You have a new inquiry! The excitement begins and you're excited to schedule a call so you can learn more about them and their business. But either before they set something up or during your consultation, you notice some red flags. Things don't seem right.
You may not even see glaring red flags at first. I mean, you want the money right? But you have to ask yourself if it'll be worth it if they turn into a nightmare client. While not all "bad" clients will show huge issues right at the start, it's important to easily spot the worst behaviors before it's too late.
No matter when this happens, ghosting is a huge indicator that someone doesn't respect your time or may have cold feet when it's time to commit. Sometimes, people who ghost will come back but you want to be cautious when booking with these people. They've already demonstrated that they'll disappear easily, so keep that in mind.
2. Nickel and Dime
If someone just cannot commit to your pricing, it may be a sign they don't see you as an expert or they aren't ready to invest in something like your service for their business. They think everything is debatable and if you just "take away this stuff I don't need", the price will go down. But what they don't realize is that your package has everything you need to do your best work and stick to your process. They won't get the full value of working with you if you don't work at your best.
3. No Trust
When someone is trying to adjust your process, not wanting to communicate with you in your preferred method, or are just in general trying to get you to work with them in a way that you don't usually do for other clients, the trust just isn't there. These types of clients will push on every decision. They typically ask for a lot of extra refinements because they think they know best. You won't be able to do anything the way you know is gonna get them results and somehow you'll be why. Beware!
4. Won't Agree to Your Contract
This is another sign of a lack of trust but one of the bigger red flags because this shows they want to dictate everything about the project. Even small changes can drastically change the protection not only you have, but them as well. This type of client can be overbearing and possibly scam you. Make sure they agree to what is in your contract as is unless they have a really good reason like finding something unethical.
5. Same Project, Different Face
Has this potential client mentioned working with one or more people in your industry already and none of them worked out? If it didn't work with multiple previous people, you have to wonder who was the issue in those relationships. Be especially weary if they are quick to throw the previous designers under the bus. They may have extremely unrealistic expectations, be too specific on what they want, or the opposite where they are entirely unsure of what they need. Pleasing them may be near impossible.
6. No Boundaries
Whether you've booked them already or not, if a client cannot respect your boundaries, they aren't right for you. They'll typically contact you well outside of business hours, ask for your personal phone number, or not listen to your needs at all. Make sure to be crystal clear what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. Solid expectations can fix a lot of potential issues.
7. Lacks Integrity
If you have someone asking you to copy someone else, not be inspired by but copy, run. This type of client will not be happy unless they have what someone else has. They're not truly valuing your industry and the fact that you can create something new for them. They see you as any person in your industry who can just recreate what others do. Be weary if they require work before you are paid as well. You don't want to provide spec work just to not be paid for your expertise and time and they book someone else.
8. Wanting to Be Done Yesterday
The clients that want everything done by the next day show a lack of understanding in how much work goes into what you provide. Your timelines should be respected and if they are willing to pay for a rush and it's possible, that should be fine. But you don't want to feel rushed and like you constantly have pressure on you the entire time. They may be looking over your shoulder all the time which can lead to too much stress.
9. "I'll Know It When I See It"
This is one of the biggest red flags straight from their mouth. If you hear these words, you need to be clear that you will bring your expertise and skills to the table to solve their problem. These types of clients are so extremely vague on their needs but will definitely tell you when they don't like something. This can waste a lot of time and make you stray far from the best solution.
10. No Connection
This one is more of a yellow flag compared to the other red flags I've mentioned. So, this is more of a gut feeling and while there are times you can definitely create something amazing, it's important to consider why you're feeling that things just aren't clicking. Is it something they said? Or maybe it's an industry you have no interest working with. If it's a possibility to stretch your skills, I'd say go for it! But if it would be a project you would not be happy doing, be honest and recommend someone in your network who would love the opportunity.
A note on "bad" clients...
If someone doesn't show these signs before, they can still crop up later. That's definitely always possible. But it's not always their fault when things start falling apart. It's so important to be able to recognize when something on your end broke down a project.
Sometimes, we create bad clients. It's not about taking the blame when it's truly not your fault. But have you had times you're venting to a business friend and they don't get why you're so annoyed? It's about taking responsibility for not setting up the project for success. We all make that mistake sometimes and we can learn a lot when those situations come up.
Transparency is key in keeping things on track during your process. Setting clear boundaries and communication expectations will create mutual respect. You'd be surprised how much more supported clients feel when you have strict rules for the project so they know what to except.