6 Types of Clients to Avoid When Freelancing

Jeff Cuellar



Today, more creative professionals, financial consultants, tech/data experts, and sales & marketing staff are going freelance. Why? Why not! If you’ve got the expertise and talent, you can be your own boss, set project fees, work flexible hours, and earn extra income by going freelance. Try finding that in your day job!

But freelancing isn’t without risk, as you’ll have to deal with dangers of client douchebaggery, coupled with the constant struggle and uncertainty of even finding clients. So whether you’re freelancing full-time or you just want to make a quick buck, you must be aware of working with time-wasting clients.


Working with Time-Wasting Clients


The most important thing to remember is that the pain of a bad client is only temporary.


Chances are good that you’ll encounter at least some client frustration while doing freelance work. I’m talking about working with clients who mistake “freelance” for “slave labor”, demand tons of unnecessary project revisions because they’re indecisive, and straight up cheat you into doing work for free.

In fact, working for such clients negatively affects your cash flow by making projects last longer than they should. So if the amount of time you spend dealing with one soul-sucking client is enough to finish two backlogged projects of the same scope – you’re making half as much with twice the labor! As Benjamin Franklin once said, “time is money.”

Here are some time wasters to avoid like dengue fever:


1. The Soul Sucker




This soul sucker will siphon every last ounce of labor out of you like an ultra-capitalistic vampire because he wants to ensure he’s getting his “money’s worth.” You’ll waste time arguing with this client over work that’s either unnecessary or goes beyond the scope of original project. Also, negotiating price with this type of client is like pit-fighting a hungry prisoner for a scrap of bread – he’ll fight for every cent.


2. The “I Want To Try First” Guy



The “I Want To Try First” guy is never satisfied by anything you give him, whether it’s your portfolio, resume, testimonials, or even project samples. You’ll find yourself wasting a ton of time with proposals, consultation, and price negotiations without ever getting the project off the ground! Working with this client is a lot like dealing with a flaky ex-girlfriend/boyfriend. They may sound interested, but they won’t commit.


3. The Micromanaging Monster




The micromanaging monster manages a project to the point that you begin to wonder why he even hired you in the first place! This type of client thinks he knows your job better than you do, sparking arguments over every little project detail. In fact, you’ll waste more time either working too cautiously or validating every single professional decision you make.


4. The Indecisive Idiot



The indecisive idiot’s idea of what a project should look like changes as often as a chameleon’s skin. That’s because he’s highly influenced by what he sees in other projects, shifting his requirements on a whim. This client is especially difficult to work with because you’ll waste a lot of time and energy on drafts or proposals that get scrapped because he wanted to take the project in a “fresh” direction.


5. The Clueless Committee


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The clueless committee make the indecisive idiot look like a saint in comparison. That’s because the clueless committee is a mix of personalities, each with their own ideas and biases on what a project should be. You’re not just submitting your draft or proposal to one person, but an unholy hydra that will have you making revisions over… and over… and over again. So if you want to keep your sanity, stay away from clueless committees.


6. The Conniving Co-worker




This is the guy in the office who has his own side project/business. He’ll ask you to do a small project as a favour (for free). Proving that “no good deed goes unpunished,” he’ll ask for more favours until you realize he’s getting “free” work. Once you finally confront him about getting paid for future work, he’ll waste more of your time by trying to low-ball you on everything.


How Can You Deal With Such Clients? 


Remember… be professional and restrain your inner Al Pacino!


The last thing you should do is lose your cool and go Al Pacino (remember Heat?) on your client(s) by yelling “Stop wasting my f****n’ time!” As satisfying as that sounds, you’ll end up hurting your freelance credibility in the long run.

So instead of soiling your rice bowl with an ill-timed outburst, take these protective measures to lessen or eliminate the effect of time-wasting clients:

  • Have a clear contract: No matter how “small” a project is, you should always have a clear contract that details the exact scope of the work (ex. design of a 4pp A4-sized brochure), the payment terms (ex. 50% deposit to start, 50% upon completion with 30 day credit terms), deadlines, client obligations, and penalties for late delivery. Once agreeable terms have been reached, have it signed and notarized (optional). With a clear contract, you’ll be protected from much of the client douchebaggery mentioned above.
  • Be firm on your pricing: I’m not just talking about the prices you provide for your basic services, but saying NO to any “freebies.” You’re a professional with years of experience, so don’t sell your skills cheaply or worse, for free. If a client wants to add something to the project that’s not covered in the contract, draft a new one with the additions and have it signed. That way, you don’t find yourself wasting hours of valuable time working on “small” additions free of charge.
  • Don’t take every job: It’s tempting to say “yes” to every project promising payment, especially if you’re desperate for cash – but you must know when to say NO to a prospective client. Always pitch a “fair” quote to them, and if they reject it, ask how much their budget really is. If it’s too low, then reject the client. Otherwise, you could be saddled with a low-paying project that’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Is it ever “worth” working with these kinds of clients? That depends on whether you have both the patience and the financial motivation. If a clueless committee is paying you $21,000 to work on a 3-month project, it might be worth the hassle. If you are looking for more useful information on freelancing, check our other article here, or stay tuned with us on Facebook.


What other types of freelance clients should you avoid? Share your thoughts with us here.

Image Credits:
AlexxxG, Ben Heine, aimeedarsmarsmet551, gncook, appenz, TomFury, purplemattfish

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Jeff Cuellar

I'm known by many titles: copywriter, published author, literary connoisseur, ex- U.S. Army intelligence analyst, and Champion of Capua.