Looking for New Freelance Clients? Avoid These Five Giant Red Flags

If you see one of these red flags, the gig might not be worth the money. Photo by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

We’ve already talked about bad freelance clients and what to do about them, but what about the red flags that you can look out for? Surely, you ask, there must be some tell-tale signs that will warn me off these bad clients, so I can avoid them altogether before I’m sucked into their miry business.

And you’re right in that assumption. There are multiple ways you can recognize a potentially bad client before you accept a gig. Here are five freelance client red flags to look for.

This message is the professional equivalent of a “U up?” text. Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash

If you pitch a client or apply for a posted freelance gig somewhere, and the only thing you get as a reply is a lone line — “What’s your Skype ID?” — just ignore it. This is a weirdly common behavior among clients who also are very prone to (1) paying very little and (2) demanding a lot of work for that very little.

Also, if a potential client just thinks you’re sitting around, waiting to talk to them on Skype, what does that say about what they think about you and your time?

Of course, you can always get around this red flag by replying with a simple request for more information, “to make sure we don’t waste either of our time.” If they ghost, good for you. If they comply, you might have something you can work with.

Stop wasting my time with your long interviews, Karen. Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

If a potential client is looking for a long-term freelancer who will be doing some heavy lifting within the company for months, this is okay. If they’re wanting a one-time, 400-word blog post, this is a giant red flag.

Asking for this much of your time for what will inevitably be minimal pay just again points to the potential client not appropriately valuing you or your time.

Why don’t I just turn in a pitch to someone who will actually pay me? Photo by Le Buzz on Unsplash

Do these people have any idea how long it takes to put together a good pitch? I don’t have an hour to create multiple pitches, just in hopes of getting one gig. Again, this is a sign of someone not respecting your time. Additionally, guess what: that editor that’s looking at those applicants, they’re just adding all those pitches to their editorial idea bank. Don’t provide this much value to someone in exchange for absolutely nothing.

Sure thing, Karen. That’ll be $100. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Again, why would you do work for free? Nothing is free! If a potential client is asking for free work, just to even look at your resume, why would they not ask for free work once you’re actually in a relationship with them?

Of course, sometimes you can get around this by simply saying something along the lines of, “I do not provide XYZ without a fee, but would be happy to discuss completing a trial project for you at a reduced rate, to see if we’re a good fit for one another.”

Reputable companies pay for work of all types. Period.

Apparently my resume was just a big, fat lie. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Again, again, again. These types of requests are signs that a potential freelance client does not respect your time. Freelance writers, if you have a good portfolio and an impressive resume, why do you need to take a test on basic grammar?

Unfortunately, some companies view this as an easy way to weed out spammers. For example, Indeed recently added a feature to its platform that automatically sends applicants to freelance writing positions a basic grammar test (posting companies can opt out of this feature, and I strongly urge they do). However, if a potential client is assuming you’re an unprofessional spammer from the very beginning of the application process, are they going to really change their mind later?

Yes, absolutley. And that’s part of the freelance game. Sometimes you need a gig, or a little extra income one week, and so you ignore all the red flags. That’s okay and it doesn’t make you any less of a professional. It just means you have bills to pay. However, if you can, go for clients who will respect your time and your experience. You’ll be happier in the long run.

Holly Riddle is a freelance travel and food journalist who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.

Travel journalist, full-time freelancer. Passionate about non-traditional careers. Published thousands of non-fiction articles and not one word of fiction.