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7 Freelance Clients You Want to Avoid

October 19th, 2010 by

Nobody is perfect and we all work differently. What might be a great system for one individual may be a positive disaster for someone else. That’s just human nature and it boils down to our individuality. Coming from my own perspective and my own experience, however, I have encountered my fair share of difficult clients and they can be challenging, to say the least.

You don’t want to burn any bridges, because while this client may not be such a good fit with what you can offer at this time, they might know someone else who may be a better fit. Maybe you know someone whose personality meshes better with how this “bad” client operates. Whatever the case, there is usually something that you can salvage. With that caveat out of the way, what are some of the types of freelance clients that you just may want to avoid? Here are seven notable examples.

1. The Lookie-Loo

“How much do you charge for this? What is your rate for that? Do you have any samples of this kind of work? Where have I seen your writing before? If I change this to that, what would your hourly rate be then? Oh, okay, we’ll be in touch.”

And then you never hear from them again. It’s not just in the realm of freelance writing that you come across clients like these. Car dealers find people kicking tires all the time and there is no shortage of foot traffic going through open houses with no intention of buying any real estate. It’s just a part of the territory and it’s a phenomenon that you’ll have to accept as a business owner.

Treat the lookie-loos with respect, but these kinds of customers can oftentimes be a lot more work than they worth, even if they finally decide to hire you.

2. The Incessant Haggler

Everyone has a budget and everyone wants to get a deal. That much makes sense and I can completely appreciate someone wanting to get the best possible value for their money. However, the haggling has to end somewhere and the work has to begin.

Negotiation is a natural part of the business process, but unless the deal is quite large and substantial, you may need to weigh the pros and cons of entering such a lengthy discussion. Even if you agree to lower your rates in exchange for some other benefit, this freelance client may still be unhappy for whatever reason and demand that you lower your rates even further.

If every second email has something to do with haggling over the price, it may be in your best interest just to walk away.

3. The Contingent Payer

Some freelancers are willing to work “on spec,” but I’m not one of those people. This comes after a negative experience I had with one such client who seemed very enthusiastic about the project (he was outsourcing part of the work that he had received through one of his clients). He said that he would be able to pay top dollar for my work, but it would be contingent on a few conditions, one of which was getting on the front page of Digg.

Perhaps I was little too “green” and naive, but he said that he had more than enough resources to get the article on the front page of Digg and I just had to write the content. Well, it never got close to the front page and I earned a total of zero dollars and zero cents from the task. Some of these conditional contracts can prove lucrative, but they carry a great deal of risk as well.

This isn’t just about getting “Dugg” either. Some clients may say that they’ll only pay for the press release, for instance, if they are able to increase traffic to their site by a certain figure. They may only pay for the web sales copy if sales figures increase by a certain amount. It’s up to you whether you want to take the gamble, but this (generally) isn’t the kind of business relationship for me.

4. The Elitist Snob

Here is the client who thinks he’s better than you in every way and he thinks he has every right to have you respond to his every beck and call. Nothing you produce is ever good enough and he says that his 12-year-old nephew can generate better work than you can. Such a client is just a downer.

Absolutely, many clients are going to have areas of expertise that you don’t have, but there is something to be said about mutual respect in the freelancer-client relationship. You both bring something to table and should be treated as relative equals. Respect has to come first. No one wants to work with a rude curmudgeon.

5. The Disappearing Act

Communication is paramount in any relationship, including the connection that a freelancer forges with his or her client. Some clients tend to take a hands-off approach, whereas others prefer to be intimately involved every step of the way. You can adjust your interactions to suit these preferences, but you do want to have a client that is available when they should be.

While I’m the kind of person who rarely goes more than 24 hours before replying to an e-mail message (except over the weekend), other people may take an extra day or two. However, there is a certain limit to this. If you have a client who can never be reached, this can cause a great deal of frustration on your part. This becomes even more worrisome when the issue is related to late or missing payments.

6. The Indecisive Pacifist

Many clients come to you because they view you as an expert. That’s great. They turn to you for advice and guidance, because they’re not really sure what they want to do or how they want to go about doing it. That’s fine and this consultancy can be rolled into your fees. However, there is a line to be drawn at some point.

There is a problem when the client expects you to make every single decision, because he or she can’t decide, only to point out why you made the wrong decision down the road. You should’ve done this or you should’ve done that.

Clients need to understand that they have to help me help them. We can have a candid discussion over the major decisions and come to a solution that everyone can be happy with.

7. The Outright Liar

Liars aren’t worth your time. This is partly why I try to keep accurate records of the exchanges I have with my clients and why I prefer communication via instant messenger, e-mail, or some other form that allows for an automatic transcript of the conversation. This way, there is no ambiguity related to the client’s preferences and requirements.

It truly is a shame, but there are freelance clients out there who will lie about what is expected of you, whether they’ve already paid, and other important concerns. If you do not forge a business relationship based on trust and integrity, then the foundation can do nothing but crumble.

What about you? In your freelance experience, what clients do you feel are avoiding?

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7 Responses to “7 Freelance Clients You Want to Avoid”

  1. Kim Plumley says:

    This is a great piece. I thank you for putting names to things. It clarifies it and assures me that I am not the only one out there who deals with some very, very interesting people.

  2. Good post. Don’t forget the other one that I had recently, the “Mind Changer”. Nice people, but the target audience changes, the platform changes, the project objectives change, the time frame changes, the design changes, the people involved change… it’s like shooting a puck into a net that moves around the ice every 5 seconds. You go off and work on the defined project, then come back only to find that most of it must be re-done to suit the new definition of the project. Even if you’re charging by the hour, eventually, the project will fail and you will be the scapegoat. Too bad, because their original idea was so great. :(

  3. Ray Ebersole says:

    We see all of these people in all walks of life. I see them all the time in the technology field, but I believe that some of these people can be massaged into good clients if you set guidelines and rules that you do not back down from.

  4. Seems like it’s pretty easy to avoid the lookie-loo!

  5. [...] the way, you’ll encounter some difficult clients and you may need to gain an understanding of administrative matters, but these are all learning [...]

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