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Client Red Flags To Watch Out For

Red flags can lead to problem clients and badly run projects, but what red flags should you look out for? If ignored these can cause the kinds of problems that contribute to claims against freelancers.

11May'20

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 are the factors that 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 in general 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 things done at a very cheap rate. The 'client expectations vs client budget' memes do a good job of poking fun at this type of client.

These clients can be very difficult to please because of their demands. If you have a client who is difficult to keep happy, irrespective of how great your work is and how hard you try to please them, they’re always going to find something more that they need or something else to complain about. A client who wants the moon on a stick is never going to be satisfied, and unhappy clients can lead to claims.

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

Maybe this client expects you to be available out of office hours, or even if they do 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 can feel they aren’t being treated with respect.

Things gradually break down over time as that tension increases and this can lead to a fall out. 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.

We’ve seen this happen a few times where there isn’t a good working relationship anymore due to a client not respecting the boundaries. This can lead to all kinds of problems.

Red flag #3: Clients who constantly change their mind

This is usually a project management issue. Even if your job is web design—not project management—it helps to have good project management skills. We talk about project scopes a lot because poor project scopes tend to lead to problems like clients changing their mind or clients not receiving the work they feel they paid 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 have anything agreed to in writing is dangerous because everything becomes negotiable. They can shift the goalposts of the project such as adding in more features or changing important milestones.

Not having terms agreed to in writing gives the client a stronger platform 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

I think 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 very well.

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. That’s not a good client to be involved with.

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. 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 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 disappearing is that–once they reappear—they often aren’t happy with the progress the project has made or the work that’s been done.

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

  • Clients who have unreasonable demands. They want the moon on the stick. You can get stuck in an endless loop of trying to make them happy, which is rarely possible because their demands are so great
  • 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 aren’t settled on what they want
  • 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 they’re 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