• Steven Westwood

7 Signs You May Be Dealing With A Bad Freelance Client

Inspired by a conversation with Chrisa Theodoraki on LinkedIn, I have decided to write this article as part of my "Find Your Ideal Clients As a Freelancer" Series. You can find my previous posts here and here.

Around the same time as this conversation, I had a meeting with some incredible entrepreneurs at Explore Protech. During this meeting, one of the new entrepreneurs expressed feelings of disheartening, embarrassment and being upset that a client she had done work for practically ghosted her upon delivery of said work. She put a lot of time, effort and experience into the project to be rewarded with not being paid.

"Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you?"

Now, when this question was put to the group, would it surprise you to learn that everyone raised their hands. So without further delay, here are my top 7 signs (and a few honourable mentions) to look out for to decide if you're dealing with a bad client.

7. Trust Your Gut

Your instincts are more accurate than you think. Learn to trust them. If somebody is giving off a vibe that's making you question their integrity, their honesty, or their work ethic, then follow that feeling. Sometimes your instincts will kick in screaming at you to run - I would say do so.

Now, this can be difficult, especially when you're first starting, but believe me when I say that the more times you work with difficult clients, the easier they are to recognise. Never be afraid to turn prospective clients away, even if you aren't sure what the negative feeling is about.

6. They Persistently Question Your Rates

Now, whenever you buy something, you want to shop around and complete your research to make sure that what you're getting is worth the money you're spending. The same can be said for your clients, and sometimes you'll have to remind them of what their investment actually gets them.

Though some questions are necessary, what I'm talking about here is when they persistently tell you how expensive your rates are. Some may even go as far as telling you they can get the work done cheaper.

My advice - let them go elsewhere. You have worked hard to build your skills, knowledge and portfolio, and don't deserve to be ripped off by someone who doesn't value that.

5. The Client Avoids Answering Questions

To provide the highest-quality service, you'll need to ask clarifying questions. When they avoid answering the questions, this should be a huge red flag. It often means that you don't have a clear brief, which results in extra work at the end of it as you'll need to make extensive edits. You'll also end up spending more time on the project than you initially thought, and develop frustration towards your client (who in turn becomes frustrated with you).

By not answering your questions, your client is leaving the project open to interpretation, so misunderstandings are likely to happen. This is frustrating, tedious, and often wastes time. It also shows that they don't trust you. And without trust, there is no relationship. Run while you can.

Likewise, a client who can't answer those questions is showing you that they don't really know what they want. This leads to two further implications:

  • The customer relies on you to tell them what they want, resulting in more work for you but not necessarily the pay to reflect this. Now, you're the expert and can advise, but if the client doesn't have a clue what they're after and why. No clear scope could lead to the next implication.

  • More often than not, a client who doesn't know what they want will have an idea of what they don't want - usually after you've already done the work. This means that the scope of the project changes, which can lead on to Scope Creep (coming up next).

Both of these situations could mean that your client will change their mind quite often, and with little warning. You don't want to work with someone who redefines the project on a whim.

4. Scope Creep

Scope creep is when a client intentionally or otherwise, adds extra work that was not within the original agreement or scope of the project. Normally, this does happen naturally, and the best way to combat scope creep is through the communication of your agreement (usually a detailed contract).

Sometimes, this is something that your client expects you to do and will insist that because it won't take you long, it doesn't actually change the scope. If they do try and persuade you to do the additional work at no extra cost to them - they are not valuing you or your services. As long as you stick to the original agreement, get the work done and leave.

3. Spec Work: aka Free Sample

A lot of potential clients will ask for a free sample to see if you have the skills and the knowledge for the job they have in mind. Unfortunately, this is quite common within the creative services industry and is completely unacceptable. To see samples of your work, they can see your portfolio. Any requests for specific examples should be paid for.

When hiring a mechanic, you don't ask them to produce free work as proof of their expertise and experience to get then start fixing your car. It should be the same for freelancers. When people ask you to work for free, they have certain expectations and will take advantage in the long-term. My advice: show them your portfolio again, if they insist on a free sample, say no.

2. They promise more and ongoing work

Clients who argue with you about your rates and offer either ongoing or additional work in the future are hoping that by making these promises, they will get your rates reduced.

There is no guarantee that they will return to you for additional work, and if you reduce your rates, they will expect the rates to be reduced for any other work. This cheapens your expertise and effectively makes you their content mule. Stick to your rates, and they can go and find someone else willing to work hard for nothing.

1. Unrealistic Expectations

Most prospective clients know they need your service and a general idea about what you do. However, they lack knowledge of the processes to achieve success. You'll need to bridge the gap in their knowledge by explaining the process to them.

Unfortunately, there'll always be clients who have unrealistic expectations. They will want you to achieve impossible deadlines, refuse to pay the upfront deposit, and expect you to guarantee the results they're seeking.

When you come across the type of clients that refuse to listen to you and make demands, it may be in your best interests to let them go. It'll save you a lot of hassle and aggravation later in the project.

A Few Honourable Mentions

The Micro-Manager - All I'll say on this one, is that you are your own business. You're the expert and don't need someone breathing down your neck. It isn't good for morale, and you'll feel like you're not good enough. PSA - You Are!

The Freelance Bad Mouthers - Now, there will always be a client who has had a bad experience in the past with a Freelancer, but you're not the one they had a bad experience with. It's unprofessional to keep bad mouthing other Freelancers to you and what's to stop you being the next one they talk badly about? After all, there are two sides to every story.

The "Employer" - Some prospective clients will be under the assumption that you work for them. As such, they'll treat you like an employee and expect you to do everything they request, essentially monopolising your time, and taking you off task. Be polite, yet firm, you are a business providing a service - that would be like getting your internet provider to complete their admin.

The Tweaker - I've highlighted the need for revisions already, I stick a maximum of two revisions for each project in my contracts. Some clients will expect more and more revisions until the work is unrecognisable, or they'll change everything themselves. For the request of more revisions be careful, you could end up accidentally providing extra work outside of the scope of the project. If the client makes changes themselves, gently warn them that those changes may not yield the results, they're after, and you have no responsibility for that.

The Pay-To-Access - In content mills and jobs boards, you'll come across these people. They have a great project that pays well. Your interview stage goes well, and you get excited. Then they hit you with the "you'll need to pay X amount to access the project". You should see red flags all over this one. Just walk away.

The Writing Test - For the writers out there, you'll be familiar with this one. Similar to the free samples, the client will request you do a test to see if you're a good fit. They can check out your website/portfolio to see your writing style. This is another way to not pay for your services. Don't do it.

The Pay More Later - Similar to the above (and the promise of more work in the future) this client wants to pay cheap for the work you produce. They guise it as a "your success is my success and I'll reward you if it works". Newsflash, it doesn't pay you in the long run.

Have you experienced any of these? let me know in the comments.

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