Sitting down for a first meeting with a client still makes my heart pound, my palms get kind of sweaty, and this weird thing starts happening where I can't swallow... and I'm suddenly extremely thirsty.

Basically, when I meet with clients for the first time, we're interviewing each other. And being interviewed stresses me out, so I spend the conversation feeling self-conscious rather than focusing on whether or not this client is someone with whom I want to work.

...And that's how you end up with a crazy client. The one that messages you with something "urgent" at 3 am. Or doesn't understand that they can't text you every time they have a question, or demands that they be cc'd on ALL communications.

So, why do we keep getting crappy clients?

We don't get the most relevant information

Since we've only got about 30 minutes, we must become experts in gathering all the relevant information – from scope of the project to our client’s workstyle.

We get too excited

Getting on client calls makes me think about all the cool projects I'm going to do, the new relationships I'm going to create, and the money I’m going to make. The excitement can make us say, "Yeah, let's work together," before we've had time to think if that's really the best choice for everyone.

We don't see red flags

The combination of limited information and a sense of urgency toward getting paid work can blind us to red flags. But it doesn't have to be this way. Here a few strategies for maximizing your time on that initial call:

Will your client become a client from hell? 3 ways to find out

As you're having the conversation with the potential client, make sure that you're taking detailed notes, and even noting things that seem odd to you. If something feels a little off, you may want to ask some clarifying questions to get more information.

Make sure they know how to share responsibility

Now, I talk a lot about emotional intelligence, and how you'll be more successful the more emotionally intelligent you are. And the biggest, most important skill you can have for emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Hands down. Because if you're not aware of your own shortcomings, how do you expect to improve?

So, if you want to know how self-aware your client is, ask this:

Have you ever worked with a freelancer before? What did you like about it? What didn't you like about it?

Since you've never worked with a freelancer before, what are your main concerns about hiring one?

It's a good sign if: The client acknowledges some of their own shortcomings or areas where they struggle. Some of the things that I've had my clients say is:

"I'm not so great at giving feedback, and it's something I'm trying to work on — give me a second to think about this."

"I know that I tend to work too much, so I don't expect you to be available at all hours."

It's a bad sign if: They bring up mostly bad experiences, or only times when they and the freelancer had a disagreement. Or, if they've never worked with someone, because they're just not sure they can trust someone to do a great job or care as much as they do about their project.

Make sure they have a clear idea of what they want

The only thing worse than over-confidence is no confidence at all. You can guarantee a client with no self-confidence is going to have trouble having confidence in you. Why? Because they don't trust their own judgement, which makes them constantly terrified of making the wrong decision and putting their trust in the wrong person.

You can get a good idea of how self-confident your client is by asking this:

Okay, so I know what I'm going to be working on, but can you walk me through your 3 end goals so that I make sure we're on the same page.

It's a good sign if: They know what they're hoping to get out of this project. That means they've thought it through, and are invested in an outcome. It's also great if they ask you your thoughts on their goals and ask for suggestions. That means that they trust your judgement.

It's a bad sign if: They're not sure what their final goals are, or if they list things that are not possible for you to achieve with the amount of work you're going to be doing.

Make sure they know how to have a productive conversation

Now, I don't go into every client project assuming that we're going to have an issue, but problems arise. People misunderstand, freelancers make mistakes, and clients get confused. We're all people, so it's okay. But what I do want to know is how are they going to communicate with me so that I can make sure I'm doing my best job.

To find out how a client communicates, you can ask:

As we're going through the project, I may need more information to clarify questions that I have. How do want me to get clarification — a phone call, email, or something else?

It's a good sign if: They know that they're better at responding one way vs. another, or if they have a specific way that they like you to follow up.

It's a bad sign if: They brush this question off as not being a potential issue. It's easy to deal with this, "as it comes up," but it can go from an issue that just came up to a huge problem very quickly.

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Whether you're terrified of talking to a potential client, or figuring out how to say no to a client that won't listen, I've got you covered!