When you start freelancing, you’re excited about signing each and every single client. You’re growing your business! It’s a thrill every time. Even now, after 2.5 years of working freelance, I’m still stoked about the chance to work with someone new. However, sooner or later, you’ll come across your first Bad Client. They’re the type of client you wake up with and go to bed with – and definitely not because you’re so excited to work for them. Even though you can’t avoid them completely, there are definitely some red flags to recognise.
Bad clients come in all shapes and forms. Some of them will be giving you a headache when it comes to payment. Others consume all of your time by using you as their shrink, while they’re paying you to do something else. And then there are those who want to control and question every single step you take. So these are the red flags you should learn to recognise to avoid the bad clients.
NOTE: of course, there are always exceptions. These are just from my experience some signals to be careful.
First of all, it’s ok to turn down a client if your gut is telling you something is off. Of course, if you’re in a position that you can’t financially afford it, that makes it a bit different, but if you truly have a bad feeling about someone, listen to your subconscious. Dealing with a person you don’t feel comfortable with from the start will take up valuable time you could have spent getting other – better! – clients.
Gold For Peanuts
Some clients write an endless list of expectations in their job ad. They want a Social Media Rockstar who is an Expert Copy Writer and King of SEO, who can get 10x ROI from day one with SEA and who knows all Adobe CC programs inside and out. Oh, but he’s a one-man startup, so the budget is low but as the company grows because of your efforts, your salary will grow with it!
Whether you work with small budgets or not is your decision. There is nothing wrong with taking on a few smaller clients with quick jobs. However, when the expectations don’t align with their budget, you’ll often find trouble. These clients will often try to squeeze every bit out of you, and then later ask for a discount.
Related to the previous red flag, the ‘commission only’ fee is often something I don’t work with. The problem is that you’ll probably have zero control over most of the customer journey. If you work, for example, in social media, SEO or SEA, you can send perfect traffic, but if the product, landing page, customer service, check-out page, or anything else lacks quality, then you’re not getting paid while you did a great job. So if you consider working on a commission-only base, make sure to check out all parts of the funnel.
If every time it takes several days for them to reply to your emails, that can become very frustrating once you actually work with them. Imagine you need some additional input or feedback on something, then their slow response time means your project is on hold for days. The same goes for not answering questions. It has happened to me a few times that I send someone an email and I only get an answer to half of the questions. Of course, anyone can miss a question in an email, but if it happens consistently, that will slow down your work speed (and flow!) quite a bit.
Too Many Questions
Some clients ask a thousand questions, even before they agreed to work with you. Especially when they want to know everything about your strategy, this is a big red flag. First of all, they may be trying to learn from you with the idea of implementing your strategy on their own without actually hiring you.
On the other hand, when they do hire you, these type of clients tend to be micromanaging you, and the fact that you’re a freelancer probably means that you really don’t like being micromanaged. Of course, they can ask questions, but a chef will tell you his main ingredients but he won’t share the recipe. Neither should you.
The know-it-all, well, he thinks he knows it all, but you – being the expert – quickly understand that he doesn’t. And unfortunately, this client is too stubborn to learn. I can give an example from my niche, but you probably will recognise the issue in your own business. I often see job offers for Social Media Marketing, but then in the requirements, they list SEO or Google AdWords as a required skill. They’re just not the same thing. Of course, you’re the expert, not them, so you’ll have to educate them and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if they don’t want to learn from you and are being stubborn about it, you probably won’t enjoy working with them.
How To Fire The Bad Client
So let’s say you did hire a bad client and now you’ve decided to fire them – how do you do that? Always stay polite! Even if you don’t think you’ll ever deal with that person again, it’s just better for your karma. Don’t blame them and if anything, take responsibility. Bonus point for giving them some extra advice.
I did have a bad client who micromanaged from 8am till 10pm via WhatsApp (I’m not even exaggerating) and he was my lowest paying client. He wanted everything for nothing and controlled the entire process. After two weeks, I just had to let him go for the sake of my own sanity. I wrote him a message, saying that unfortunately, I had the feeling that I could not meet the expectations he had. I recommended him to get an intern at his office, so he had a low-budget, full-time person and full control over her work. He agreed and we parted ways on good terms.
What are your thoughts on dealing with bad clients? Share them in the comments below!