There’s nothing like a bad client to put a black cloud over your freelancing business. Bad clients suck the energy out of your work and leave you feeling deflated and shortchanged. Yet it can be difficult upon first contact to decide whether a potential new client is suitable or a whole heap of trouble just waiting to be unleashed.
As a freelancer or solopreneur, spotting the future potential of a new prospect might feel like an impossible challenge, especially if you’re new. The temptation to say “yes” to any client project can feel overwhelming when you’re first starting out or you’re facing financial problems.
However, a bad client can cause so much chaos and upheaval that you end up losing valuable billable hours tending to their every whim. These hours could instead have been used in marketing your business and attracting better clients. Sometimes, it’s more sensible to turn down certain prospects even when you desperately need the work.
So how do you decide? How do you judge whether a potential new client is a good fit for your freelancing services, your personality, and indeed, your long-term career?
Here are some factors to consider:
Will accepting the prospect’s project play to your strengths?
You know your strengths and weaknesses. There are some services and project types about which you are supremely confident. There are others, which although you offer on your website, are more difficult and perhaps less tried.
When faced with a new prospect, decide whether the prospect’s project plays to your strengths, especially if you’re feeling some doubts about their character. It’s a lot easier to manage a bad client from a position of confidence than from a feeling of doubt and inferiority.
Is the prospect clear, polite, and prompt in their communications?
Whether it’s by email, phone, or an in-person meeting, if the prospect is leaving you confused, anxious, and/or waiting, then warning bells should be sounding. These negative signs rarely improve once the project officially commences, especially when it comes to paying invoices on time.
Great clients are the complete opposite. They respect you as a fellow professional and are quick to answer your questions, share information, and even share a joke or two. They are a joy to work with and leave you feeling positively energized.
Is your prospect haggling over your prices?
Bad clients will see your services as nothing more than a commodity to be bartered over like a cheap rug in a bazaar. When you quote a project fee, they will try to find ways to reduce the price and maybe even offer promises of future work in return for a lower rate.
This is a bad sign. It shows they have little respect for your skills, experience, and expertise. Unless you’re a complete newbie with zero portfolio samples, it’s usually wise to avoid price hagglers.
Great clients are willing to pay the going rates, and higher, for your skills and are usually a lot easier to work with.
“We need this project delivered by the end of today.”
You’re almost certainly familiar with an enquiry from a potential client asking whether you can complete a job at the drop of a hat. Regardless of what services you offer and to which sectors, it’s usually nigh on impossible and certainly unreasonable to meet this demand.
Such a request is a sign that the prospect has little understanding of your skills and experience.
Great clients understand you probably have a waiting list and existing client projects which take precedence. They also understand their project requires time, research, discussions, and revisions, which might take weeks or even months to complete.
Unless you’re really desperate and have zero clients, then requests like this signal potentially unsuitable clients.
Like with an unrealistic timescale, an unrealistic brief is also a warning signal. A poor brief is usually muddled, vague (or overly complicated), completely unworkable, and even outside of your skillset and specialism.
Some prospects might be open to redefining their brief with your help, and that’s fine. Others will be set in their ways and demanding. The latter group are certainly clients to avoid if you deem the brief to be unrealistic or a lot of extra hassle you just don’t need.
The ideal client, in any freelancing field, is one who stays with you for many years into the future. Some freelance services are perfectly attuned to retainer work, such as business blogging, social media, and coaching. Many other freelancing professions have clients who return again and again, over months and years.
These are all prospect types with positive long-term potential.
It’s worth considering whether you want to work solely with repeat clients or a mixture of one-off and retainer. Getting to know new prospects and clients can be time consuming, especially if you attract a lot of potentially inappropriate prospects.
Your current need
Are you in desperate need of money? Do you need more portfolio samples pronto? Would you like to test out a brand new service?
Your current need is another factor to consider when deciding whether a new client is suitable. Sometimes you really have no choice but to accept a less than ideal prospect.
While they may be a little demanding or cash-strapped, what they do pay might be a welcome reprieve in your current circumstances. Or, they will provide an excellent new sample for your growing portfolio. You sometimes just have to bite the bullet and get the job done as best you can.
Trust your gut instinct. Intuition can be a powerful tool when it comes to filtering out potentially bad clients. Little warning bells will begin to sound in your mind as you subconsciously spot the signs of problems ahead.
Of course, you won’t always get it right. And this applies both ways. Sometimes a seemingly curt or chaotic prospect actually turns out to be an amazing client in every way. On the flip side, that seemingly perfect and polite prospect, can turn into a Mr. Hyde as soon as the project begins.
However, most of the time, your instincts will be accurate. Judge accordingly.
(See also: 10 Reasons Why Freelancers Should Drop a Client)
Attracting the right type of client
To be a successful freelancer, you need to be careful when it comes to accepting new projects. Part of the secret in attracting good clients is strengthening your client attraction strategies. If your branding is poor and your marketing sporadic, you’ll position yourself as a commodity, rather than an experienced and knowledgeable professional.
It’s essential to create a brand that acts as a magnet to your dream prospects. You’ll then have an easier time in assessing whether a potential new client is suitable, or not. Plus, you’ll earn a lot more money and be a lot happier in your freelancing career.