there are issues with the project when:
- The project briefing and the timelines and/or budget seem like they belong to completely different projects
- The scope changes with every discussion
- The outcome seems too unrealistic and pie-in-the-sky
- The goals or objectives are fuzzy and the prospect says the details will become clearer as the project moves along
- The timeline is already way behind before you’ve even started
Professionalism red flags occur when the prospect:
- Attempts to negotiate an unreasonable rate or even worse, asks you to work for the exposure
- Tells you that they can get the work done much cheaper or makes light of the work you do in an attempt to lowball you
- Has a history of bad relationships with other freelancers and blames it on them
- Attempts to make themselves, their brand or their company sound like a much bigger deal in their industry than it actually is
- Introduces partner “experts” that will help oversee your work
- Does all the talking and doesn’t ask much about your background or work
- Is convinced the work can be done in too little time
- Refuses to sign a contract
- Will not provide partial payment up-front or is slow to pay
Sometimes the prospect’s treatment of you personally provokes red flags. These occur when the prospect:
- Is disrespectful of your time (cancelling meetings at the last minute or showing up late)
- Is unavailable when you have questions or problems arise
- Doesn’t take your opinion into account, even in your field of expertise
- Is convinced the project can get done in far too little time
- Won’t engage when you present legitimate concerns
- Tries to make legitimate concerns sound like your issue
Good client relationships are like good relationships in general – they feel good. You feel respected and valued. You feel engaged and enjoy the work. If you’re not feeling this way, if your gut is telling you this could be trouble, don’t ignore it. Bad prospect relationships don’t turn into great client relationships.
If you’re considering working with a prospect who behaves in some of the ways outlined above, ask yourself why. The need for money seems like the obvious answer, but the reality is that this reflects a mindset of lack. A freelancer who takes a bad job is worried that they can’t get a better one. It can be very scary to say no to work and have faith that you can secure a better job, but you will unfortunately be dealing with bad clients until you adopt that mindset.
When someone has a history of bad romantic relationships, we ask “what is the common denominator in those relationships?” The answer, of course, is that person. The same question applies in a professional context.
Okay, so what are the client green light signals – you can find those here.
Want my easy guide to attracting the right clients? Click here.