How To Spot “Red Flag” Clients – Part 1

Developers are nothing without clients, it’s true…

And if you’re a developer who just took offense to that statement, then yes, you’re absolutely right, you certainly could continue building websites for yourself all day long… But hey, where’s the fun in that?

Personally, I prefer getting paid for the time I spend working, call me crazy right? I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the clients I choose to work for are also willing to pay me for the solutions to their problems.

Perhaps this could be phrased more eloquently, but I’m sure any developer reading this can relate, sometimes the biggest problems with the projects we accept are the clients themselves.

Spotting red-flag clients takes some practice, but if you don’t, then work will really, really, suck for you.

identify red flags quickly

It’s also true that not all developers and clients are matches made in heaven. There are times when clients give developers great reasons to pull their hair out, while other times the exact opposite is true.

Now, I’m sure there’s plenty of articles on this topic from the clients’ perspective, talking about what qualities make for great developers in their eyes, and that’s great! I think both parties should have standards.

Heck, there’s a full checklist of things I’m looking for when deciding whether or not to work with a client.

Most of the time, I’ll know right off the bat if our relationship is going to be a good one. But, that’s not to say there aren’t occasional surprises from time to time as well. In the first part of this series, I’ll walk you through six big-picture red flags that are surefire ways for new clients to turn developers off from their requests.

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Red Flag #1 – Clients who don’t know what they want.

Waffles are delicious, waffling clients are a nightmare.

Sometimes it seems like all new clients know is that we develop websites. And unfortunately that’s often how their project briefs comes to us: “I need a new website!” Oh gee, thanks for being so specific and helpful!

Before we can develop your new website, we need to have a lengthy Q&A session to find out exactly what you need. Spoiler alert — not many developers enjoy participating in lengthy Q&A sessions just because.

Sometimes clients are surprised to learn about consultation fees during the discovery process, but I never waver here. If we need to spend an hour together to properly define the scope of work for your project that’s perfectly fine by me. I charge a very reasonable fee ($59.00) when a consultation is necessary.

Successful freelancer rules to follow

My favorite clients show up with their to-do lists in hand. Their requests are specific, well-defined and thoroughly researched. When something doesn’t make complete sense initially, I’ll jump on the phone for a quick five-minute chat, no problem! At least I’ve got a baseline understanding of what’s going on already.

Anyone who works in a creative field can empathize with the pain of attempting to deliver work to a client that cannot make up their mind. They certainly don’t know what they want, but they’re 100% sure it’s not what you gave them. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, they start expecting free revisions too.

Now, there are definitely right and wrong ways to write your project briefs. I’ve outlined this before.

Here’s the bottom line — the best developers simply don’t have time to waste attempting to decipher the vague request you’ve written. So, when we see them, it usually tells us it’s time to move on to the next one.

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Red Flag #2 – Clients with trust issues.

I get it, you’ve been burned before… You went bargain shopping on another network and the $200 website they built for you didn’t quite turn out the way you’d hoped it would. That sucks, and I’m sorry you learned this lesson the hard way, but I’ll grow impatient quickly if that baggage carries over into our relationship.

I’d never do a cut-rate job on any project, no matter the size. And I’ve got over 500 perfect 5-star reviews to prove it. So, if another cut-rate developer screwed up your website, I’m sorry, but I still need to get in there and take a look at the damage myself. This allows me to accurately estimate the cost to repair it.

clients with trust issues

When clients hesitate to provide developers with their login information they aren’t helping us do our job. This can be especially frustrating for developers who just want to take a quick peek “under the hood”.

We’re here to help one another, so please provide us with the credentials we need. Help us help you.

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Red Flag #3 – Rude or lazy clients.

I’ll cover the specifics of this in my next point, but generally: if we’re just starting to talk about your next project and you’re rude to me at all, I’m out. I’ve learned this with experience — things aren’t going to get much better. Better to cut ties now than subject myself to a review that brings my average rating down.

bad clients

As for lazy clients, here’s an example: once in a while I’ll read a project brief that requires me to ask some follow-up questions. Lazy clients aren’t helpful and they’ll say things “read my project brief for the answer.”

Well, that’s precisely the problem, the answer wasn’t there to begin with.

At this point I feel like my attempts to understand your project are inconveniencing you. If you can’t be bothered to respond helpfully, then we probably weren’t a perfect match anyways.

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Red Flag #4 – Clients that belittle developers.

Developers can be a sensitive bunch, trust me. You might think you’re being helpful, but there are a few things clients say to us that I can only interpret as “I’m trying to keep my costs as low as possible.”

“This should be simple for an expert.”

Yes… In the same sense that hitting a 95 mph fastball is “simple” for a professional baseball player.

“Simple” is subjective, but if you can’t do it yourself, then it must be complicated enough to call on an expert. You wouldn’t tell the mechanic that because performing an oil change is “simple” you’re only willing to pay 50% of their advertised rate now would you? No, of course you wouldn’t, so please don’t do it here either.

This should only take an hour for an expert.”

The irony is these are most often attached to requests that could not be completed in an hour by anyone.

Try not to tell developers how long you think their jobs should take. Instead, just sit back and let us do our thing. If the estimate you receive initially is not aligned with your expectations then it would be appropriate for you to start asking questions and your developer can help explain why there’s a difference.

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Red Flag #5 – Overly high maintenance clients.

These are often tough to spot until it’s too late… But you’ll know ‘em when you have ‘em.

Again, just like in a relationship, nothing turns developers off faster than constant emails, phone calls, texts or whatever else you use to solicit status updates every five-minutes.

This constant stream of contact only makes it more difficult for us to complete your project.

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Red Flag #6 – Carrot danglers.

I don’t negotiate my rate with anyone. I’m very upfront about this.

Still, some clients try saying these magic words, “If our first project goes well, I might have more work for you.” That’s when I know an attempted negation is coming. I don’t know why clients think we should give them a discount the first time around in hopes of earning imaginary future business, but they do.

carrot dangling

What some clients don’t understand is that developers are vetting them the same as they vet us.

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Okay, let’s wrap it up.

I hope you’ve learned something here from a freelancer’s perspective, I’d be happy to chat with you about this topic any time. If it seems like I’m picky when it comes to new projects, well, that’s because I am.

I’m passionate about the work I do, and the clients I work for — so, if you’re a great client, let’s connect!

Want to learn more about spotting red flags? Continue reading part two of this series by clicking here.

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