Red Flags: How to Identify A Difficult Client

Last updated on July 11, 2020

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Freelancing is a very interesting field. Like in any other occupation, freelancers come across all kinds of clients: some easy to deal with,  some difficult.  Dealing with different types of clients is a skill that any freelancer who wishes to progress in the freelancing field must develop and execute with precision. But is there a way to identify, before you take up any work, that the client will be trouble? Are there any red flags to look out for? Oh yes there are, and I’m happy to share with you a few pointers.

If you spot any of the red flags that I’ve highlighted below, you should take a step back and evaluate the client keenly as this will save you a lot of future stress.

1. Long List of Demands

Every client wants a freelancer who will do their job well and give them value for their money. Clients are looking to hire someone who has the ability to follow directions as well as someone who is skilled at their job.  That being said, there are clients who have very long job posts, indicating that they require this or the other, a long list of the qualities they are looking for, while some are downright rude. The down side to this very long job posts is that the possibility of you making mistakes is high. Here is what two freelancers had to say about their experience:

I am wary of clients who give very long instructions. Some give like a whole page!! That’s just a recipe for trouble, as it increases chances of making mistakes. 2. Some clients are rude from the onset. You can see it in the instructions. They say things like ‘don’t bother wasting my time’ or ‘I’ll give you a single star and report you to the admin’. I avoid them like a plague.-Joyce Mararo, freelance article writer at Iwriter.

One of the biggest pointers that a client is going to be troublesome probably lies in the job description. There are some statements that they include in their job postings that point to trouble. The initial communication with the client should also tell you what type of a client they are. Some clients are so quick to attach conditions to their projects. I had one who had it to deduct $5 from every grammatical mistake she would find on my work. Getting the last milestone from her was really a task. – Patrick Kihara, freelance article writer and blogger.

2. Unreasonable Deadlines

Another thing to be on the lookout for is unreasonable deadlines. I have seen some job posts of clients asking transcribers to finish up on 2-hour audios within 6 hours! Any transcriber knows that transcription is a lot of work. You need adequate time to transcribe, research on unfamiliar words and phrases and proofread your work.  This is a job post that I wouldn’t dare apply for.  In a few cases, a client may genuinely need their work completed in a hurry, but many clients that want their first project done ASAP, will probably want their next one finished just as quickly.

A client that has a Crazy TAT pinned on a particular job for me, is a client that I’m very wary of.  For me I know how long each gig I take will last. I factor in an unprecedented power outage, slow internet speeds  and some other glitches here and there. Therefore if someone wants a job in the next 6 hours from the time they hire me and it is 12 AM my time, I often let go the job because this will be one angry client, they will leave poor feedback and above all, I will not be productive at all – David Mbugua- freelance Video Editor

3. Everything is Quick and Easy

These kind of job posts are common in freelancing sites. The potential client posts a job and then they point out that they are looking for someone that can do a quick and easy job like designing a simple website.  Needless to say, there is nothing simple about websites. Designing a website is a laborious process. Some clients use this line because they are ignorant of the work needed, but others just want  to woe freelancers and downplay their hard work and skill.

Some clients might also use such phrases to ensure that they keep the cost of the project low and this is disadvantageous to the freelancer. When you come across such a job post, take your time to explain to the client, albeit in passing, some of the technical aspects involved in the design process and ask for a higher pay. If the client is adamant to pay extra for your skill then you need to drop them immediately because this is a confirmation that you are dealing with a difficult client.

4. Clients Asking for Free Samples

Why do some clients ask for free samples? Well because you may have sent a really awesome cover letter, but because the client is a bit skeptical, they need proof that you can do a great job.  Still, this is definitely a red flag. Some clients have been known to ask for free work from several freelancers only to disappear into thin air. They know that many freelancers are desperate to get their foot in the door, and they end up taking advantage of this.

A good client will pay you, even if it’s a trial job. Then, if the freelancer passes the test, the client will either extend the contract or create a new one.  Personally, if I come across a client who wants to test my skills, and I have determined they have a good profile, I’m ready to do it, provided it’s no longer than a 2-3 minute transcription. My advise: tread carefully.  There is no reason why you should take your precious time to do a long test as there is no guarantee that you will be hired at the end of it. Watch out for those clients who want freebies!

5.  Gut Instinct

Most of all, trust your gut. If something doesn’t sound right or is too good to be true, it probably is. You may not relate with this if you’re a newbie, but trust me, this comes with time, and especially if you have already worked with a number of clients.  As you continue in your freelance career, you will learn when to turn down work based on any of the factors above and your own experience.

What other red flags have you encountered in your freelancing career? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share!

About the author

Virginia Nakitari is a work from home mom passionate about making money online. She's here to show you legitimate companies offering full-time, part-time and remote jobs from home! Stay tuned!

  • I am a freelancer doing academic writing and I have to say that this is right on point. Especially the point about too long instructions and the one about scary words in the instruction such as “I will rate you badly or report you to the admin”. Anything that indicates that the client is skeptical about whether you will be able to do the job right is definitely a red flag and such a customer will never be satisfied with your job no matter what. That said, customer satisfaction is the only tool to maintain a steady income online. That however does not mean that a freelancer should allow an abusive client to treat him/her like a slave. Thanks for the article

    • Well said Steve. Customer satisfaction is key and most customers that I have encountered (and probably you too) are sober. But for the ones who YELL and are abusive, better to stay away! Thanks for your comment.

  • Thanks for that Sheeroh. Another point and good for those who work on iwriter is to avoid clients with bad rating. They will never appreciate hard work no matter how hard you try.

  • Thank you so much Sheeroh for highlighting these facts, have encountered them severally and but they should not shake you too much. Elijah, am needy of your help, looking on how i can join transcription jobs. Can you guide me a little please?

    • Hi Kelvin. Experience is the best teacher, huh? It’s good to be aware of these points. Transcription jobs can be found on TranscribeMe, Casting Words, Rev, Odesk and Elance among other sites.

  • A quick look at the client’s rating and feedback from other freelancers can also be a pointer to troublesome clients. For instance, on iWriter, I never take on a client with an approval rating of below 65%. Similarly, on oDesk, be wary of unrated clients and those insisting that you communicate outside the oDesk platform.

  • Thanks for the tips. I usually ignore clients who instill fear in you even before you make up your mind whether you will work for them or not. This is helpful indeed. How about those who promise a good rating?

    • I agree Flora. It’s a huge red flag. For those who promise a good rating, in my experience, they’ve been awesome clients. It’s sort of an encouragement, an incentive to do great work.

  • Thanks Sheeroh.I got one recently, he gave me a 5 minute test.I did it. My heart skipped a beat when I read “I should not do a 2-3 minutes.” The client told me he’ll try me. After a day or two, he tells me I need to do another 5 minute test. I was perplexed but I still did it. Now I read this and I’m like, “Is this a read flag?” Learning is a process indeed.

    • That’s a red flag right there. Probably not a difficult client but a scammy client. If he wants you to take another five minute test, ask him to hire you specifically for that purpose. You’ve already done one test. That is enough for him to gauge your skills.

  • Thanks, Sheeroh, for pointing out some very important tips that we overlook in our proposals. I must admit I was almost giving up on Upwork. Now, with a smile on my face, I will definitely try again. God bless you for your continue support!

    • You are most welcome Flo. Bidding is quite challenging to many freelancers but you can hack it, get great clients if you’re willing to be patient.

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