• Advice

5 Questions NOT to Ask Your Client

Last week, I covered 5 Questions not to ask freelancers – but that road goes both ways, my freelance friends! Here are 5 questions to avoid asking clients; whether they court trouble, make you look bad, or give your client all the power, these are queries you’ll be glad you avoided – with a few minor caveats.

1. “Is speed or quality more important to you?”

There is no way that you, the freelancer, comes off well with this question. Whether it’s fair or not, phrasing a question this way implies that your client can EITHER have

a) good work, sloooowly
b) cruddy work, FAST!

Instead, ask questions like “Is speed a priority, here?” or “What’s the timeline like for X project?” – that gives you the same information, without impugning the quality of your work. Learn more about the axis of Fast, Cheap & Good here.

2. “Why do I have to do this?”

“Why do I have to do this?” is pretty confrontational and disruptive. I recommend avoiding it unless you’re being asked to do something:

  • outrageously demeaning (no, you generally do not have to get that guy’s coffee for him)
  • illegal
  • unethical
  • that you’re fundamentally incapable of doing

​The answer may be that you have to do Stupid Inexplicable Task X because your client is paying you to do Stupid Inexplicable Task X (if they’re NOT compensating you for doing it, that may be a different story). You might just have to accept that you have to do something you find tiresome or idiotic because that’s what works for the client.

If it really bugs you, try asking “Could you explain this process to me in some detail?” or “I’m trying to get a better sense of the whole picture – could you let me know how this fits in?” Usually, this kind of issue can be resolved through better communication with your client.

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3. “Are you sure I’m qualified to do this?”

BIG CAVEAT: If it’s a safety/ethical/real issue, you must object strongly, in writing, both to protect yourself and innocents. For example: Don’t get involved in, say, determining the structural integrity of bridges if you only have a BFA in Poetry!

Otherwise, don’t shortchange yourself! Do things that scare you, even if you feel a little under-qualified; don’t undersell your own abilities.

And no, writing an article that intimidates you doesn’t count as a “safety issue," even if your blood pressure skyrockets. Let the client take a real vote of confidence in you.

4. “Do you care what hours I work?”

Let’s reiterate a fundamental freelance right: clients do not, legally, have the right to stipulate specific hours that you work.

“Do you care…” is especially bad phrasing – they may indeed care, but what they don’t know won’t hurt them. Asking this open-ended question puts all the power in your client’s hands; how can any answer benefit you?

Instead, INFORM clients what your working hours are and set reasonable boundaries. If you choose to be flexible about your availability, that’s your choice.

5. “What’s your policy on late projects?”

Eep. This is called “starting trouble before trouble starts.”

When you ask a client this question, you are signaling to them, heyyy, I might be late turning things in...

If – IF – you ever run into a terrible snag and have to extend a deadline, you’ll figure it out then. Don’t court annoyance needlessly.

I’m a big fan of asking questions when the time is right. There’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification, or improving communication, but these 5 baddies are almost always missteps -– find a different way to ask, or let the questions come to you!

Got any questions to add to this list? Share them in the comments below or swap stories in the Ask a Freelancer Hive!

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.