7 Early Warning Signs of a Bad Freelance Client

As a freelancer, you like to make a good first impression with prospective clients. After all, they’re going to be investing money in the services you provide. While you need to be a good fit for their requirements, they also need to be a good fit for you.

Problematic clients can cost you money, time, and energy with their demands, unrealistic expectations, and rude behavior. It’s important to spot the early warning signs of a bad freelance client before work is agreed and payment deposits are emailed.

But what are these early warning signs that often appear during the initial consultation?

Here are seven bad client clues to look out for:

  1. They continually question your rates

Your rates are what they are for a good reason. You’ve worked hard, built a solid portfolio, gained years of experience, and produced great results for previous clients. You also deserve to earn a good living and enjoy what you do. So when a prospective client continually questions every price you give them, it might be time to politely decline their project.

Good clients are those who respect your expertise and knowledge. They understand the level of professionalism and skill you provide will be more expensive than the services provided by a complete beginner or lesser skilled freelancer. Anyone who questions your rates will not respect what you do and will likely be a pain to work with.

  1. They ask you to initially work for free as a test

A potential client gets in touch and asks you to work on a sample piece for free before they make a decision on whether to hire your services. This is more common than you might think and is a completely unacceptable request. It’s as though they’ve ignored your portfolio of work and information detailing your expertise.

No one asks for a dentist or a plumber to work for free before a decision is made as to whether to carry on with their services. The same applies to freelancers. A client’s promise of a lot of paid work after the trial period, is not guaranteed either. When people ask you to work for free, they’re never really going to respect your skills and expertise in the long-term.

  1. They complain about other freelancers

During your initial emails or phone calls, the prospective client trash talks other freelancers in the same field as you. They enthusiastically tell you about the bad experiences they’ve had and the negative qualities of these other service providers. They tell you they have hope you are different and things will go well. The trouble is, there’s a good possibility this type of client will fall out with you too.

Everyone has had a bad experience with a service provider. There are some unscrupulous freelancers about who are rude, lazy and carry out shoddy work. But they are a minority on the whole and if a business owner and collaboration partner has had nothing but bad experiences, then it suggests the problem might rest with them. Their unrealistic expectations, inflated ego, or poor social skills mean you too might never satisfy their demands.

  1. They don’t know what they want

When a prospect comes to you without a coherent plan or understanding of what they need, then this can be a glaring warning sign of a bad client. Many business owners will look to you for guidance on matters related to their project and be open to suggestions. This is fine but if they don’t have a clear overall goal for the work you need to do, then everything becomes a lot more difficult for you as the freelancer.

Before you start work you need to clearly understand a project’s scope, requirements, information, and goals. The client should be clear about what they want to achieve and why, as well as how. If they’re not, then this means more work and hassle for you in deciphering what they want and worrying whether they’ll just end up changing their minds mid-project, on a whim.

  1. They don’t want to answer too many questions

Part of understanding what a client wants and requires is the asking of questions, sometimes a lot of them. Freelancers need to ask questions. Without them, it’s all too easy to misunderstand a project, assume the wrong things, and get important details badly wrong, resulting in tense and lengthy editing. If a client is hesitant or unwilling, right from the beginning, to spend time providing detailed answers, then trouble is sure to follow.

When a client provides all the details you need and is there to assist in the process, the project usually runs a lot smoother and faster than it otherwise would. The results are much improved as well. Getting a project completed quickly and accurately, without too many edits, allows you to earn more money and take more time off.

  1. They scrutinize every facet of your proposal

After initial discussions with a potential new client, you sent a proposal to them detailing estimated costs, timelines, and other important details. Unfortunately, they soon came back to you with a series of criticisms and complaints about the way you do things. If this happens, it’s unlikely you’ll ever please them no matter how much you deviate from your normal procedures.

Sometimes it’s sensible to go out of your way to accommodate a different legitimate payment method or modify a timeline to suit a client’s way doing of things. However, if their demands go beyond what you’re comfortable with, and what are industry norms, then it’s wise to put your foot down and risk losing the client altogether. Such a client will likely be a pain from start to finish anyway.

  1. They have unrealistic expectations

Most prospective clients have a general idea of what you do and how you can help them but they don’t fully understand your process. This is to be expected. It’s your job to quickly explain how things work. Unfortunately, no matter how much you explain things, some clients will always have unrealistic expectations of what you can do.

They’ll demand unworkable deadlines, require unsuitable project specifications, refuse to pay an upfront deposit, and ask you to guarantee success or particular results. If, after reassurances and explanations, a potential client refuses to back down then it might be wise to let them go in order to avoid more problems throughout the project and beyond.

If you come across any of these bad client signals before a project even gets going, then it’s important to consider the long-term potential risks. A bad client can take up more time and energy than you might imagine, and sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle.

Exercise your judgement carefully before agreeing to any project.