• Advice

Do Your Homework: How Freelancers Avoid Bad Clients

This post is about how you should not take on every client who wants to work with you.

If you’re just starting out or are in a dry period, that’s not easy. That email in your inbox from a new prospect is so promising, so ripe with pecuniary possibilities (a.k.a. MONEY), that you leap at the opportunity and start working as soon as possible, ready to show them how awesome you are and how willing you are to do everything they ask.

Not so fast!

Are they the right fit for you?

This is probably a bigger concern for all you creative freelancers out there. This week, at our first Freelance 360 event, Kelli Ryan, a painter from NYC, asked a great question.

She’s new to freelancing. She’s been doing mural and portrait work, but sometimes the clients often have a completely different idea of what looks good, and so she doesn't want to showcase this work in her portfolio. How do you freelance for clients** without compromising your creative vision?**

Our expert freelance panelists’ response? Turn them down. Don’t take on clients who don’t like your unique style.

Ouch. Does that mean we’ll make less money? Turning down money is really hard for a cash-strapped freelancer to do. But Michelle Ward has seen it again and again: in the beginning, accept the right clients, build your portfolio slowly, and more right clients will find you because of that portfolio. Don’t generalize your talents. You’re not just “a writer” or “a designer.” You’re unique, and your clients should want that unique vision only you have. That’s what, in the end, will make you successful.


Ever heard these before?

“Are you always on Skype during business hours? We want to be able to contact you whenever we have problem.”

“Why does it take that long for you to do? That would take me like 10 minutes.”

“Well, we’re not really sure what direction we’re going in, but we just want you to be there when it gets figured out in the next couple months, probably.”

“Can we negotiate your rate? Basically, I want this, this, and this, and shouldn’t we get a volume discount?”

“Let’s talk on the phone for a half hour every morning about your status.”

The initial conversation you have with a prospective client can tell you a lot about their style of managing freelancers and contractors. It’s reasonable that they’re trying to get the most out of you, but if a prospective client seems to be under the impression that freelancers are always trying to exploit them, and expect you to do a lot of extra work just to reassure them that you’re not, that’s a bad sign. Get out while you can.

Those kinds of clients are rarely the ones that respect freelancers enough to recommend you to new clients, anyway.

Google ‘em.

Sure, Google doesn’t tell you everything. But when you listen to a story like this, you see that a simple Google search before accepting a client would have saved these freelancers a world of trouble.

Google the company name. No hits? Don’t even respond - it’s probably a scam. They say they’re a “new company”? Be very careful. It’s more likely that new companies won’t be able to pay you on time.

Google the person who contacted you. Look at their LinkedIn profile. See how many connections they have, and what recommendations they have. Can you learn anything about their personality? Do they have experience in your field?

Use Client Scorecard.

It should come as no surprise that many freelancers have had bad experiences with clients - but lucky for you, they’ve recorded their experience to save you from going down the same road. Use Client Scorecard, our tool for researching clients. And whenever you have a bad or good experience, pay it forward: leave your comments for your fellow freelancers to find.

Follow Your Gut.

At the end of the day, your feelings are your best barometer for making judgements about a client. No amount of research or online stalking will ever replace the “Eh...this just doesn’t feel like a good fit.”

Most freelancers who get scammed or have a bad experience report that they doubted the client in the first place, though they couldn’t put their finger on exactly what it was that seemed suspicious.

Any other tips for how to avoid bad clients and find good ones?