Recognizing The Red Flag Client (Like a Bad Date)

Posted: June 30th, 2010

Photo by Kioan (Flickr)

Photo by Kioan (Flickr)

Picture this: A potential client consults with you. You give a (rather pricey) estimate. He is still interested and looks like a nice project to keep you going for a while.

Then you get to further discussions. He doesn’t pay attention to your suggestions. He is unclear of his goals and vision for the project. You just don’t see eye-to-eye.

Memories of a bad date are popping into your head.

So now you face an interesting dilemma in freelancing. Do I give up a great project and the nice income it will provide or do I take those red flags into account and let this client slip away to another freelancer?

Well, do bad dates ever get a second chance?

OK, maybe once in a blue moon but you eventually become quick to learn that, at any signs of trouble, it’s time to bolt.

On the other hand, with clients, it’s not so easy. Especially if you have kids to feed and rent or mortgage payments looming every month. When your own livelihood is at stake, turning down clients doesn’t seem like a very wise option.

Let’s, however, take a look at the real cost of turning down work from “bad date” client for a second.

It’s not the lost income

It’s easy to see that letting a potential (but temporary) cash cow go is equal to taking money right out of your pocket. The mistake in this line of thought is that you haven’t earned the money yet. There is no income lost at all.

Note that the keyword here is earned. How many hoops do you think you’ll have to jump through to even know what the project scope is and create a spec for it? Plus working with a client who isn’t aligned with your own style and goals means you’ll be spending most of your time trying to figure out and give the client what he wants while he continuously rejects your work.

All this adds up to significant extra time aside from the actual time worked on the project. And extra time costs you money in time that can be spent with clients who work well with you.

Read the signs

Much like a bad date (hell, we can say exactly the same as a bad date), your un-ideal client carries visible warning signs to stay as far away as possible. These can easily be seen within the first few consultations of a project.

  • The client is not receptive to your  suggestions. You begin to wonder why you were chosen in the first place.
  • One sided (that would be favoring the client) and long communication through emails, IM or calls. While you’re trying to comment and advise, you are interrupted with speeches on the client’s requirements.
  • The client couldn’t “work” with several other previous freelancers. It’s important to ask about this since it usually means others had enough of the client in the past.
  • You can’t figure out what the client wants… even after spending the time on all the emails and calls.

Hey, I won’t go as far as to tell you to let the client down gently and run but it is in your best interest. There are plenty of other fish, er, I mean clients in the sea that are great to work with and have great projects available. There is no sense in getting down in your loss either.

Nothing like the job boards to get you back on track again.

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Let me know some more of the warning signs you’ve experienced with “bad date” clients in a comment below.