Another article on red flags to watch out for with clients?
I know what you’re thinking: man, she must really hate clients. But that’s not true. At all. Most of my clients I truly enjoy working with, and we have great relationships. Some I even meet for drinks!
But the reason I do love the vast majority of my clients is because I try to be selective about whom I work with. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of those really good clients out there.
So whether you’re a fellow freelancer like me, and totally get it, or you actually might be one of those clients, read on to learn what to avoid, or, what not to do as a client.
1. They weren’t up front or honest to you about their expectations
This is a more recent one.
I spoke with the potential client over the phone, and went through my whole logo brief with her. One of the questions I specifically ask is, “Are there any icons or design styles you wish to include or stay away from?”
She said no, she’s pretty open. So I work up some design concepts, and we met to go over them.
It turns out I was pretty far off the mark, because I made them a certain style and she didn’t want that specific style. But looking back at my notes, she never said anything about that.
So please, if you’re a client, and you really need or want something to be included or excluded, please tell us before we design something for you.
2. You don’t click with the client, or they’re rude
I had another recent phone conversation with a potential client. Now, I met the first guy in person a few weeks prior, and we got along fine. He was very polite, considerate, and easy to talk to.
Then he wanted a phone conference with his boss. The whole call was awkward and the boss was rude and abrupt. It was immediately off-putting, and I had a bad feeling about working with them.
Originally I was open to taking on their project, even though it was something that I really didn’t specialize in, but this phone call changed my mind.
Always listen to your gut. Click To Tweet
Always listen to your gut. If things are weird, creepy, or raises your blood pressure, it’s probably not going to get much better as the project moves along. If anything, it’ll get worse. Do you really want a project or client that stresses you out every time you correspond with each other? Nope, didn’t think so.
3. They don’t respect your time or schedule
A while back I was attempting to set up a meeting with a woman who inquired about my services. It was basically a ton of emails back and forth trying to nail down a day and time.
But the thing is, these emails were spread out over months. I’d tell her I was available on a few days the following week, and then wait to hear back. A month later she got back to me.
We finally nailed down a date that worked for both of us, but then she canceled at the last minute.
I didn’t hear from her again for a few weeks, and she finally got back to me and wanted to meet. Again, I give her some days and times, and then she asks if I can do mornings (not one of the times I was available). Um, no actually, I don’t.
I haven’t heard back yet, but I suspect that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. I don’t know about you, but I frankly don’t have time to chase after people just for a potential meeting, and especially if even penciling in a consultation is so much work. Imagine trying to pin down meetings and presentations throughout the project.
4. They don’t respect your boundaries
This closely ties in with respecting time and schedule, but it can manifest in a variety of ways.
For example, I had one potential client I met with, and while there were one or two minor red flags, I felt like we clicked well enough and the project was interesting, so I went ahead and sent her a proposal.
She sent back a whole list of things she wanted changed in my contract. Now, I totally understand asking for one or two changes for a good reason.
An example would be, I have a client who subcontracts me out to their own clients. Normally I require all invoices to be paid within 30 days; they asked for 60, since they needed to get paid first before paying me. Totally reasonable, and I obliged, and they’re still good clients.
But this woman wanted pretty much every single term in my agreement to be changed or adjusted, without due cause. It truly felt like she wanted these changes on a whim, and was testing my boundaries to see how much she could get away with.
Right away I could tell this was someone would probably fight me every step of the way, or at the very least, push my boundaries constantly. Some people have the patience or energy for that; I don’t. Maybe if business was super slow, and I wasn’t so busy, it would have turned out fine. I would have had the time and energy to devote to her. But this time, I passed.
5. Even getting to the proposal is a pain
Same client, but even before the requested contract changes, she had revisions and changes to the proposal. We went back and forth a couple times, adjusting dates, taking things off, adding other things.
Now, this by itself isn’t a red flag; but combined with her totally rewriting my whole contract, it was too much.
Typically, I would send out a proposal, and the client accepts it and we get started. Sometimes there’s an adjustment, like changing the date or scope of work. But then that’s it, they accept the proposal as is with those changes. Typically a proposal will get one round of revisions, if that, and we move on.
If even getting to an accepted project proposal is a pain in the ass, you can bet that the rest of the project will… Click To Tweet
If even getting to an accepted project proposal is a pain in the ass, you can bet that the rest of the project will reflect that process.
6. They aren’t ready to invest in their business
I know I’m not the only one who just loves hearing, “Our budget? We don’t really have one…we just want to keep this as reasonable as possible.” That’s code for: we don’t have any money.
Yeah, I understand that as a start-up, you might not have a lot of cash to burn. BUT, what they say is true: you have to spend money to make money. And unfortunately, that is especially true with design.
While there are places that cater to
cheap thrifty clients, most professional designers aren’t them.
When I hear a client utter that phrase, I can only think that
a) they don’t value their business, and
b) they won’t value my work either.
The two usually go hand in hand. A client that understands the value of good design also understands how important it is to their fledgling company, and is ready and willing to invest in order to make it worthwhile.
A client looking for a deal usually isn’t serious yet about their business. Ironically, it’s also these clients who turn out to be the most demanding. More work for less pay? I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll pass. (Read: just how much should good design cost?)
While there are places that cater to cheap clients, most professional designers aren’t them. Click To Tweet
7. They show a lack of appreciation or respect for your industry
This has been happening on again and off again with a long-term client that I recently just fired. I finally had enough and pulled the plug.
She needed some text edits done to a brochure that I had designed in the past. Sure, so I do them. She comes back with some more changes, this time a little more extensive (adding artwork, adding social media links, etc). Sure, I do those.
The proof is approved, and we’re ready to go to print, so I bill her for one hour of my time.
I get an email saying she doesn’t “agree” with my pricing (….???….).
I try to explain to her that I bill in half hour minimum increments; two rounds of revisions at half an hour each. She still complains, and we go back and forth, and finally I pull the plug.
You see, someone like her, who has never respected me or my profession, is not going to understand that it actually did take close to an hour to do all those things.
(In case you’re wondering, first I had to dig out the native InDesign file from the archives. The file is outdated, so I need to update it and all the links and fonts. Some fonts are missing, I have to replace those. Make the text edits, that changes the flow of the text, now I need to manually adjust the kerning. Some other things aren’t quite right or need to be tweaked, so I do that. Export the file. Email to her. Half an hour right there. Oh, there’s more edits. Time reading her email, finding the right social media buttons, downloading the Illustrator file, changing the color of the buttons to match her branding. Finding a place to stick those. Adjusting, resizing, moving things to fit. Finding and grabbing a suitable image that she wants, making room for that. Oh, my text flow has changed again. Correcting that. Export file. Email. Place print order. Approve proof. Invoice. Another half an hour just like that. Boom.)
Moral of the story? Please, please respect your designer and their time. This isn’t a charity. If you want a professional’s time, expect to pay for it.
If you want a professional’s time, expect to pay for it. Click To Tweet
8. They were working with another freelancer, but are vague about why it didn’t work out
It’s totally fine to change freelancers. But I’ve noticed that clients who very recently fired their designer, and have a hard time explaining what wasn’t working, are usually big red flags.
It’s one thing to note that a designer never returned calls, or did sloppy work, but it’s another if they can’t even articulate what was wrong. That signals to me that it probably wasn’t the designer at all that was the problem.
When a client burns through a lot of designers, web developers, or copywriters, all I can think is, the client is the common denominator. I don’t know what transpired to end their working relationship, but honestly, I don’t want to find out. So be wary if they leave a trail of ex-freelancers in their wake, you might just be their next one.
Whew, we made it through. I’d like to reiterate that no, I don’t hate my clients. I love the work I do, and the people I do it for.
Being a freelancer and owning my own business has been hugely rewarding and a success, one that I’m grateful for. But along with finding good clients comes knowing which ones to avoid. I’m still learning, and it’s not set in stone.
If the pay is right, things are slow, sure we all might take on a “red flag” client occasionally. Or not. The beauty of working for yourself? Having that freedom.
What do you think?
Do you agree with these red flags? Which ones might you add? What lessons do you wish you knew when you started freelancing?