Overall, I feel most clients are great. It’s how this whole business world keeps moving forward. Good people doing good things. Though as good as things may be, it’s always good to keep an eye out for any outliers. These outliers are clients that may be slow to pay, bring up surprise ‘extras’ and do other things that most freelancers would generally not appreciate. You don’t want these clients. What this post will do is help you recognize the five red flags that a potential client may be trouble. Knowing this information will help keep your client portfolio reserved for only the best:

Red Flag Number One: A Wonky Business Plan

You and a potential client will need to fly together! This means if they have a lackluster business plan – you can’t fly together. You will only take off and then soon crash and burn.

The business plan always comes first. If the plan is bad, there will be no way to pay you. Yes, the business can run in the red for awhile. Or the business may even pivot. So things could change.

It’s best to analyze the person in charge of the business. Will the business soar or flame out under their leadership? Make sure the business plan will work/keep working before you join the team. Otherwise, all that onboading paperwork may be for naught.

2. Vague Expectations and Vague Terms

Good clients know what they want. This is fantastic for all involved. Since you’re good, they get exactly what they desire.

But. Be careful. Some of the best clients are vague. But in a… “I’m really busy so I trust you know what you’re doing so just take this information and run.” Learn to understand the difference.

The way I’ve learned to understand the difference is by sizing up the person. If the person is an unknown, they are probably clueless. That’s why they are giving you vague terms. But if the person is basically a brand… they are just busy. That’s cool.

3. Time Wasting

It’s disrespectful for a potential client to approach you and then drag their feet. Don’t they know your time is valuable? Watch how much time they are taking before they start signing checks.

It depends on the breadth of the project but for many clients, things can get rolling within one week. If things don’t get rolling, they may just be trying to pump industry knowledge from you. Know when enough is enough.

4. Lack of Knowledge About Your Portfolio

A sign of respect is to know about a person before approaching them. You wouldn’t waste Elon Musk’s time by seeing him and asking him why he builds electric cars. Likewise, clients should have done their homework. These are clients that will respect you.

They should know at least the basics: past projects you’ve done, people in your network, how long you’ve been freelancing, etc. Make sure you know a lot about them as well.

5. Passing off Difficult Tasks as Easy Add-On’s

This isn’t the KFC drive-thru. Add-on’s aren’t generally fast and cheap. I’ve had clients say things like, “Oh, if you could just do that too, that’d be great.” My thoughts, “Yes, that would be great. For you. That would take me an extra 40 minutes. That’s a lot of money in missed opportunity…”

Sometimes they are just ignorant. They don’t know how long something additional will take. That’s when you need to step in and educate them. Don’t belittle them. There was a time you didn’t know this either. Instead, just inform they of what would it take to do said task. Then kindly ask for just compensation.

Bonus: Feel the Vibe of the Potential Client

From my experience, every person lets off a vibe. It can even be felt through the internet. If you pay attention, you’ll get a good feeling from that person. If you don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling, maybe it’s better you work with someone else. But if you do feel good things – run with it. Always surround yourself with excellent people.

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William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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