5 Warning Signs of Deadbeat Freelance Clients

There’s nothing worse that a client who continuously leave you confused, horrified or mad as hell…

It can be small things – like a lack of communication. In other case, it can be challenges with payment terms, project management, and unrealistic expectations.

Today, I’m going to share 5 warning signs that to be on the lookout for before working with a client.

#1: Not Respecting Your Payment Terms

I can’t think of a single freelancer who hasn’t had at least one client who refused to follow their payment terms.

Upfront problems with payment are an easy indicator that can help you spot bad clients early. In particular:

Client refuses to pay a deposit.

I know I repeat it like a mantra but it’s true, you should always request a deposit. Full stop.

It guarantees payment. Confirms the client’s commitment. And signals they are actually able to pay you.

But I constantly hear stories like this one:

And needless to say, if it ever happens to you, walk away.

Clients refusing to pay a deposit is a surefire sign of payment problems ahead. They may have no money for the project whatsoever. Or take their chance at getting the stuff for free.

In any case, this is an immediate warning sign.

Client continuously pay late.

Do you have a client you constantly have to chase for payments? Ignoring your payment terms, leaving you high and dry waiting for the cheque to arrive?

It may be time to reconsider your relationship with the client.

Here’s the thing, late payments almost always turn into non-payments.

Eventually these clients stop bothering with paying at all. They send what turns out to be the final project and never pay for it.

So, once an invoice drifts past your payment terms, it’s time to reconsider your relationship with the business.

Client continuously questions your rates

A client who doesn’t respect the value you provide and haggles at every opportunity is not worth keeping either.

Serious clients pay for value. Bad clients question every penny. And once you get caught in their game, it’s a race to the bottom.

2: Unrealistic Expectations

There’s plenty of stories about these clients around.

Some want to take over Facebook. Or Uber. Or any other major player today. Others hope to make millions in no time. And, with no budget at that.

I once had a prospect contact me for a project. His goal was to earn $250k a year selling golf videos online. He had no audience, industry recognition, website or blog to speak of. Only a goal to earn $250K a year, and a marketing budget of about $5K.

Treat these unrealistic expectations as warning signs, too.

First of all, these people probably have no knowledge or expertise running a business. They won’t be able to see your value, let alone help to create realistic expectations for the project.

They also won’t know what they want. As a result, they won’t be able to provide any clear instructions to you. You’ll be largely working in the dark, constantly changing direction and starting anew.

And it’s unlikely that your work will ever make them happy.

3: Unrealistic Deadlines

This one’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

If a client wants things to be done for yesterday, they’re probably not someone you want on your client list.

For one, setting unrealistic deadlines is a sign that they have no plan of action. To me, seeing an email with an unrealistic deadline immediately suggests the client hasn’t completed the upfront planning for their project.

Great clients start their projects early, leaving plenty of time to finish it and ask you for a guidance on how long the work’s going to take.

Setting unrealistic deadlines also suggests they don’t value your time and other commitments.

Lastly, it could also suggest that haven’t properly budgeted for your services and need to cut corners to get stuff done.

4: Lack of Knowledge and Understanding of Your Services

I’m sure you’ve heard this before:

Don’t sell websites to people who’ve never had one.

Customers who have already tried and used similar services know what you do and have some idea about how you do it.

Those who don’t understand your services however will have unrealistic expectations. Also, they won’t understand if you did a good job or not. Or continuously keep changing the brief, causing havoc in your schedule and affect your income.

5: Not Letting You Do Your Job

Ever had a client ringing every couple of minutes to see how you’re doing? Or Skype’ing you 2 minutes after sending you an email to see if you got it? And constantly changing their mind, never letting you to do your job?

Well, then you know what this warning sign is about.

It’s one thing to check up on your freelancer once in a while. But bombarding them with constant new ideas, requests for updates or any other messages is simply stalling the work.

Of course not every client sending frequent email is a dud. But those who constantly change their mind, the project’s direction, and interrupt your workflow… well, you may want to move on.

So what to do if you spot a deadbeat client?

Assess how their project impacts your future.

I always run them through the 4P’s method. The 4P’s stand for:

  1. Prospect. Is having them on your client list raising your profile in the industry?
  2. Price. What rate do they pay you?
  3. Promotion. Can they bring any other business, i.e. referrals?
  4. Pain. Are they a pain in the neck?

Based on these 4 factors, I determine my next action. If, for instance, a client offers great prospects and promotion opportunity, I might keep them for a little while. But if they’re a pain in the proverbial ass and offer no benefit to my business, I won’t accept the project.

Refer that customer to someone else

I never leave clients or prospects high and dry. Call it karma but no matter how challenging they are, I believe it’s best to be helpful when you can.

Refer them to someone else. Keep a list of freelancers who may be a better fit for the project. These could be contacts of yours, or freelancers who are just getting started. But never refer bad prospects to a great freelancer. You’re going to waste that person’s time. And given that the client will most likely turn out to be a dud too, it makes you look bad in their eyes.

What about you…

Have you encountered deadbeat clients in your business? How did you spot them? And what did you do next?


Written by: Calin Yablonski
Calin is a freelancer, local search marketer and founder
of the Freelance Business Guide.