Now Reading
5 Warning Signs of Bad Clients & How to Avoid Them

5 Warning Signs of Bad Clients & How to Avoid Them


*This post may include affiliate links. We get a commission if you sign up with a partner; this commission is at no cost to you.

(Last Updated On: April 19, 2019)

Let’s be honest here.

how to spot and avoid terrible freelance clients

how to spot bad freelance cliens


Good clients and customers are hard to find especially when you’re a new biz owner.

People will take advantage of you. Pay you less than you’re worth. And drive you insane.

Then when all’s said and done they’ll disappear off the face of the earth without paying you.

Well I’ve put together a bunch of bad client warning signs. Many of you have reached out to me with exciting plans to start a business for side income or to replace your 9 to 5.

I want you to stay away from clients who are bad news so you can find the really great ones that love you, pay you and further your career.

Seriously, life is good when you find the gems.

Thankfully, the hassles of horrible clients can be avoided if you value your work, treat your hustle like a legit business and learn tendencies of bad clients so you can steer clear of them to find the good ones.

Now, get ready to sharpen your sixth sense and learn how to predict if a client is BS-ing or if they’re going to help your business grow.

Be weary of clients who:

Downplay the Effort That Goes Into Quality Work

When a client says they need to hire you to do something easy that “won’t take you much time” it usually means one of two things:

  • They don’t want to pay you very much to do it, or
  • They want you to get it done at lightening speed

Neither of these situations put you in a position to benefit, so be careful.

Even if a task is super easy it’s still taking time out of your day and Uncle Sam takes a bite out of whatever you earn. Make sure you’re calculating how much the entire project takes of your time and you’re making a nice profit.

When you really think about it you complete the project plus speak with clients over the phone, send invoices, do revisions if necessary and other follow up.

There’s no reason someone should pay you next to nothing for an “easy” project or demand a quick turnaround. There’s always extra work involved and…

You’re not a magician.


Gossip About Past Workers

When someone praises you in comparison to someone else it may seem like a compliment at first.

I mean if a client decides to do business with you over another person it should make you feel good, right? But there’s a few problems with this that I quickly learned the first few months of freelancing.

First, you don’t want to work with someone that speaks badly about other people they’ve worked with in the past. If you decide to part ways in the future, who knows what they’ll say about you? This client may not be the most professional. 

Second, you don’t know what happened in their past working relationships that made it go sour.

The client could be difficult or have ridiculously high expectations and a low budget to boot. In my own experience a client who dogged their past and (other current contractors) expected the world but didn’t want to spend more than a dime.

If a client you’re negotiating with sparks this type of conversation you shouldn’t dismiss them entirely. Dig into the details of the project to understand what they’re looking for and quote a price that will compensate you for time spent.

But if they ask too much or you get the sense they’re too demanding politely say the complexity of their project won’t fit into your schedule – and keep it moving.


Refuse to Make a Deposit

Before offering a service it’s smart to get some sort of deposit (or even full payment) upfront to ensure whoever you’re working for is serious and actually has the money to pay you.

This is especially true if you’re working with a small business, start up, entrepreneur or random Joe/Jane.

When someone’s hesitant to pay you money upfront you need to find out why. Suspect it’s a cash flow problem if at first they try to haggle your services down to free and then refuse to make a deposit.

Seriously, run for the hills unless you really need work to add to your portfolio and you’re okay with possibly not getting paid.

There is one flip-side to this. Someone may be concerned about making an investment before receiving the service. Understandable. In this case, you can offer a money back guarantee.

Either way make a point to get your hands on some cash before devoting your time and be prepared to walk if they refuse to give it to you.

If you’re working for a larger company or brand sometimes they don’t offer contractors a deposit. In this situation use your best judgement. Ask yourself:

  • Is this company/brand legit?
  • Does it have positive reviews?
  • How much is the company worth? Do they have enough to pay you? (You can check out Manta.com to find out how much a company is worth. It’s a cool trick I picked up from Making A Living Writing. If a company is worth less than $1 million, it could be a sign they don’t have enough money in the budget to pay a freelancer.)
  • Do you know any other contractors that work for the company or client? Can you reach out to someone to see if they pay on time?

Take all of these preliminary steps (even if a client seems trustworthy) to avoid getting burned. Take it from me. It’s far easier to do the groundwork beforehand rather than chase someone down.


Don’t Know What They Want

You’re an expert in your craft but again, you’re not a magician. None of us are.

See Also

Look for clients that have a vision and who can provide you with a guideline for the type of work they’re looking for. Pass on clients that seem wishy washy. It’s tough and frustrating to go back and forth with someone who’s not even entirely sure what they want the final product to be.

There’s a greater chance that your product won’t be what a client envisions if you’re given limited information. Believe me, turning in work that’s “not exactly” what a client has in mind kills your self-esteem. Avoid it at all costs and ask for plenty of details during the courting stage.

If you get a lot of “I’m not sure” or “Whatever you do works”, predict trouble in the future. It’s helpful to also put a condition in your contract that limits the amount of revisions you’ll include in your fee.

When you need to make more than two revisions on a project there’s a communication issue.


Don’t Respond

If you’re stood up for a Skype meeting with a prospective client several times or they give you the run round before you even work together, you can expect that’s how they regularly operate.

Prospective clients that are hard to track down can be just as hard to track down when you’re trying to get work done. If you need to ask for input or clarification on an assignment (or worse, where your money is) you’ll likely have trouble reaching them.

Lack of communication = miscommunication. So hunt for people who are responsive. You need their feedback to get work done to the best of your ability. You also need to know from them what work they’ll have for you in the future to create a project pipeline for your business.


How Can You Detract Bad Clients?

Now we all know bad clients are out there. I’ve pretty much beaten that point to death.

Bad clients may come knocking on your door specifically because they see an opportunity. Here’s how to tell them no one’s home:

  1. Stick to Your Guns: If you’re not confident in your rates it gives the impression that your work is up for negotiation. Set a price that you refuse to go below and stand firm.
  2. Change Your Lingo: I personally have a problem with this and I believe it’s caused clients to devalue my work in the past. I’ve made statements like, “That’s easy enough”, “No problem”, “Sure, that’s simple” in negotiations. I thought it made me sound like an expert because work is just that easy for me to do. Really it downplays the effort that goes into each “simple” task. Try to avoid these phrases. I’m working on it too.
  3. Add a Late Fee: Make it known from the very beginning that you don’t play with late fees. Come up with a late fee percentage and reference it at contract signing. Take it one step further and add a clause stating you won’t start future work until past balances are paid in full. Learned that nifty trick from my biz coach.
  4. Set the Expectation: Set an example and answer emails promptly. Follow up if you don’t hear a response at the agreed upon time. And pitch a communication game plan in negotiations that keeps both of you in the loop.


New to freelancing and side hustling?

I have a mega list of 107 Productive Things to Do Instead of Spending Money to share! It includes ways to get your finances together and ways to bring in more income. Grab the PDF version of this list below!

Want to reach your financial goals?

107 things checklist

Grab the epic list: 107 productive ways to save more money, make more money, and improve your life.

Signing up to get the list also unlocks access to weekly insider emails. You also consent to the Privacy Policy.

Powered by ConvertKit
View Comments (4)
Scroll To Top