Client red flags to watch out for

Red flags can lead to badly run projects which can turn into a nightmare for the freelancer. What warning signs should you be aware of so that you can avoid having a difficult client on your hands?

In today’s Unsure? Insure! episode we run through a list of client red flags. If ignored these can lead to problematic client relationships or poorly run projects. These factors contribute to claims against freelancers.

We’ve based this red flag list on the insurance claims we’ve had at With Jack and what situations tend to bring those claims about, but also by speaking to freelancers about their own experiences.

Red flag #1: Clients who want the moon on a stick

These clients want everything and their demands are usually unreasonable. Maybe it’s quick turnaround coupled with wanting work done at a cheap rate. It’s rarely “Yes, this is a demanding turnaround but we’re compensating you handsomely”.

The ‘client expectations vs client budget’ memes do a good job of poking fun at this type of client, but there isn’t much to laugh about if you do have a client like this.

These clients can be impossible to please because of their demands. It doesn’t matter how great your work is and how hard you try to keep them happy, some clients are difficult to please and they’re always going to need something more or find something else to complain about.

A client who wants the moon on a stick is never going to be satisfied. This can lead you down a rabbit hole of trying to compromise and find ways to make them happy, but it’s futile. Clients like this cause more than just a headache for the freelancer.

Red flag #2: Clients who don’t respect boundaries

Maybe this client expects you to be available out of office hours, or if they contact you during office hours they expect you to drop everything to be at their beck and call. This treatment can damage the relationship between the client and freelancer because the freelancer feels they aren’t being treated with respect.

This client can’t grasp you have other clients, a life outside of work, family… and their willingness to overstep boundaries can lead to the relationship gradually breaking down over time as tension increases. This can result in a fall out.

If there’s no longer a harmonious working relationship and the freelancer doesn’t want to continue working on the project, this creates the possibility of a claim for breach of contract.

Red flag #3: Clients who constantly change their mind

Project management issues are a common cause of claims against freelancers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a web designer or developer, whatever service you offer clients it will help to have good project management skills.

We talk about the project scope a lot because poor project scopes lead to problems like clients not receiving the work they feel they paid for or freelancers doing more work than what they charged for.

This is because it’s difficult for the freelancer and client to remain on the same page when the client is constantly changing their mind. Be wary of those clients and consider brushing up on your project management skills. SuperHi have a project management course to help you run healthier, happier projects.

Red flag #4: Clients who won’t agree to terms in writing

A client refusing to sign the freelancer’s contract or agree to terms in writing is dangerous because everything becomes negotiable. They can shift the goalposts of the project to suit them, and it makes it harder for you to shut down any problems since you can’t refer to what was agreed to in black and white.

Not having terms agreed to in writing puts the client in a better place to make demands that aren’t favourable for you. It makes it difficult for you to keep the project under control. You can’t say no to a never-ending stream of revisions because you can’t refer to the contract where it states how many revisions are included in the budget. It can also make it difficult to enforce payment terms.

It’s a slippery slope. If a client refuses to agree to anything in writing it can indicate that they’re trying to take advantage of you or that this project isn’t going to be taken seriously.

Red flag #5: Clients who negotiate on pricing

Some negotiation is OK. The client has a budget and they’re trying to make that work, but if somebody is pushing for discounts or freebies, or offers to pay you with exposure it shows that they’re not interested in the value you bring to the table. They’re not going to treat you with the respect you deserve.

Discounts and freebies are quite a common theme in the claims we see. If a client is pushing for discounts or asking you to do extra work for free, they’re undervaluing you and it rarely ends well.

In my experience as an ex-freelancer, clients who are very focused on price tend to take up the most time and energy. You can end up losing money due to the time spent on the project and dealing with a difficult client. Take this as a warning sign that your client won’t value you.

Red flag #6: Clients who ghost you

This is another common theme with our claims. Sometimes clients go off the radar before the project begins (but the freelancer starts work anyway) or clients disappear midway through the project. Both scenarios are problematic.

Firstly, never start work without a deposit. A paid deposit shows the client is serious and you’ve at least received some compensation if the project is terminated. Secondly, implement a pause clause in your contract to encourage clients to stay on track.

If they disappear for a period of time where you need their involvement—whether that’s to supply you with assets, sign off on deliverables or pay you—you’ll cease work on the project until you hear from them again. Then you’ll have to reschedule their work based on your revised availability and workload.

This gives you more control over your schedule and cashflow and should incentivise clients not to disappear. The problem with clients reappearing after a period of absence is that they often aren’t happy with the progress the project has made or the work that’s been done. We’ve seen this lead to claims where the client is blaming the freelancer for missed milestones or a poor finished product.

What are the red flags to consider when determining to work with a client?

  1. Clients who want the moon on the stick
  2. Clients who don’t respect boundaries
  3. Clients who constantly change their mind
  4. Clients who won’t agree to terms in writing
  5. Clients who negotiate on pricing
  6. Clients who ghost you

These red flags are ways to spot a bad client, but it’s not simple enough to identify the warning signs and then not act on them. As difficult as it is you must set boundaries, work with a contract and have appropriate clauses to protect you in your terms. It also helps to get insured should any of these situations escalate to claims of breach of contract or dissatisfaction with your work or professional services.

To recap, here are the client red flags to watch out for:

  • Clients who have unreasonable demands and want the moon on the stick. You can get stuck in an endless loop of trying to please these clients, but this is pointless because their demands are so great and continually evolve
  • Clients who don’t respect boundaries. A lack of respect impacts the harmony of the relationship between the client and freelancer
  • Clients who constantly change their mind. It can be difficult to deliver the work your client wants when they are always shifting the goalposts
  • Clients who don’t agree to terms in writing. This will make the project difficult to control and means everything is negotiable
  • Clients who push for discounts or freebies. They undervalue you and are usually more hassle than they’re worth
  • Clients who ghost you. It’s hard to take a project seriously if your client disappears. Never start work without a deposit and implement a pause clause to encourage clients to stay on track

We asked ourselves one important question…

What do we want out of an insurance provider?

With Jack is the answer