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"Don’t Sign on the Dotted Line!" Client Red Flags Freelancers Should Watch out for Before Getting Down to Work

An impatient client smells of trouble for you as a freelancer. You can’t stroll past these particular client red flags.

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An impatient client smells of trouble for you as a freelancer. You can’t stroll past these particular client red flags.


There’s a lot of talk about red flags right? In that same spirit, did you know that there are client red flags? It’s not common to have people talk about the negative aspects of some clients because as they say, the customer is god. Secondly, you need the client because you need money to stay in business.

However, no matter how much we gloss over the issue or avoid talking about it altogether, it doesn’t negate the fact that there are clients who can cost you more than just your time and business. That’s why you need to pay attention to the signs at the very initial stages of discussing your intention to do business together.

Like a job interview, you need to assess your potential client and determine whether it’s in your best interest and that of your business to engage this particular person. For example, in the African context, doing business with the government is always a take-extra-caution affair. Simply because, when you deliver goods and services as agreed, it might take a long time before you get paid. If you had borrowed capital to fund your business, you could easily default and risk being auctioned.

Here are the client red flags that you should watch out for:

Refuses to sign a contract

A client who is resisting signing a contract is a tell-tale sign that they intend to play games with you. The client-business relationship should be based on trust, respect, and mutual benefit. A contract that is legally binding ensures that both parties meet their ends of the bargain according to mutual agreement.

The contract that you both sign also stipulates the consequences that will follow when one party reneges on their agreement. As a freelancer, you should be wary of a client who’s doing everything they can to convince you to engage with them based on a “gentleman’s agreement”. Chances are this person is shifty and they don’t plan on meeting their end of the bargain. They may pay you for your service but they pay in installments and it takes a long time to clear the debt. That’s very bad for business.

You should not budge. Consult a legal professional and only engage in business when a contract is in place. There are online resources such as Upcounsel and ContractsCounsel which will make the contract signing process easy for freelancers and their clients.


Someone who doesn’t know what they want is a client red flag

When you have the initial conversation with a client about what they want you to help them with as a freelancer, you expect that they know what they expect from you. Or if they haven’t figured it out completely, they have a picture or an idea that you can work with. If your service may be about helping the client figure out things such as the market to invest in, the niche to fill, etc. then it’s okay.

But a client who can’t give you a sense of understanding pertaining to what they want from you is one of the biggest client red flags. When you get into the project, there will be possibilities of miscommunication, misunderstanding, frustration, and not being on the same page. As a result, there’ll be a lot of disagreement, redoing a lot of things, and most importantly, time wastage.

If you detect that this could happen, ask your client to take time and define what they want. Don’t flat-out reject them but let them know what they want. It’ll make work easier for both parties because they’ll know what to expect from each other which will result in smooth relations.



An impatient client smells of trouble for you as a freelancer. When a client gives you an unreasonable deadline and they’re not willing to budge, kindly forfeit that opportunity.

For instance, writing a research article takes time because there’s a lot of studying that goes into bringing this credible information together. You also want to interview sources who are authorities in the field you’re writing about. Fully completing a comprehensive, well-written, well-researched document that is credible and free of mistakes, demands a considerable amount of time.

If you agree to submit work that’s not comprehensive and thoroughly done, it hurts your brand because it discredits your portfolio.

To solve this issue, walk the client through the process of bringing their project to fruition and the amount of time it’ll take to complete it. If they understand and accept, then you’re in business. On the other hand, if they don’t, just let it pass and preserve your good business name.


If they violate professional boundaries that’s a client red flag

There are clients who go beyond professional boundaries and start getting into your private business. They ask weird questions about your love life or how much money you make. Others throw a barrage of cuss words when they’re angry and even make personal attacks because something small went wrong.

Let’s not forget about clients who don’t respect your time but feel as though they own you and your time. Therefore they expect you to be on call all the time and whenever they need you. During official meetings, they love digressing and introducing topics that have no relevance to the project.

The only remedy for these kinds of clients is to set strict boundaries that govern your professional relationship. Make it clear to them that a violation of the set boundaries will result in termination of the contract.



Have you ever been micromanaged? It’s irritating and sore annoying. When you notice that your client is always on your case trying to influence every little detail of your work, you need to address it. Either they don’t trust you or they have an issue with control.

They may be under pressure from their own clients or bosses, but there’s a reason why they trusted you with this project.

Have a meeting with them and show them how their actions and lack of trust is hampering your work.


Those who over-bargain and also delay payment

In your freelancing career, you’ve met and if you haven’t you’ll meet clients who want to talk down your rates. They make you feel like you’re overpricing and your offerings are not worth what you’re asking for. These clients tell you that they can get cheaper options on freelancing sites. Others complain that their budgets can’t support what you’re charging.

Farther along the way, if you agree, there’s a breed of customers who have a habit of not paying in time. When you ask them what’s taking too long, they’re never short of excuses.

In the long run, the more you let this happen it’ll hurt your business. Therefore, walk the client through how you landed on the prices you charge. If they value your work, they’ll match up. When signing a contract ensure that the contract stipulates the payment schedule. It’s always wise to ensure that the client pays at least 60-70% down payment before any work starts.

And in the contract, attach consequences if payment is delayed.



Bad clients are not just a danger to your business, but to your health as well. Dealing with a difficult, unresponsive, uncooperative, or abrasive client leads to anxiety, fear, an unsettling feeling that things might go wrong at any time, nervousness and so much more. This prompts the body to produce a stress hormone called cortisol. The results of overexposure to this hormone among many other things are headaches, weight gain, memory and concentration impairment, digestive problems, etc.

You may stick it out because the client is paying you the big bucks, but it might cost you more than you can afford to pay. If it’s not a life or death matter, walk away. There are tons of great clients awaiting you. You can only serve them when healthy and in your right mind.

Written by

Wahome Ngatia

Peter Wahome Ngatia is an all rounded Marketing Specialist who deals in Graphic Design, Social Media, SEO and Content Writing. My passion is to use my skills and knowledge to help African businesses grow and thrive so that we can create employment for the youth. I also want to churn helpful content that inspires millennials to go hard after their dreams. Mantra: You learn more from failure than success.

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