Empowering the Freelance Economy

Client due diligence: kissing more frogs than princes?

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Freelancers often feel they face a trade-off: project freedom for income stability. While you get to choose your work, a steady stream of clients is crucial. Finding great clients can be like kissing frogs hoping to find a prince. But what if a client relationship goes down a path you’d rather not take, draining your time, money, and respect?

Nicole Magelssen, CEO of Alpine Virtual Assistants, offers warning signs that might mean it’s time to end a client relationship, or at least have a crucial conversation. By addressing the issues, you might salvage the situation. If not, you can walk away with your dignity intact, knowing you gave it your best shot.

You can also easily use these red flags on the flip side: when clients do not possess any or all of these traits: you’ve found a keeper.

1. High Client Turnover

A client with a history of quickly burning through freelancers before projects are completed might have underlying issues in management or expectations. This could lead to frustration and wasted time on your end. It never hurts to ask the client before working with them what their ideal freelancer-client relationship looks like. How many freelancers have they hired in the past? If they have any working for them now and if they are repeat jobs.

2. Ever-Shifting Targets

Clear communication is essential. Unrealistic expectations or vague instructions can lead to wasted revisions and misunderstandings. If a client can’t clearly define their needs or keeps changing them mid-project, it might be time to walk away. However, if you see their potential as a business, put your sales hat on and start helping them through the process. Here’s an article on this very subject: How to help clients who don’t know what they want – Freelance Informer

3. Scope Creep: The Project Monster

Scope creep happens when a project starts small and quietly expands to devour all your time. This can lead to burnout and missed deadlines. This can even be the case when the initial project scope is clear, but the client keeps adding requests beyond the agreed-upon deliverables. This constant revision cycle eats into your time and resources, impacting your ability to deliver on the original project. Be upfront about the project scope and address any changes before it becomes overwhelming. And make sure you are getting paid for your extra time!

4. Contract? What Contract?

Contracts protect both you and the client by setting clear expectations. A client’s refusal to sign a contract could be a red flag for future payment issues or disagreements. Consider why they’re hesitant and if the partnership is worth the risk.

5. The Urgency Monster Strikes

Constant, manufactured urgency disrupts your workflow and creates unnecessary stress. A client who constantly needs things “yesterday” is disrespectful of your time and a sign of potential future problems.

6. Respect is a Two-Way Street

Disrespectful comments like “There’s no room for error” or “I expect perfection” are unacceptable. A client who consistently disregards your expertise or professional boundaries doesn’t value your work. If they also make you a scapegoat for things you did not cause. Don’t be afraid to walk away.

7. Speedy Sign-Ups Can Mean Trouble

A rushed onboarding process can lead to a mismatch in expectations and capabilities. If a client seems overly eager to get started without a proper understanding of your skills and process, there might be underlying reasons for their haste.

8. MIA for the Intro Call? Not a Good Sign

Your time is valuable. A client who no-shows for an introductory call demonstrates a lack of respect from the get-go. Please don’t set the precedent that their time is more valuable than yours.

9. Boundaries? What Boundaries?

Setting and enforcing boundaries is crucial to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. If a client consistently ignores your boundaries, it shows a disregard for your time and well-being. You are not their employee, remind them subtly about that. If they do not respect that, don’t be afraid to cut ties after the project is complete if that is possible. Then if they ask you to take on more work, simply say you have limited to no capacity but thank them for offering.

10. The Micromanagement Monster

Micromanaging stifles creativity and damages trust. If a client is constantly hovering over your shoulder or requires excessive meetings instead of delegating tasks, it’s a red flag for a dysfunctional working relationship.

When a Client Costs You More Than Just Money

A healthy client relationship is a two-way street. While keeping clients happy is crucial, sometimes red flags emerge, indicating you’re tolerating too much and not getting your worth. Here’s how to spot them:

Chronic Late Payments: Late payments disrupt your cash flow and disrespect your time. Clients who consistently struggle to pay on time might not value your services enough.

Disrespectful Communication: A client who constantly belittles your expertise, ignores your communication, or micromanages your work creates a stressful environment. You deserve professional respect.

You Feel Undervalued: Despite your efforts, the client remains unappreciative. This can manifest as a lack of positive feedback or attempts to negotiate your fees down unreasonably.

These signs indicate a client who may not be a good fit. By addressing these issues early on, or even considering ending the relationship, you can protect your time, and energy, and ensure you’re fairly compensated for your valuable services.

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