Freelancers: How To Spot A Bad Client – 10 Red Flags

As freelancers we all need clients to survive, but we don’t need every client that comes along.

Bad clients end up consuming all your energy and providing the least reward possible for it, learn to spot the warning signs of these clients.

Then you can either pass on their business in the first place or fire them, before they drive you insane. 

10 Red Flags That Indicate A Bad Client

One red flag and you should think seriously about doing business with someone, more than one? Run away. Even if you’re being paid in full, upfront. 

They Want Special Treatment On Day One

We are all willing to bend a little on our terms, etc. for someone who has been a loyal customer for years. 

You should be much less willing to do so when someone walks in the door and starts demanding special treatment, unless they are the biggest name in the industry and will open huge doors for your career? 

Remember why you wanted to work from home? It certainly didn’t include being pushed around by overly demanding clients. 

They’re All About The Cost

Of course, money is important but when a client is only about the money, it’s because they don’t care about the output on a contract.

They certainly don’t care about your ability to pay your bills or feed your family. 


Worse, as every freelancer (including myself) who has foolishly taken on such a client can tell you – they are also the most demanding after the fact, to the point of the insane. 

Early on in my freelance career one of these clients sent back several thousand words because they wanted a single comma placement changed. 

Grr… it would have taken them less time to do it themself than to type up an email demanding that I do it but in their heads, that’s what they paid me to do. And trust me, it wasn’t enough. 

They Want Everything Done Yesterday

There are only so many hours in the day and one of the pros of remote working (see the pros and the cons of remote working here) is that you get to set your own schedule.

Clients that can’t wait for work tend to be badly organized and want you to bail them out of their failing, trust me, this is a losing game. 

They Talk Badly About Previous Freelancers

Sometimes, clients hire freelancers to fix a foul up by a previous freelancer, that’s fine and, of course, they’re not going to be terribly complimentary about the individual’s work. 

But if every word out of a client’s mouth is about how somebody else let them down and what a jerk they are? 

They’re going to be talking like this about you in a few weeks time. Don’t let that happen. 

They Micromanage

A freelancer is an independent contractor. You work for yourself. You have clients not employers. 

And if the client wants to act like an overly present manager? Leave them to do the job themselves. 

You build your business on trust and yes, sometimes, things will go wrong, but then you apologize for your mistakes and either remedy them or demonstrate how they won’t happen again and then you move on. 

They Want You To “Polish” Work They’ve Already Done

This is a sign of a client that thinks they know everything but, in reality, isn’t very competent. 

Or they’re trying to palm off shoddy work from a previous freelancer and won’t admit it, either way – freelancers are meant to create great work, not round off other people’s. 

They Don’t Agree With A Word You Say

You’re being hired because you’re an expert at what you do, or that’s the theory.

A client who always knows better than you? They are a living nightmare and you can’t win in a battle of wills with a client, so it’s best just to avoid having them. 

They Don’t Know What Outcome They Want (Or Won’t Tell You)

Scope creep is a nightmare but even worse is the client that can’t articulate, clearly, what they want from you. 

Confused Client

Imagine going to a restaurant and telling the waiter that they need to guess what you want to eat and if they don’t get it right, you’ll eat but won’t pay.

That’s this client. Run away. 

Their Communication Sucks

You are free to agree how to communicate between you and your client, sometimes, it’s going to be all about email or Slack in business hours. 

Other times, it may vary a lot. That’s cool. 

But a client who doesn’t follow the schedule or who can’t communicate effectively? They need to go. 

You’re a freelancer not a communications professor, your time should be spent on things you want to do. 

They Don’t Respect Your Boundaries

Want to burnout in a heartbeat? (See our guide to avoiding burnout as a freelancer, you may need it). Then work with someone that doesn’t respect your boundaries. 

Then your work-life balance will dissolve in a puddle of mush and you’ll be miserable. It’s not worth it. 

Final Thoughts On Red Flags For Bad Clients

We’ve all made the mistake of ignoring red flags and it always turns out badly. 

Though to be fair about this, sometimes client relationships go sour for other reasons too. 

Use these red flags to guide you to avoiding taking on bad clients or to letting bad clients, who made it through your vetting process, go. 

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Morgan Graff
Morgan Graff
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