Opportunities quickly become nightmares when a freelance worker takes on a bad client. Whether you work as a designer, developer, writer, or other professional, the joys of freelancing can turn to angst when a client becomes bent on paying you less than you’re worth or making you do more work without additional pay.
A bad client threatens your reputation, gets on your nerves, costs money, and wastes your time, so you should learn how to spot bad clients & when to ditch them. Look out for these warning signs so you can focus your efforts on good clients and better outcomes.
1. Clients that always pay late
How long would you work for an employer who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay you on time? Probably not long. You can understand if someone has financial problems, but if you don’t get paid on time, your own financial standing is jeopardized. A client that doesn’t pay on time lacks professional business practices and demonstrates contempt for you and your work.
2. Dissatisfaction with other freelancers
When a client praises you while expressing discontent with their last freelancer grab your hat and head for the door because trouble is likely headed your way. Don’t let the client stroke your ego to the point you’ll do anything to prove that you’re better than the other guy because it’s only a matter of time before that client becomes disgruntled with you and goes somewhere else. If you really want to take the work, give the other worker a call to find out what really happened in that relationship.
3. Lack of direction
When a client tries to hire you but has no definite requirements or goals for the job, beware. A customer driven by indecision will waste your time by constantly changing requirements and terms. Don’t get started unless you receive clear and documented specifications and instructions from the client.
4. Unsubstantiated claims of lots of work coming your way
One of the oldest tricks in the book still suckers in freelance workers every day. The client talks about huge plans and work that will keep you busy for years until you agree to a reduced rate. After the ink dries, all those projects tend to become increasingly uncertain until they have completely disappeared from your client’s vocabulary, or maybe the client mysteriously becomes dissatisfied with your work. A better approach might be to offer rate concessions with each subsequent job rather than to offer reduced rates up front.
5. Too much interest in your technique
A client that shows too much interest in how you are doing the work, rather than on the deliverables you provide could be dangerous. Your skills and techniques are your bread and butter, so why would it be in your interest to show a client how to do your work? Clients that want to bleed your knowledge dry are clients that want to terminate you and do the work themselves to save money. Don’t be a sucker.
6. Moving the goal posts
Clients that constantly change the requirements of a project are likely to be as dangerous as they are unprofessional. These clients are from the dark side and want to get more work from you for less. As soon as the goal posts begin moving, it’s time to get what you can out of the deal and then punt the client to the next desperate freelancer.
7. A client with a bad memory is going to be a bad client
When you make agreements and later on the client “forgets” details or “remembers” things that you never agreed to, you need to run for your life. Even if you get everything in writing, this type of client is going to have memory problems. You need to have a memory good enough to remember that you won’t get paid until this client’s bad memory has cost you far more than what you work is worth.
Add your horror stories and advice for others
Now that you know how to spot bad clients & when to ditch them, heed the warning signs, minimize your losses and use your time for better things. What other tips or scenarios could you add to this list to make it more helpful to all of us?