Freelancers, especially those of us just starting out, often live in constant fear that starvation is just around the corner, and that every client is going to be our last. This makes us prone to accepting any new client and project that come our way, even if they are not right for our business.

We have to learn to stop saying yes to every potential client and job opportunity.

By saying yes to projects that aren’t right for us, we lose the chance to take on the ones that are. In the long run, we end up filling our time with work that leaves us frustrated, bored, and broke.

When should we turn down a potential freelance opportunity?

In this article, I will go over some situations that you should pass up on.

1. The Client Wants You to Work for Free

The situation: The client absolutely loves your work. And they have a great product. For you, the project is very interesting and you would love to be a part of it.

They talk about working together to make their company succeed. They really seem to care about creating a long-term work relationship with you.

But when you present them with a price quote for your services, they immediately clam up.

"We’re a new startup. We don’t have a lot of funding. We thought, you know, you’d do this for the opportunity. For the exposure. If this takes off, you will be richly rewarded and super famous."

There are some situations where working in exchange for exposure is a good decision. For example, when I began freelancing, I did some free work for content publications in my niche to build my network and to get my name out there. Guest blogging  and working with non-profit organizations are examples of pro-bono work that give you an easier opportunity to get exposure and experience.

But, if a client is in the business of making money, then they should have money in their budget to hire you.

They wouldn’t ask their other employees to work for a vague promise of future reward and fame, so why should you be treated differently?

2. The Client is Shady and Obnoxious

You call the client via Skype to discuss the project.

In a mere 20 minutes, the client has already made insulting remarks about your nationality/gender/race and is trying to get you to work on something you know is wrong (black hat SEO, for example).

Always trust your gut when you’re choosing clients to work with.

I know, it can be tempting to accept any job and to work with anyone when you’re in a bind, when you’re desperate for more money, when your meal plan consists of cheap instant ramen noodles and $0.99 fast food hamburgers.

But I can assure you that if a client is already being obnoxious and fishy in your initial discussions, they are going to be a lot of trouble when the project kicks off and when it comes time to pay the bills. (I speak from experience, unfortunately.)

Doing things you know are wrong or against your principles for a quick buck will hurt your professional reputation in the industry.

3. The Client Doesn’t Trust Your Professional Expertise

The client contacts you with very specific requests about what they want for their website.

When you suggest that perhaps the seizure-inducing, animated site logo they want is a bit much, or that the 2-minute splash page intro is going to obstruct the user’s experience and is a more-than-a-decade-old outdated web design trend, the client gets angry and tells you your job is just to do what you’re told.

You have a responsibility to your clients and to your own business to do your best possible work. But you can’t do your best work if the client won’t allow you to use your expertise and skills.

And when the end result doesn’t generate the results the client wants, who do you think will be blamed? That’s right, you.

4. The Client is a Cheapskate

At first, it was a question about your prices being a bit high, and you gave them a little discount because, hey, they have more work for you in the future.

But they keep slipping in little extra jobs.

"Oh, it won’t take you but a couple of minutes to whip up a Facebook button, will it? And a background for our Twitter page too please?"

They try to barter your services for theirs, even though you have no need for hair straighteners, organic muesli, or whatever it is they’re selling.

Being budget-conscious is quite normal in business.

Optimizing every resource and every dollar is an important component of any successful company.

But those things should be done fairly and tastefully.

A client who constantly barters and haggles over price doesn’t believe in the value your work.

I often ask for a client’s budget up front to get an idea of whether we’re going to be a good fit or not.

5. The Client is Flaky

The client makes initial contact about the job, but after emailing back and forth a few times, the cracks start to appear.

You can see they aren’t sure what they want exactly, and they are indecisive about even the most fundamental components of a project such as agreeing on the exact scope of the project.

They then seem to disappear off the face of the earth for days/weeks at a time.

I’ve had my share of flaky clients. The truth is, people get busy, they don’t know what they want, they get distracted, and things are forgotten and shoved to the side. That is all well and good.

But if their work ethic gets to the point where it becomes impossible to finish the project, you should consider whether or not it’s a client worth keeping in your list.

Flaky clients tend to delay and prolong your projects, and will cause you to miss out on other job opportunities.

Final Words

Clients come in all shapes, sizes, and types. Some are a dream come true, and others can be a total nightmare.

By knowing what to steer clear of and by trusting your instincts, you can avoid some of those nightmare clients in future.

Author:

Steff Green is a freelance illustrator, writer, and marriage celebrant. She lives in a slice of rural paradise in New Zealand with her cantankerous drummer husband and a menagerie of animals. She writes about SEO training, content management, and blogging tips for Zen Optimise.