Five red flags you don’t want leads to wave

One of the driving forces behind leaving the safety blanket of a salaried position and leaping onto the cold laminate flooring of freelance life is that you’re sick of getting into bed with the wrong clients. You want to choose who you do business with.

Then, next thing you know, the reality of the situation hits and you’ll gladly take a commission from anyone with a pulse and a chequebook.

Fortunately though, this early stage isn’t permanent. At some point down the line you’ll be in a position where you can say no. But that nagging fear that you’re turning down work will persist. You just can’t be sure you’re making the right decision.

Or can you?

If you spot these red flags, you can be pretty sure that you’re doing the right thing by steering well clear.

Red flag one: “I’d do it myself, but…”

If someone thinks they could do a job themselves, the implicit statement is that they’d do a better job.

You’re not providing them a service – they’re doing you a favour. Instead of a professional, you’re a kid washing dad’s car. Basically, they’re only asking you because they’re happy to part with some pocket money if it means they can read the Sunday papers.

Unless you’re charging pocket money prices and are happy being second-guessed and spoken down to, you might want to consider your options.

Red flag two: “I’ve been offered it cheaper. Do you price match?”

Welcome to copywriting as a commodity. You’ve quoted your fair price and passed over the proposal. Suddenly, they’re telling you that they’ve been offered the exact same thing for half price.

I mean, sure. The exact same thing might be written by someone with far less experience, no portfolio or reputation, and who uses English as a second language, but words is words. You’re just filling space on the website with bumpf.

If you’re willing to take a 50% pay cut just to land a client, you’re asking them to take you for a ride.

Red flag three: “Can we come to an agreement on the payment terms?”

Translation: “I can’t afford to pay you, but I’m hoping that your marketing expertise will start generating some income for me so I can pay off my credit card, then the designer, then my overdraft, then maybe you.”

I’m all for offering extensions. To repeat clients with a proven history of paying on time. We all have bad months, after all. But if a client wants you to hold up your end of a deal while moving the goalposts on their side, you might want to think twice about doing business.

Red flag four: the dubious history

I learned this one the hard way. Sometimes a client says all the right things, is a joy to work with and then *POOF!*

Gone. Emails bounce back, the phone number’s disconnected and nobody at their virtual office is going to sign for the letters from your solicitor. They’ve got the draft, and all you’ve got to show for it is a bill for an angry legal letter.

Do your due diligence. Ten minutes on Google is all it takes. Look out for the following things:

  • Companies House shows that they’ve been the director of lots of similar companies that shut down and start up every time a creditor sends a bill.
  • Their registered business address doesn’t seem to exist
  • They keep calling from different mobile numbers
  • They’ve got a disposable email address (i.e. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo)

If you spot a couple of these dubious red flags, it might be worth taking payment up front. Or at least a substantial deposit.

Red flag five: “Erm, did you come to the meeting today?”

If you’re left sat in their office’s reception or a coffee shop for an hour without so much as a “sorry, we’re running late,” just tell them to sling it.

You’ve got better things to do than hang around some co-working space so some sniffy start-up can pretend they’re the stars of Dragons’ Den.

What are your red flags?

This isn’t an exhaustive list. If you’re a PCN member, you’ll have your own criteria for working with a new client. Is there a huge red flag that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments section below.


9th September 2016

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Great stuff, Andy. Totally agree with all of them. I’ve learnt to stay clear of the client who ‘only wants a bit of advice’. I spend so long replying to their incessant emails, I realised I’ve given away 3 hours of my time!

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