When you jump into the world of freelancing it’s easy to imagine that all of your clients will be wonderful and easy to work with. That may be the case most of the time, but every once in a while you’ll get a client that you simply will not mesh with.
These clients are dangerous because they can take up a lot of your time and energy. You shouldn’t enter every client relationship with a huge amount of skepticism, but you should know how to recognize the red flags that clients from hell. Here’s what you need to look out for.
Before you work with a client
The best way to avoid clients from hell is to spot the red flags early. These tips will help you identify clients that may not be a fit for you before you ever work with them.
Do your research
Before you engage with a potential client do your research. A quick Google search will put the information you need at your fingertips. Look at their social media and their website. Then look up their company and check out reviews that their employees may have left. If you find that several of their employees have left bad reviews, chances are you won’t have a good experience working with them.
If you’re using a platform like Upwork, you often have access to the reviews that other freelancers left for clients. So before even bidding on a job, make sure that you check those out.
Chat with them
Next, chat with your potential client. This really allows you to get an idea of the client’s communication style and gives you insight into their personality. Make sure you’re taking the time to really listen to your potential clients when you chat with them. How do they talk about the team that they work with? How do they talk about successes and failures?
If you really want to dig deeper into whether or not they’ll be a client from hell, ask them if they’ve ever worked with a freelancer before. If they have and they have a lot of negative things to say about that experience, proceed with caution.
Maybe they did just get burned by a freelancer who was flaky or claimed that they had skills that they didn’t have. However, usually, when a client speaks badly about other people on their team or other freelancers they’ve worked with, it’s a bad sign. Often, the reality is that the client is actually the difficult one to work with.
Keep communication professional
I wouldn’t recommend messaging clients from your personal social media or giving them direct access to your cell phone number. While this isn’t always an issue, letting clients cross over into your personal communication channels can create problems later down the line.
You also shouldn’t reply to clients outside of the business hours that you set. Of course, you want to be available for your clients and be reasonable about the amount of time you take to respond to them. However, your client should not be calling you at three in the morning and expect you to answer.
Define the communication channels that your clients can use and set their expectations for the times that you will be available. If potential clients travel outside of these boundaries early on in your relationship, they’re not a good client for you.
Present your contract
This is my favorite tip. I personally believe that I have avoided many clients from hell by presenting my contract.
When you do present your contract, negotiation is fine. In fact, you should expect that your client may try to negotiate with you on some terms. That’s normal. However, if your client pushes back on terms like when and how you get paid, it’s time to consider whether or not they are the right fit for you.
Giving potential clients a contract will make your processes and terms very clear to them before you start working together. If your potential client is not okay with that, you have to make the decision. You can walk away from that client or change your contract.
Get a deposit
If you really want to avoid clients from hell, have a deposit policy. Requiring a percentage of your rate down before you start work tells your clients that you’re a professional. Clients who are willing to put down a deposit are serious about investing in the type of work that you do.
How to stop working with a bad client
Sometimes, you miss red flags with your clients but that doesn’t mean you have to stick with them. These are some things you can do if you want to navigate out of a bad client relationship.
Raise your rates
Have you ever felt like clients from hell flock to you? If you find that this is a problem, it’s time to raise your rates. Many freelancers shy away from this and struggle to determine what their work is worth.
See my advice for setting your freelance rates when you have no clue where to start.
If you’re building a business and getting good feedback from clients who like working with you, you’re already doing good work. Most freelancers, (including me) will tell you that the cheapest clients often have the highest expectations.
The clients that worked with me at a low rate were more demanding than any of the clients I have worked with in recent years. They typically don’t have a big budget to begin with and they feel like they need to squeeze everything they can out of you.
Every freelancer will have to start somewhere. Sometimes that may mean working at a lower rate than you may want. That said, you shouldn’t be afraid to raise it as you gain experience or have issues with low paying clients.
Don’t be afraid to say “no”
Remember, every client is not your client. If you start talking with a client and you discover that they’re not the right fit for you, say no. If a client asks you to do something that you have no interest in or something that’s out of scope, say no.
Saying yes to work you don’t want doesn’t benefit anyone. More often than not it just leads to getting burnt out and dealing with more clients from hell.
Saying goodbye to clients from hell
As a freelancer, you’ll have an experience with clients from hell at some point. When these clients pop up, don’t think that you’re alone. Sometimes, you don’t find out who your client really is until you’re deeper into the relationship. If that happens, it’s best for you to get out of this client relationship and start coming up with an exit strategy.
Have you ever had a client from hell? If so, tell me in the comments.
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