Obvious Client Red Flags


Just as clients often interview freelancers to ensure they are the right fit, freelancers should also qualify clients to make sure that the client will be up to their expectations.

Clients are in one of three categories.

  1. Bad
  2. Good
  3. Somewhere in between

In this article, I am going to focus on bad clients and the red flags they might wave to help you determine if they fall into the bad client category.

So who is a bad client?

The short answer: anyone who does not fit into your ideal client persona. The long answer: it depends on your business, your style, and your goals.

Some personal examples of the worst clients that I have dealt with in my years of freelancing are:

  • The client who calls me 3, 4 or even 5 times in one day to ask me about my progress.
  • The client who sends me basic specs on what they want to be accomplished on their website, but are never available to have a deeper discussion so my questions can be answered.

These are just 2 examples that immediately come to my attention. I felt great relief when those jobs were done.

Now, I know some freelancers may consider these types of clients as the in-between category. But when I add the stress and time involved, I had to put them in the “bad” category.

I also know that some solo business owners are in the corner because they are in need of the money they would earn from that job, but that can turn into a never-ending cycle of doing work you despise and brings small profits.

The long term issues can actually be damaging to your freelance business and your overall well-being.

Sometimes a freelancer should just say “No. Thank you”

In the 7 years I have been building websites, I have created a list of potential client actions or things they say that immediately classify them as problem clients. I call these my client red flags.

You may or may not agree with list, but I am sharing them because I believe that a large percentage of freelance service providers will testify that these red flag signs are accurate for them as well. If you don’t agree, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I need to point out that there is a chance that a prospect is having a stressful day and they are giving red flags they normally wouldn’t.

If you have that suspicion, sometimes it may be wise to reschedule the meeting at a later point in time.

So below are 7 red flags that when waved immediately disqualifies the prospect in my books.

Red Flag Trigger #1: “I know someone who will do this for free but they are unavailable at the moment.”

It is tempting to spout an obnoxious statement back to a potential client who uses this line. It is quite obvious it is a manipulation to have me get frightened that my bid will be too high.

I would suggest that you do not even give a bid at that point. I would tell the potential client that you are not familiar with anyone doing web development for free unless it is family for family, but they would probably feel better if they wait until the free person is available.

If they insist on a bid, I suggest upping that bid by at least 50% of your original amount.

Red Flag Trigger #2: “It shouldn’t be too hard to do.”

This one used to be okay until I got burnt real bad in my early days. Look, I understand that the client is looking at the project from a completely different viewpoint. But, I’m the expert that they are looking to hire, if it’s really not that hard, they’d be better off with a less experienced web developer.

The main issue with this one is that even if you explain the amount of work involved, the client has already assigned a low value to the task. And in those cases, unless it’s a really simple task, most proposals would be rejected or the client will try to haggle your prices.

If you’ve read my material, you’ll know that I have a policy where I never negotiate on price. My price is “take it or leave it”. But I do negotiate on other variables such as scope, timeline, or payment terms. When someone believes that a task should not be too hard, there is absolutely no space to negotiate on scope or timeline as they usually already think that the scope is down to bare minimum.

Red Flag Trigger #3: The potential client wants diamonds made from limestone.

It is perfectly fine for a client to dream about possibilities and share them with me. But when I take the time and effort to explain that what this client wants is not realistic, and the client does not believe me and argues that it can be done, that is a huge red flag for me.

“I’m sorry Bob, I cannot do that. So you may want to find another professional who can.”

Red Flag Trigger #4: “This should only take (time).”

Depending on the potential client’s demeanour, this could be a red flag or a yellow flag.

I believe the best way to handle this is to be blunt with the potential client; “I will complete this job by ___.”

If they continue to try to change the deadline, I think politely declining the job is usually the best action you can take.

Red Flag Trigger #5: “I need a bid without any specs.”

Those prospects who are so obsessed with getting a bid without telling you the particulars are probably a waste of time. Sometimes they are worried that you will steal their ideas, sometimes they are just price shopping.

But I’ve found that usually, these are the clients who will try to add on items as you are working on the job and expecting you to keep the same bid.

The best statement you can make is: “It just wouldn’t be fair to either of us if I gave you a bid without the complete information with what you need. If you would like, just document your needs and send them to me and I will put together a proposal.”

Make sure your proposal explains that any additions to the needs listed will cost extra.

Red Flag Trigger #6: “How much (cuss word) money for a (cuss word) WordPress website?”

When someone feels it is perfectly fine to use cuss words over and over with me during our first meetings, I am seeing a huge red flag. Once we are comfortable with each other, it’s a different story.

I can let go a slight cuss word slip, but when a prospect has the idea that they can use them consistently, I politely say no.

They may use the cuss words about me (they probably will) but that is fine. I will find clients that are professional.

Red Flag Trigger #7: The potential client uses (or misuses) overly technical or formal language

Some clients have a notion that they need to use deep web development technical terms to give the impression that they know as much as I do. Or they go to those extremely formal words that give you the impression you are talking with the Queen of England.

In my opinion, every client is just as important as the next client. If a client uses too much of these terms without know much about what they are talking about, there is a red flag waving immediately.

The same applies when the prospect makes use of buzz words without real meaning. Sorry, the design should be “Wow” does not mean anything concrete.


Now I want to reiterate, these are my red flag triggers and may not be yours. But I do strongly suggest that you make a list of red flag triggers when you are meeting with potential clients.

It is important that you realize as a freelance web designer, you own a business. In consultations with prospects, you are not at a job interview. Yes, you do have the task of impressing the client, but that client also is tasked with impressing you.

When my intuition tells me that a potential client or the project has good odds of turning into a nightmare, I always walk away.

So let me ask you, what are your red flag triggers?

Please share your list below and if you have any questions, you can ask those in the comment area too.

Remember, there are many good clients so why waste your energy on bad clients? Life is too short to waste on the wrong people.

About the author

Umar Bahadoor

Umar helps service-based business owners grow their businesses online so that they can finally stop stressing out and live the life of their dreams without working all the time. Unlike others who sell complex solutions, Umar focuses on simple strategies that are massively profitable for service-based businesses.