Warning Signs Of Difficult Freelance Clients


You may encounter freelance clients who have unrealistic expectations or try and take advantage of you. This might not be malicious, it’s just how some people do business.

Red flags to be aware of include:

  • Low budgets or haggling before a spec is even defined.
  • Overly tight timescales. This is a sign that the client may be disorganised and this will make them hard to work with.
  • Asking for work up front before paying anything – in the form of pitching or ‘spec work’.
  • Not wanting to agree to a proposal/terms or pay a part of the project fee before work commences.
  • Saying that instead of paying they will give you exposure or it will ‘look great on your portfolio’. That may be true but you still have bills to pay.
  • Dictating how things will be done without taking your input into account. There are countless people on the freelance marketplaces that can do prescriptive tasks. Doing this kind of work will grind you down long term, so look for clients that appreciate your knowledge and experience and let you lead in the areas you know about.
  • They have used a long list of freelancers in the past. It’s not always the freelancer’s fault things don’t work out and a string of previous providers points to potential issues with the client.
  • If they are negative about previous freelancers or life in general, they may prove difficult to work with.

There are entire websites devoted to ranting about these kinds of clients, but it’s best to just politely decline their project and move on.

You have a responsibility to choose your clients and projects and take on work that fits well with what you offer. If you get a gut feeling that something isn’t right, take notice of that.

Your time and energy is valuable and there’s an opportunity cost to working with clients that don’t treat or pay you well. If you’re working for them you’re not working for client that treat you well and pay your full rate, on time.