Client Red Flags to look out for
I’ve been a freelance web designer for a long time. I’ve worked for some of the biggest companies in the world (Chelsea FC, LG, Playboy for example), but I have also worked for some very small companies too. And this post is really just a few things I have learned along the way that might help a fellow freelancer to spot a nightmare client.
Honestly, all of these red flags now give me alarm bells, and I run for the hills as fast I can.
1. They tell YOU how long things will take
We’ve all had it, right? “Oh, this should only take you a few hours” or “This won’t take you long” – it is my biggest annoyance in a client. If you think it should only take a few hours, then you know how to do it, so do it yourself I guess. It is a HUGE red flag. What they are really saying is “This is all I am willing to pay for this” – and it is a gaslighting trick that makes you think you’re not good at your job if you say “Actually, that will take me 3 times that long” – this is always my first red flag with a new client. If they start with this, chances are, they are going to be a total nightmare from start to finish.
2. They don’t know what they actually want
Another common client phrase seems to be “I’ll know it when I see it!” Or “I can tell you what I DON’T like!” – these are huge red flags too. If your client cannot tell you what they want and need, then you’re never going to reach their expectations. Also, it leads in to not having a solid scope, which then means you’ll never be truly finished with the job. Run. Run away now.
3. They expect you to be around at all hours
If your client calls you out of the blue (often) without notice, or they need the work done ASAP, or they think they can phone you out of hours then it is a huge red flag. You have working hours. Being a freelancer doesn’t change that. You aren’t a 24/7 support service. My suggestion to you and your business is to turn off push notifications after a certain time (maybe 5pm?) – and DO NOT reply to people or answer calls outside of your core hours unless it is a real emergency. There are always exceptions to rules, but you need to set the rules. Tell the client what your hours are, and if they start asking about how they can reach you outside of those hours (or worse, just calling anyway), then it is a huge red flag.
4. They try to talk you down on price
“I could get this done cheaper elsewhere” is a famous one for all new red-flag clients. My immediate go-to is “Okay, good luck with your project” and end the conversation. Either they accept your price, or they don’t. Clients who start off trying to negotiate down every price or say things like “I didn’t expect something so simple to cost so much” don’t truly understand how long things take to be done properly and they don’t appreciate your skill. Run a mile. Red Flag.
5. They always have a great excuse for not paying on time
This is usually after the fact, but you should always take an initial payment from new clients (not a deposit mind you, deposits are refundable, this is an initial payment, check the difference!). And I am sure you’ve all had it “Oh I didn’t get the invoice” or “Well I can’t pay you until my clients have paid me” – HUGE red flag. If they can’t pay the initial amount before the work starts, how are you going to expect them to pay the final invoice once they don’t actually need you? There are a variety of excuses, and it usually goes hand in hand with “If you can just crack on with the job, and I’ll pay you really soon” – this is a massive red flag. Don’t start work without the initial payment (and contracts in place!) or you are on the hook for a huge fail.
We’ve all had nightmare clients. Maybe you haven’t if you’re a newish freelancer, but you will get these people. Run, seriously RUN. You should only work with people who really appreciate your value.