But I Need The Money...
Being a freelancer is a tough gig... as you finish up with one client, you're already wondering where the next client is going to come from. You do a juggling act between taking care of your current clients and nurturing new leads, and at times, you anxiously wait for anyone to come along and pay you for your services.
This ongoing cycle and constant need for new clients means that it's especially tough to consider turning down work as a freelancer.
However, the truth is, that SOME CLIENTS ARE JUST NOT WORTH THE MONEY.
These problem clients will cause you headaches, zap your mental energy, erode your self-confidence, and quite often, actually end up losing you money.
So one of the skills you need to master as a successful freelancer is the ability to quickly identify a bad client and then politely letting them know that you aren't a good match for working together.
How can you spot these time-, money-, and energy-draining clients? These 3 common warning signs are red flags that should immediately get your attention and give you pause before accepting someone as a new client:
Warning Sign #1 - False Promises
A potentially bad client will promise that they will have more work for you.
"Hey, I work with a $100M marketing agency. I could be using you for a lot of work in the future. Don't think I'm someone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, lol." - Actual conversation with a potential client, as he tried to manipulate me into changing the services I offer just for him
Now, at first glance, this might seem like an odd red flag, because everyone loves the idea of ongoing work and income, right? But in reality, very few clients actually come back with multiple projects for you.
They pull out this cliched line because they're hoping it will persuade you to lower your price or that it will push you to overdeliver because you're hoping to earn that next project too.
As someone of integrity, it should be offensive to you that they'd assume you would ever deliver less than your best without that carrot dangling in front of you. And as a legit businessperson, you can't diminish your worth and lower your price simply on the possibility that they'll have additional work for you... how does that even relate to the price of the first project? It should be completely irrelevant.
Of the 3 warning signs listed here, this one is the least offensive and could be a genuine expression of interest from the client that they want to develop a long-term working relationship with you. But it gets misused often enough that you should take a minute to consider why a new client has mentioned the possibility of future work and make sure that they aren't trying to manipulate you with false promises.
Warning Sign #2 - Undervalues Your Offer
A potentially bad client will question your price -- because he doesn't see your value.
There is a big difference between a client who is wondering how they can afford your service and one who hears your price and comes back with "whoa, that seems pricey". Or, "That's too much. I can get it done for $50 by someone else." Or, "Would you like to give us a better price as we consider the candidates?"
Anyone who gives you one of those responses does not appreciate what you uniquely have to offer.
I have ignored this warning sign on multiple occasions, gotten the client to work with me, and then had it horribly backfire on me in the end. Learn from my mistakes and NEVER IGNORE THIS RED FLAG!
When you get to the end of the project, there's a very high probability that the client isn't going to appreciate what you deliver. They've already inflated their expectations to match what they think is an overblown price, and you will never be able to meet those expectations. You can bend over backwards for them, and it still won't be enough.
You will be forced to either do work beyond the scope of the project (which devalues you and decreases the worth of your work) or end up giving them up a refund, at which point you will have wasted your time on a project that earned you nothing. Time that could have been spent on a better client who saw your worth and loved your final product, leaving you with money in the bank and more peace in your life.
And even worse? You'll end up questioning your value.
You'll question your prices and whether you really should be charging as much as you are. You'll forget how much you are worth and what a bargain you're offering people for all of the value that you deliver!
After one particularly rough patch where I had a couple of these nightmare clients in a row, I developed a deep-seated paranoia that reared its ugly head every time I delivered a new website to a client. I was petrified that they were going to hate what I'd built, and I struggled with whether I really knew what I was doing. It's taken some time and working with better clients to slowly ease those fears, but they don't go away easily.
Don't even give yourself the chance to let those fears crop up. This red flag is a huge warning sign, and my suggestion is to immediately run in the opposite direction if a client lets you know that he or she doesn't see the value in you, your skills, and your expertise.
Warning Sign #3 - Treats You As Inferior
A potentially bad client will be rude, disrespectful, demanding, and unappreciative of your time, expertise, and efforts.
This one might be the biggest deal in my mind. There is nothing that upsets me more than a client treating me disdainfully, giving me orders, or refusing to acknowledge the work I've done with a simple "thank you."
There is a delicate balancing act as a freelancer between realizing that you are the expert who is helping the client and the fact that they are paying you for your work. In an ideal world, I think you and your client should work together in a partnership, both working together for the goal of growing and improving your businesses.
However, there are clients out there who believe that since they're paying you, they have the right to treat you like a rude boss. They will demand your time, talk down to you like you're a child, and be unappreciative for the amazing work you've done for them.
These ungrateful clients suck the joy out of your work and can make you question why you're even working with clients in the first place. It's a mental and emotional drain and stress that you simply don't need in your life.
Unfortunately, sometimes you don't realize that a client is rude until it's too late and you're already partway through the project, or even almost completed. However, if you pay close attention to your first interactions with a potential client, you might catch instances that niggle your intuition... maybe someone's replies are a little short, maybe they don't extend you basic courtesies in communication, or anything else that gives you the hint that they don't respect you.
With these disrespectful clients, it's up to you if you want to work with them. You'll probably complete the project (as opposed to the group in #2 who will demand a refund), but it will be at the expense of your happiness and self-esteem. No one likes to be made to feel inferior.
So my suggestion is to trust your gut instinct, and if you sense that a client is going to be unpleasant to deal with, then let them know this project won't work for you and hold out for a client who will treat you with the respect you deserve.
You Deserve Better
You chose to be a freelancer so that you can be your own boss, so that you can choose your clients, and so that you can do the work that you love. There are clients out there who will adore you and who will be thrilled about the awesome work that you do and how much you're going to help them.
Hold out for those clients.
They are out there and you deserve to be working with them.
Do you have any other warning signs that you look out for to know which clients to avoid? Let me know!