15 Minute Freelancer

41. My top 9 freelance client red (and orange!) flags

December 03, 2021 Louise Shanahan Season 1 Episode 41
15 Minute Freelancer
41. My top 9 freelance client red (and orange!) flags
Show Notes Transcript

What are your red flags when it comes to deciding whether or not to work with a freelance client? Do you have any orange flags – the situations that could be turned from a definite "no" to a "maybe" if certain criteria are checked off? As we head into 2022, it's worth thinking about what makes you say "hell yes" or "no way", so you can make faster and better decisions in your freelance business. In this episode, Louise shares her top 9 red (and orange!) flags and some strategies for avoiding them in the first place.

"The vast majority of clients are brilliant to work with. But unfortunately, there are a few out there that we might want to politely sidestep. And if we pay attention to the red flags, or sometimes orange flags, we can avoid a world of pain further down the line."- - Louise Shanahan

And s/o to HAMYAW on YouTube (now Instagram) for inspiring this episode. with their convo about pink flags for online business owners.

Mentioned on this episode:

Say hi to Louise:

LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Twitter: @LouiseShanahan_
Instagram: @Louise_Shanahan_
Website: thecopyprescription.com

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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of 15 Minute freelancer. Thank you so much for all the lovely messages and feedback that you sent in after last week's 40th episode. It's really helpful to know what you want to hear about, so please do drop me a note anytime, if you have a question or a problem that you'd like to hear me talk about here. Think of me as your freelancing agony aunt if you like. So I have some juicy topics lined up for next year, but I'm always keen to hear about what you want to hear about. So yeah, drop me a note. Let me know what you'd like me to cover. 

Today, we have an especially juicy one. But it's very important. It's really all about boundaries. Isn't it always?! Saying yes and saying no. We're talking about the red flags that you should watch out for when you're deciding whether or not to work with a freelance client. And let's be clear, this is not client bashing at all. I love my clients. The vast majority of clients are brilliant to work with. But unfortunately, there are a few out there that we might want to politely sidestep. And if we pay attention to the red flags, or sometimes orange flags, we can avoid a world of pain further down the line. 

So yeah, I mentioned orange flags there. These are the hints that something isn't quite a no, and could maybe even be reframed into an opportunity if you handle it carefully. But you know, maybe you should hold back at the traffic lights and pause for a moment before hitting the accelerator on a new project. So we're going to talk about red and sometimes orange flags. Now these might be different for everyone. As we head into 2022, I encourage you to think about what's a red or orange flag for you? And of course, what are those lovely big green flags that you want to say yes to immediately. It really makes your decision-making a lot easier. So it's worth thinking about so that when you're talking to clients, you've got your flaggy radar ready to go. 

So I've got nine red and orange flags to watch out for when booking freelance clients. Let's dive in. The first red flag is the word “just”. It’s a simple little word that for me usually signals a red flag that is about to flutter its way into my life. Just a quick project, just a few lines of copy, it should just take you a few hours. It's just for rice a project. That little word is usually a way of minimising the work and thus minimising the fee. No, there's no “just” about it. I'm not here for tiddly filler projects. I'm a professional. So if someone uses the word “just” maybe that's a red flag for you too. 

Number two. Another definite red flag is if the client doesn't have the budget for your services. But just because it's a red flag doesn't mean they've done anything wrong, and doesn't mean they're offending you. It just means they don't have the budget. It means you're not going to move forward with the project. It's not personal. I've spoken about this before and I can link to a previous episode where I talked about this, your client's budget is not about you. If they're trying to fleece you, that's one thing. But if they simply don't have the budget, they don't have a budget. Shrug emoji! You can offer to reduce the scope of the work to accommodate a lower budget. But otherwise, it has to be a “no thanks right now”. You know, be nice about it. And maybe they'll come back in a year when their business has grown. I've had that happen several times. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's a no, maybe you'd love to work together. But the fact is that they don't have the budget, they can't afford your fee, and you can't do the work together right now. However, requests for free work are, of course, a big red flag. There is a little nuance there though, so do check out the episode on when you might consider working for free. 

Number three is bad behaviour when it comes to payments. So this might be if they don't pay your invoice on time, or they don't stick to your payment terms. They want you to fill in timesheets or pay hourly. There's not much more to say about that. You're running a business, they're running a business. It's not that complicated. They pay you for your work. 

Okay, the fourth red flag is any weird contract clauses. Again, crappy payment terms like 60-day payment terms would fall into this flag box. Another big example here would be if they want you to sign a non-compete clause, for example. So be very careful about that. This is where they might say, “for the next year, you're not allowed to work with any businesses that are similar to us in case you share our commercial secrets.” But if your niche or specialism is that exact type of company, then you're going to go out of business. You wouldn't be able to work with any of your normal clients. And the fact that you work with similar companies is probably why they hired you in the first place. So it doesn't really make sense. What you can do to reassure them is put terms in your contract that confirm that you won't share commercially sensitive or confidential information. In fact, you should do that anyway. Equally, if they don't want to sign a contract, that is also a big red flag. So always get your agreement in writing.

The fifth red flag is if they expect you to work ridiculously fast, or they're constantly in a rush. Maybe they sent you an inquiry, you responded, and then they went quiet for a few months. And now they're back and it's really urgent and needs done next week. Or maybe the project got held up, and they want you to make up the time. Sometimes this might be an orange flag, because if you have the time and you can fit the project in or you can make up the timescales and you want to, you can add a rush fee. Or if they have to pause for a reasonable reason, then maybe you would incorporate a pause clause into your contract where they pay a small fee in order to pause the contract, and then you're happy to pick it up at a mutually convenient date further down the line. Maybe you can explain to them that this isn't really that urgent, and here's a process that will allow them to meet their goals in a comfortable timeframe. So maybe it's an orange flag. But remember, poor planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on your part. I have to tell myself this a lot. So there's a red-slash-orange flag for you. 

Number six is related to that. And it's if the client is a bit flaky with responding to emails and attending meetings or calls. For me, this again is in the orange flag territory. I don't mind someone forgetting a meeting or rescheduling once – life happens, especially this year. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. And I think and I hope that that goes both ways, too. But only once. There's only one chance here. If I feel like they've just not bothered to show up, or they've not respected my time, then yeah, it's definitely a red flag. I know some of you have a bit of a harder line on this than me. And that's absolutely fine. You have to figure out what works for you. I'd like to give people the benefit of the doubt once. Maybe you just say no, that's it. 

Number seven is when they have unrealistic expectations. We're not magicians. Well, I suppose you might be. Do you get freelance magicians, I don't know. Anyway, I personally am not a magician. I can't magic an entire website out of thin air within a day. Now, this is something that we have to take responsibility for too. We need to be clear about what is realistic. This is where the boundaries thing comes in again. Sometimes people just don't know how long a certain kind of project will take or how much it's likely to cost. So you need to be clear in your initial call in your proposal, and most importantly, in your contract about what you will deliver by when and for how much. It's especially important if you do charge by the day, what can you get done in a day. And if you charge by the project, what is included in that project? It can't just go on and on forever with endless revisions, if they don't stick to your process. It's a bit unfair to red-flag them if you hadn't explained all of that clearly. So that is on us. I also think that if it's a genuine ask, and they are genuinely unsure about what's realistic, because they haven't done this kind of project before, then that's in orange flag territory. There's an opportunity here, if you take a moment to pause, clarify what's needed, and agree a revised scope and timeline and fee or whatever you need to get it done. If they don't know what they want, you can help them figure it out. But just make sure that you define it and you don't fall into the trap of trying to meet unrealistic expectations. If you can do the work fine. Get your deliverables in writing with agreement on additional time and fees. But remember, it's not your job to fix every problem for your client. Again, this is a message to myself. You can recommend other people who may be able to help them out with specific tasks that have suddenly popped up if you want to feel helpful.

Number eight is when someone expects you to be available 24/7 or they want instant responses on every platform that you use to communicate. You're not their emotional support freelancer. Again, it's up to you to be clear about when you are available and how they should contact you. Is that by email, do you say definitely no to WhatsApp? Are you not going to respond to LinkedIn messages? What's your response time? My website contact form says I'll respond to new queries within 48 hours and obviously I try and do a bit sooner but that just sets the expectation. I don't want someone sending me a LinkedIn message at 11pm on a Saturday night, and then following up with a grumpy email at 9am on a Sunday demanding to know why I’ve not answered and saying “you just lost my business!” Like, okay, bye, I don't work like that. Thank you for showing me your true self before we signed the contract. So again, this is about you being clear about when you're available and how they should contact you. But yeah, expecting me to be available 24/7 is definitely gonna be a red flag for me. 

Number nine, finally. It's a red flag if the client's values don't align with yours. So ideally, you'll be building a business where you attract clients that see the world the same way as you that work the same way that maybe share certain values with you. And you can decide what's important here. But what you don't want to be doing is working for a company that sells a product that you really hate, or that uses offensive messaging, or that has a working culture that's at odds with your working philosophy, you decide what's important to you, and what you're willing to put up with and what your red flags are here. You can even be explicit about some of this. If you remember, a couple of episodes ago, I was talking to Dave Smyth, and he mentioned that he has a page on the Scruples website where they actually list the industries that they don't work with. I think he includes things like gambling, payday loans, tobacco, and so on. So if a company is in those industries, then they know that that's not the web design team for them. So it's worth having a think about what your red lines are when it comes to the type of clients you work with, so those clients can rule themselves out, thus saving you awkward encounters further down the line. 

Okay, that is our 10 red-slash-orange flags for deciding which freelance clients to work with. What others would you add, I would love to know what are your red flags and orange flags? Tweet me and let me know at @LouiseShanahan­_. 

So we're getting close to the end of the year and I am planning to take a wee break over the festive season. I hope many of you are planning to take time off too over Christmas and New Year. So there will be one more podcast in December and then we'll be back in January, but it's a good one, I promise you. Next week, you're going to get to enjoy the much anticipated YouTube/podcast crossover between 15 Minute freelancer and Kiss My As, which is the brilliant freelance writing YouTube show by Emma Cownley. We actually recorded a video and a podcast episode already and you're going to get to enjoy both of them next Friday. I’m really excited about this. So make sure you're subscribed to this podcast and head over to Emma's channel to subscribe to Kiss My As on YouTube, so you don't miss them. Video is definitely not my comfort zone. But Emma is a total pro and her channel is a lot of fun, so I think you're going to enjoy it and I would love it if you showed a little love to Emma's channel too. So until then, happy freelancing.

You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.