It's all in the first contact meeting. Whether you are communicating via a freelancer platform like Upwork, phone call, LinkedIn, skype or email, you should know after a few minutes of speaking or back-and-forth messaging if the client is going to be a PITA - a pain in the you-know-what.
I have been freelancing for nearly 2 years and completed more than 60 projects, most of them with different clients. Over time I learned how to spot red flags. Not every client will be a PITA. There are wonderful, smart clients out there who are awesome. But this post is about how to identify those who may hurt your reputation (JSS) or who may cause you unnecessary stress.
Here are 7 ways you can tell it will be a painful freelancing experience:
- How Much Time Do We Have?
You have scheduled a call with the potential client or the client pings you to chat at your convenience. Either way, you get on the call and one of the first questions the client asks is "How much time do we have"?
I consider this a red flag because it means the client is not busy and not results driven (time is money!) There arre no meetings set up, no pressing things the client has to do. The client will also talk your ear off speaking until the very last second before you say you have to go - guaranteed.
If you hear this question, proceed with caution. Make sure you give a hard stop because you value your time and have other things to do even if you don't.
2. They Try to Get Free Work
Unfortunately, this happens too often. Before hiring, the client has a right to do an exploratory conversation. That doesn't mean they should ask you question after question having you reveal your goodies. As a website copywriter, at times I'm asked to give my opinion as to the page design and set-up in addition to the content. To combat this, make general statements. Tell the client, "Sure I can offer landing page design recommendations. I will provide more detail once we have a contract."
3. They Cannot Define Project Scope
As a marketing copywriter, I specialize in rewriting or writing landing page content. On an initial call with the potential client, I always ask, "How many pages does this project include?" One, you need to be able to manage your time. If you are charging hourly, make sure the client can budget accordingly. Second and more importantly, anticipate being asked how much the project will cost on a fixed-price basis.
Some clients prefer fixed-priced projects as they think they can get more for their buck and ask an unlimited amount of questions. Just manage the client's expectations, setting a clear number of revisions as well as set aside time to answer questions all at once if the client pings you a few times during the day (it's my hold and post technique = hold off until you have a few questions and then answer them in one cohesive message).
If the client cannot finalize the project scope, changes are they will add more landing pages, sections, etc. to the contract WITHOUT offering to pay you more (also known as scope creep). It is not ok for a client to say, "It is 4-6 product pages, but you can give me a fixed price that covers adding more products." You need to know EXACTLY what the project entails. If you end up working with the client and they try to scope creep, just respond with "I would be happy to do that for you. It will be another $X."
4. They Tell You You're The Expert
You ARE the expert. That is why the client contacted you in the first place or why you received a response to your proposal. When a potential client does not give me much direction on a project, I establish "check-ins" to ensure we are aligned. Just because the client says you are the expert doesn't 100% mean she believes it to be the case.
I had a client who contracted with me to create a pitch presentation the company could use while on a prospect call. On our exporatory video conference meeting I told him my design skills were basic and recommended he hire a designer to clean up the slides when I was done. I asked for an outline; he didn't provide one. I asked for guidelines; he gave me some information about his company's services. He told me I was the expert.
5. They Make You Feel Uncomfortable
Within the past month, two potential clients made me feel uneasy on our exploratory call. The first claimed the position was remote in an email but on the call he mentioned frequent office visits to the agency headquarters (more than one hour drive from my home) and to client meetings in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area. It was a bait and switch. This job is NOT remore and he made me queasy. If you are ok with in-person meetings, set expectations of how many times a month you can communite on-site.
The second client made multiple inappropriate comments. He created a medical device to alleviate a common cause of itching. Because he lived about 40 minutes from me in NYC, he offered to come to my area and chat about the project. No thank you. Stranger, you are not invted to my small town instead of your large, public metropolitan city. He also commented that the device was purposely created as a phallic symbol. Really? Why did I need to know this piece of information. Run away from these clients.
6. They Haggle the Price
If you quote a price and the client tries to negotiate, it is likely the client will be a PITA. Your price is your price. Perhaps you are willing to drop it a bit in order to win the job. If so, consider yourself warned.
If the client haggles and wins, she will probably haggle the price for every project. If the client haggles and you win, expectations will be higher and she may never be satisfied with your work. I've experienced both and prefer letting the client win as long as the price is reasonable. If not, move on.
There is a small possibility the client haggles, wins and everything turns out ok. Lucky!
7. Deliver Date is Unreaslistic
I have turned away projects due "tomorrow". Really, your landing page needs to be written in less than 24 hours? Your brochure's content must be written in a day? Doubt it. Impractical due dates yield PITA clients.
Chances are the client wants everything ASAP because they need to have the upper hand. She is likely paying below market value for the work. Educate them on your availability and the fact it may take more time to write quality content. Rome wasn't built in a day, neither should your work.
Before you get on an intial call, keep these points in mind. It might make the difference between a good or bad experience. There will always be PITA clients. That doesn't mean you have to work with them. If you decide to proceed, make sure you do it on your terms too. Work smart!