A beauty of freelance life is that we don’t have to work on projects we don’t want and with people we don’t like or respect. We all know that if there are people and money involved, there are potentially problems. So today I’ll share some insights how to spot bad clients as a freelancer. Bad clients – meaning those who more likely will cause problems and disappointment than help us grow personally and professionally.
Potentially bad clients are those who always try to cut your pay rate.
Many people are used to bargain and look for the best price for products, services, etc. When it comes to freelancing, it’s a bit different (or it least it should be). We as freelancers put a price on our skills, expertise, time, efforts, everything. If a client persistently tries to cut your rates, most probably they won’t be happy with your work in the end. Not for some other reason, but because they entered the contract with the single though “I am paying too much for this!”.
Good clients appreciate the value. They hire you because of your skills and expertise, because of your experience, because o what you bring to the table. They don’t think about the price – they think about the value for that price. So as long as we have a reasonable pricing strategy and know how much we’re worth, we should stay away from bad clients who try to bargain at any cost and every time.
Micro-management is the curse of bad clients.
Remember – as a freelancer, we are no longer an “office employee”. We are independent professional consultants who have our own working style and habits. We have the freedom to plan our time and work as we please. Here are a few things that bad clients want (one at a time or all at once):
- constantly monitor your work
- demand that you are available on Skype during working hours
- require multiple emails, updates and reports every day, several times per day
- want accountability for every minute spent working on their project.
These clients have trust issues. They have hard time believing you actually know what you’re doing. They don’t think you’ll do your job on time and with the agreed quality, unless they are pushing you and standing over your shoulder. They think they know better and you just need to do what they tell you.
I would suggest that we stay away from such clients. They call for trouble because they don’t appreciate your experience and professionalism. Even worse – they probably think you don’t really have what it takes to do the job and you might get it right but only if you strictly follow their instructions, regardless if they are experts in your field or not.
Bad clients don’t exactly know what they want.
Never take upon contracts with no clear goals and expected results. As freelancers, we go through interviews not only for the client to get to know us. Freelance interviews are also to help us, freelancers, decide if we want to work on certain projects and with certain clients. If within the first couple of meetings we do not have a clear idea about the project, its time-frame, expected results and our role in it – well, probably the client doesn’t really know what they want and the outcome won’t be satisfactory to them.
Communication is one of the most important things for a successful freelancer-client relationship. Never ever compromise with communication! Always work with clients who know what they want and have clear idea about the end-game, the expected results and what the freelancer’s responsibilities are in all of it.
Bad clients never pay upfront payments.
If you take upon fixed price job on oDesk (those jobs are not guaranteed), always ask for an upfront payment – 30%, 50%, the percentage depends on the project scale. If you encounter a client who refuses and says they won’t pay upfront anything under no circumstances, you have yourself a bad client. Chances are you’ll do your job and then they won’t pay at all with the lame excuse “you didn’t do what I asked” and that’s the end of it.
There are exceptions, of course. E.g. if you see the client has tens of previous fixed price jobs and only good feedback and reviews as a prompt payer, maybe they refuse to pay upfront because they have had extensive bad experience with bad freelancers; or it’s just their business practice to pay after delivery. In any other case, don’t risk working for free; just decline politely ad move on to the next client and next project.
Trust your gut – if you dislike your future client or their project, decline right away.
This doesn’t have much to do with good or bad clients. It is more about our personal experience, intuition, and preferences. If we don’t like the product which we need to market, to write about, to design a package for – then probably our work won’t be good either. If the potential client irritates us in some (condescending attitude, rudeness, lack of respect, communication skills, ability to express goals or lack of it, etc.), there’s a pretty good chance we won’t be able to do successful business with them. This will ultimately worsen the end result of the collaboration.
For many, it may seem strange and that I am “picky” about clients.
For professionals who just start their freelance path, the beginning is hard and every single project counts and is welcome. However, I urge you to think in perspective. If you take upon a low-paying, boring, unsatisfying, whatever-else-bad-thing-you-could-thing-of project right now, you risk being stuck with it for months. Don’t fall in the trap of working with a bad client who is worse than the boss you had on your last office job you so hard tried to escape from. Remember – once we get the ball rolling and have a couple of successful projects in our portfolio, as freelancers we have the freedom to choose with whom to work and on what projects. Then it’s a matter of principle to watch out for bad clients and not deal with them at all. After all, we are freelancers to feel good with ourselves, our work and our lives, right? 😉
Maryke Van Rensburg says
With fixed jobs, I make the upfront payment what I actually want for the whole project. That way, if they don’t pay the rest, I got what I wanted. If they don’t want to pay upfront, I don’t work with them.
Hm, this is a nice approach but do clients really pay 100% upfront? I have never tried it – but i always thought 50% upfront puts some skin in the game from both parties.
I have been paid 50% and i am motivated to work with high quality and on time for the rest; and the client has paid only 50% and knows i am motivated to work with high quality and on time for the rest.
Not that i won’t work well if i am paid full upfront but i’m trying to see things from clients’ perspective as well. There are MANY crappy freelancers who’d take your money and run away without working at all; and that’s what clients are concerned about, i guess. Good for you anyway! 😀 Thanks for your comment, Maryke!
ShapeDaily (@ShapeDaily) says
Asking for some money up front is obviously a good idea but I don’t know how many clients would pay all of the fee up front. Its important to have a good relationship with clients and to feel potential clients out before committing to a business proposition. This is all great advice and tips.
I agree about the upfront payment and feeling the client during the “preliminary conversations” – you can learn so much about a person from the way he treats you and talks to you. Thank for your comment!
Jeannette Paladino says
Diana — all the points you make about bad clients are right on point. It’s very important to have a client sign a contract with the scope of work and price outlined. Also, be sure that person — if it’s a large company — actually has the authority to make decisions. A little guy (a freelancer) will have a tough time collecting from a huge company if the assignment wasn’t authorized. That’s another reason to get an upfront payment — someone higher up will no doubt have to approve it.
Good point, Jeannette! Thanks for stopping by and contributing the the discussion 🙂
Susan Cooper/findingourwaynow.com says
I agree with much of what you had to say. The truth is most clients, good and bad, will negotiate. How do you deal with that when you’ve identified that they are clients you really feel are a good fit for you and you for their business? Is the upfront payment the key?
I agree with you, Susan! But that’s why i tried not to use the word “negotiate” but “bargain” instead… Negotiation is natural and it usually comes when the client has certain budget allocated and simply cannot pay more. That’s fine.
If the client is ‘good’ – they will explain that and we can figure out a work around (less work done for the budget, or longer period for delivery, etc.). If it is a first time client and there’s no escrow service available, i do require upfront payment – after all, we are not perfect – everyone could be fooled by a good artist…
And the ‘bad clients’ that i urge you to stay away from would bargain (not negotiate) your rates simply because they think you have to work for less that you want to. Their attitude is “These freelancers are so hungry, they will work for whatever i tell them to, they don’t know what they’re doing, neither they really know what their skills are worth, no way i am paying them what they want!” – and this mentality just screams “trouble” with capital letters 😀 Asking for upfront payment is the easiest way (really!) to filter them out and never ever have to deal with them.
Thanks for your comment, Susan!
Susan Cooper/findingourwaynow.com says
Thai si very goo advise. I haven’t yet determined what direction I want to go. This really does help me think about some things to be aware of. Thanks you for taking to time to explain it all to me. It is very much appreciated. :-)))
oh, you are very welcome, Susan, thank YOU for repeatedly coming back and for your continuous encouragement. Nothing makes me happier than helping others through shared knowledge 😀
Kirsty Stuart says
This is a timely post for me, who has been relying on the good will of my freelance writing clients until now. As my business is growing more and more though I find I’m constantly chasing payments and starting to wonder if I need some sort of system in place.
Does anybody send a contract out to clients when they get them?
Thanks for your comment, Kristy, and for your feedback – i am glad my post comes timely for you – it hardly ever is a good idea to rely on someone’s good will 😉
About the contracts – someone above (in a comment) suggested just that and i find it very handy approach when dealing with clients. I personally don’t send out contracts simply because all my contracts go through freelance sites like oDesk and Elance so far. Maybe some day, when i start taking work outside those sites, i will start sending out contracts, too – it’s kind of insurance, isn’t it? 😀
” If a client persistently tries to cut your rates, most probably they won’t be happy with your work in the end. ” So true!
I write my own agreements with each new client – I state exactly when in the process they will need to pay me.
I have to say that I go on instinct on whether a client will work out or not. If I am not sure, I set the price a little higher. If they say no, then it was not meant to be.
Instinct is good – i do the same 🙂
But for a newbie freelancer, maybe it’s not a good approach and they’ll need more steady “rules” – if their instincts are not yet developed in this direction. After all a bad client in the eyes of “veteran freelancers” may just look as normal as everyone else to a just starting freelancer. Not so long ago it was me (or I? – ahhh, ESL grammar…) who was banging my head against the wall wondering if i should or should not deal with some clients… 😀
thanks for your comment and encouragement, Leora!
Susan Bigan says
Before I even got past the first paragraph I thought about those who try to get you to go down on your price.
I’ve wanted to, but I’ve never said no to a client. Maybe next time I will reconsider. Thanks for the tips.
Thanks for your comment, Susan! It is not a coincidence this type of clients (always trying to cut your rates) is the first be-aware-of bad client 😉 Saying “NO” is a big relief, you should really try it! Maybe i’ll write a blog post on the topic later on, too – thanks for the idea! 😀
Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) says
I’ve been freelance editing for about nine months now and I’ve only ever taken upfront payments that are 100% paid in full before I begin. As I get more clients, and take on longer projects, I may switch that, but in general I think it’s best to get the full fee upfront when at all possible.
Congrats on that, Jeri! I have had only one client willing to pay upfront 100% – and it was his idea; something to do with less work for his accountant – hahaha. You are the second person to say this via a comment under this article – so maybe i should try it some time 😉 Thanks for stopping by!
Sherryl Perry says
You’ve made some great points Diana. Another thing that sets off alarms for me is when a new client hesitates to commit and they keep asking for more details on how I intend to accomplish the project. Often, this type of client is simply on a fishing expedition and they’re trying to obtain as much information as they can – possibly with the intention of doing it themselves. This sets off a red flag for me and I’ve turned clients down before for doing this to me.
yeap, this is a VERY valuable tip, Sherryl! I have had such clients as well – not being able to make up their mind is part of it, too. Great advice, thanks for adding it! 😀
Dan Greenberg says
Bad clients creep scope, or try to. This relates to “they don’t know what they want,” but it’s different. Here, they know what they want (at least at the moment), but it’s not covered in the scope of work, so “can’t you just squeeze this in?” Good clients may also try to creep scope as they learn things through the project… but they will offer to pay for the additional work and/or sign an addendum. (The best clients will ask, first, if you have the resources to deliver the bigger scope… and then offer to pay.)
Bad clients offer things that do not fit your business model… like startup equity rather than cash. It’s so exciting, you see, to have 1% of a company which may or may not pay out for you in 5 years, but will be diluted if you get there. Often, this is an indication that these client’s companies are not mature enough to truly value your services… which further lowers your odds of having that equity ever amount to anything. Good clients offer cash… they know the value of their money and your services… and maybe equity as a bonus.
oh, yes, “can’t you just squeeze this in” is all time favorite! As if it’s just like adding some sugar to my coffee, right? Very good observation about the etiquette of good clients – first ask if you’re available, then ask how much it will cost and add it to the scope accordingly.
As for the equity – i never even consider such clients… I’m a freelancer, i don;t work for free – if i wanted startup equity, i might as well have my own startup, right? 😉
These are all good insights, Dan – thanks for adding such value to the discussion 😀
Johnny Bravo @salesproblog says
You make some really great points Diana. Thank you for sharing. The point that stood out the most is to avoid clients who don’t know what they want. If they have no direction then they will send you on a fools errand. Again, great points.
Thanks for stopping by, Johnny! Yes, clients who don’t know what they want a definitely a waste of time for both parties – glad you liked the post 😀
Diana – This was a very eye-opening post for me both as a consumer in my current role, but also as I am forming and developing new, solo projects.
As a consumer, I always am skeptical when money is asked for up front… As a service provider in my current organization, it is up to me to deliver for our paying clients, period. As I formulate a business plan for a new venture, this helps me develop a fee strategy to ensure money is always coming through the business.
Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for your comment, Brohawk92 (is this your name? :D)! It’s often helpful to see a certain situation from both sides – in this particular case, what might be the reason for freelancers to require upfront payment as well as what might be the reason for clients to refuse to do so. I am glad i have helped you develop a better fee strategy, as you call it 😉
I spot them and i take the ride just to give them a lesson on what kind of limit one brave handles. If i think there is a free lunch there why not let bad clients be bad and roll the money to my hand, there will be a time i would need to ear them ask me – when will the work i demanded be finished? Do you need to be payed? I’M bad i pay you right now, come here boy! They pay and i finish it. And they love and hate me. I Guess.
Thanks for your comment, Nuno, but i am not sure i quote understand your point. How would you give a lesson to a bad client by working with him? End of the day, it’s a waste of your time and efforts (and nerve-wrecking!) to handle communication, too… maybe i didn’t understand what you mean 😀
I have been offering an article writing service for several years now and I encounter terrible clients on a regular basis.
There are two types of clients that really get on my nerves.
1. The client who says he read all of my pricing details and offers plenty of work but when it comes down to it claims that he can only afford a ridiculously low rate. This actually happened to me quite a few times.
2. The client who accepts your rates but keeps asking for “favors”. Like, writing the text directly into a HTML files with HTML color codes and formatting or including related pictures, etc.
I like to keep my clients happy but these little tasks can be quite time consuming.
oh, that’s right – both points are spot-on! I too have encountered such clients – more of the latter though… Thanks for adding to the conversation, Timothy 😉
Martin B (@bell1976_b) says
You mentioned the bad customers, but what about the bad freelancers?Do they exist?
I think yes-see what the people discuss here about the other side-the bad GigMakers or Freelancers.
Diana Marinova says
Hi, Martin – of course there are bad freelancers out there, I just don’t think they read this blog LOL. I do share tips how to avoid certain mistakes that would make you look bad or unethical, but you give me a good idea – maybe a post about finding good freelance colleagues and spotting the bad once from a distance is a good topic to share some thoughts on. Thanks!
Phillip BR says
Nice post,but the coins usually have two sides:)Have you written another post for the Bad Guys as promised?
Diana Marinova says
Hi, Phillip – thanks for reading and for joining the conversation. I didn’t promise to write such a post – I said it may be a good idea 😉 I haven’t written a post listing “bad freelancers” but there are a couple of posts which tackle certain aspects of the topic.
For example, check out this one where I list three things you shouldn’t do as a freelancer, if you want to stay in business and buildhealthy relationships with clients.
Hope this helps!