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5 client red flags you should never ignore

As a freelancer, you are bound to come across all types of clients.

Some are terrific: They know what they want, the money arrives on time, and everyone walks away happy. Some clients, though? Not so much.

If you’ve ever had a rude client or one you just couldn’t stand, then the following five points will probably sound very familiar to you.

If you haven’t come across any of the following, consider yourself lucky – but do keep them in mind. If you ever experience any of these red flags from clients – run away as fast as you can!

Hard to reach

Most clients are very responsive at the beginning of your relationship, as enthusiasm for what you can do for them soars. But as the relationship continues, there are always those clients that can’t seem to respond to your emails or pick up the phone fast enough.

I’ve had clients that took ten days to get back to me. This was at the beginning of the relationship. Which leaves me wondering: If it takes you so long to respond to my emails, what’s going to happen when it comes time for me to get paid?

The fact is, your clients would be P’d the F off if you didn’t respond to their emails promptly. And for good reason.

As a freelancer, you’re usually working remotely. Which means you could be on the other side of the state or the country or the world. Responding promptly gives the client insight into your professional nature. It says that you are serious about your business and committed to providing an excellent client experience.

Your client should have the same view. So if at any time – in the beginning, middle or end of your relationship - you find that you can’t get a hold of your client when you want to, it might be best to let that client go.

What’s an acceptable benchmark to gauge responsiveness by?

Most clients should respond within 48 hours, longer if the email falls on a Friday night or the weekend.
But if it consistently takes days for you to hear anything, especially when you have questions about the project, run, run in the other direction as fast as you can. Your payment will be just as late, that’s almost guaranteed.

You have been warned.

Wishy-washy on project specs

As professionals, we are used to clients asking for our insight and opinions.

But what if a client approaches you and has no idea what he or she wants? When this happens, it can get a little sketchy really fast.

I had a nightmare client who didn’t know what he wanted, and I ended up starting and stopping several projects before I finally had to throw my hands up and call it a day.

I now make it a point to work with clients with clear goals – whether it be to gain leads, earn sales or sign up subscribers – and timelines.

You should be prepared to cross sell and upsell projects. That’s the sign of a professional and ambitious freelancer.

But if the client’s response to the question, “What sort of project did you have mind?” happens to be, “Um, I dunno,” it might be time to let that client go.

Unclear on payment terms

I have three questions I ask clients before I start working with them: What do you want? When do you want it? How much are you willing to pay?

Of course, those questions are worded a bit differently depending on who I’m talking to, but the concepts stand. The third question – the one relating to payment – is the most important (on my end).

If the client beats around the bush as far as their budget is concerned or wants to pay me when certain conditions are met, that’s a massive red flag.

Never, and I repeat, never work for a client that wants to pay you for work based on certain conditions that need to be met. I’ve only heard of this happening, but clients like that do exist.

These are the ones that say, “I want you to write a book for me, and I’ll pay you once 100 copies are sold, or a thousand,” or, “I want you to write my website for me, and I’ll pay you once I reach 1000 visitors.”

Um, no.

If you don’t use contracts in your freelance business, I highly recommend that you start. A contract states what you plan to do, how you plan to do it and what amounts you will get paid (and when you will get paid).

With a signed document in place, there will be no confusion and the project can go ahead as planned, with you getting paid the amount you expect as a result.

That’s how professional freelancing is done.

Too many cooks in the kitchen

Have you ever worked with a client where your work had to be passed through several hands before you could be paid for it? I have, and it was one of the worst freelancing experiences I’ve ever had.

Most organizations have a single point of contact to whom their freelancers report. This may be a marketing director or content director, or even the owner if it’s a super small business.

But when you have several heads of marketing commenting on your work and requesting revisions, it gets to be a big headache. And, most of the time, the work you provide gets watered down.

If you get hired by a client and you find out that your work has to pass through several hands, take a stand.

Ask to speak to deal with a single person or walk away. You’ll go through much less Ibuprofen, and your work will be better for it.

Want you on call 24/7

I once had a client call me at 11 pm at night when I was in a dark movie theater with my family. I wouldn’t mind so much if this was an emergency call, but it wasn’t. The client merely wanted to run ideas by me.
This was a conversation that could easily have taken place via email.

This is why I make it a point to let my clients know that I will be available from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.

Do I work during times that don’t fall within those parameters? Of course.

As a freelance writer and business owner, I’m always doing something related to my venture – marketing, working on my own blogs, and even bookkeeping.

But when it comes to communicating with clients, I prefer to sandwich them between times of day that don’t coincide with my family time or leisure time, or any other time of day when I prefer not to be working.

Also, just because you are available doesn’t mean you have to answer your phone. Don’t be afraid to let your client calls go to voicemail. You can then respond when you want to, even with an email if the call isn’t an emergency situation.

I’m a professional, after all, but I’m not a doctor.

All of these red flags can be avoided if you know what to look for. Keep them in mind as you are marketing your business. If clients are unresponsive, slow to pay, hazy on the details or consistently contacting you after hours, don’t be afraid to say, “So long.” There are plenty more clients in the sea.

Jason Little After spending years in sales, Jason Little decided he was much more at home in front of his computer. These days he writes marketing materials for businesses in a variety of industries.

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