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Client red flags revealed: How to identify the signs like a pro

Your freelancing depends on clients, yes.

Bad clients, however, can be a drain on not just your business but affect your sanity as well.

Identifying client red flags is just important a skill to master as your "actual" skills are.

Client red flags can sometimes be difficult to identify. How do you know if a client is going to be trouble? How about when they are no-shows, or they don't pay their bills?

How about when they want to change the design halfway through a project? What if a client just ghosts on you? What if you don't like the client at all?

These are real issues.

Here are some typical client red flags (See these? Run):

Looking for Low Cost Freelancers

All Caps Is a No-No

This Is Easy For Someone Who Knows What They Are Doing

Need Only [Insert Country] Freelancers

Look for Previous Client Feedback

Clients who Ghost You

Clients who Don't Pay

Clients who Are Rude, Mean, & Condescending

Thankfully, there are some real ways to identify client red flags and identify crappy clients from miles away (even before you decide to send out a pitch or bid on their projects).

This blog post will give you some of the most common signs that your client may not be as good as you think and how to avoid them.

Looking for "low cost freelancers" or "Cheapest will win"

This is obvious, but it's worth explaining: the clients look for "low cost" freelancers are the hardest to work with, the the meanest monsters around, and they'll obviously pay you the lowest possible fees ever. I have no idea how it makes any sense to get projects like these or choose to work with clients like these.

If you absolutely need the money, do something else (if you have to). I'll bet you'll make more waiting tables, running the newspaper route, or filling fuel at a fuel station than anything else you'd pick for these rates (and I speak for the global diaspora of freelancers absolutely everywhere).

All caps Is a No-No

If you ever see a prospective client's project brief written in all caps, you don't want to work with that client. Period.

From what I understand after 20 years of freelancing, 'anyone' who writes in ALL CAPS is an asshole and you definitely don't want to be working with one.

This also applies to all sorts of written communication such as emails, Twitter tweets, Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, messenger chats, or whatever.

"This is easy for someone who knows what they are doing"

Noticed a client's project brief with this line that goes something on the lines of "This is easy for someone who knows what they are doing", or "This takes only an hour", or something similar?

Stay away.

If it was that easy, maybe the client should have just done it by himself or herself. They don't need you.

Need Only [Insert Country] Freelancers

You'll often see clients posting projects on several job boards asking for freelancers from specific countries (such as UK, US, Australia). The perennial question for you is going to be: Should I bother sending in a pitch?


For some clients, it's a genuine requirement since they'd have accounting issues paying out to freelancers outside of their home jurisdiction. Others just seem to think that the world begins and ends with talent in their own country.

Either way, you don't want to apply (unless you live in the country that the client is asking for).

Previous client feedback tells you stories

Finding out more about your prospective client is almost impossible if you pick clients from the wild (by using cold email pitches, on LinkedIn, or anywhere else you pick clients from).

At least on freelance job boards, there are simple and obvious ways to find a little about your prospective clients (before you go putting in proposals). On Upwork, for instance, look through their previous feedback (freelancers leave feedback for clients too).

Anything less than 4.5 out of 5 warrants some more research. If the client is new, take it with a pinch of salt.

Clients who ghost you

It's funny how this works: You apply, client seems alright, the contract is awarded to you (or you get into work), and suddenly, the client is nowhere.

Your emails go unanswered, client just stops paying you, or however this one plays out.

Ghosting clients are unreliable, not so serious, and they'll just play with your time, energy, meagre resources, and more. This'll also cause you some cash flow issues (like $3400 not paid at all).

Do I have to explain myself more?

Clients who don't pay you

I don't know why but several freelancers seem to put up with clients who don't pay (just hoping for better days or praying that clients somehow see the light).

Clients who don't pay you at all (or don't pay you on time) are the worst kind there are.

If you ever face this, run. Run. Run.

Cut your losses if you have to, but run.

Clients who are mean, rude, racist, or condescending

Sometimes, you'll read it upfront. Other times, it's under the belt. Often, it can be hidden, layered, or cleverly delivered.

Some clients are downright rude, racist, or condescending -- and it seems to be just as prominent in the world of business just as it is everywhere (from supermarkets to airports now-a-days).

You do know what to do, right? Don't take it lying down. Let them know just how offensive they are and move on.

To handle clients with red flags, you'd need numbers on your side. Just manage to get so many projects that you don't have to deal with nonsense.

What do you think?

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