4 Questions to Ask to Avoid Bad Clients

Danielle Thompson

Founder @ Freelance Travel Network, Freelancer and World Traveller


4 Questions to Ask to Avoid Bad Clients

Freelancers have a high rate of job satisfaction, at least partially because we can choose what and who we work with. While picking our own clients can boost our happiness, it gets stressful easily if we pick less-than-ideal clients. So, how can we focus on the dream clients and avoid bad clients?Once you weed out the bad clients, just say no, thanks.

The tough part of it is that bad clients don't have "I'm a bad client, avoid me!" written on their foreheads. Luckily, there are a few concrete questions we can ask to weed out and avoid bad clients before we even agree to work with them.

What to ask during interviews to avoid bad clients

Whether our grandparents understand our jobs or not, freelancers are true professionals. That's why we can't simply ask potential clients, "Hey, are you the type that will ask for 10,000 revisions over the weekend?"

There's still a time, place, and certain manner that we can find out indirectly. Whether we're sizing up a job posting or discussing the proposal we sent over, there will be certain red flags that'll tell us to avoid these bad clients.

Here's just a few red flags ???? that should send you running to avoid bad clients:

  • a vague project description
  • they're not responsive
  • they send too many emails
  • a too-tiny budget
  • they ask you to complete a free test
  • their expectations are sky high
  • they tell you how to do your job
  • they give you a bad vibe

However, these traits don't always present themselves naturally enough for us to avoid bad clients completely. We have to dig around a little! If you ask these questions in a confident manner, you'll get the clues you need without offending a potential client.

avoid bad clients
Being a freelancer has some cool perks – like more laid-back interviews/client meetings.
Photographer: You X Ventures | Source: Unsplash

1. What’s the project and what stage is it in?

Asking for more context around a client's project will help you see where they expect you to come in. You'll get a realistic view of their expectations of you as well as the problem that they're trying to solve.

For example, your client may tell you that they’ve been planning for months and they need a freelancer like you to do a specific job. That's great – it means they're ready for you to step in and do your thing.

However, you could just as likely hear stress in their voice as they explain they've already had a few blunders and they're starting to panic. That's definitely not an ideal situation to walk into!

The details you gather here will show if a client has a clear objective and organization.

2. When are you planning to start?

Asking about a project's start date may seem like an innocuous question, but it can tell you more than you think about a client. It can clue you in to both their project planning and their overall attitude (which informs how casual it'll be to work with them).

avoid bad clients
Is your client's project on a tight schedule or more open one?
Photographer: Jessica Lewis | Source: Unsplash

When we ask about a project's timeline, the client will either give a clear answer (great!) or say something like,“We were thinking in the next month or two…” A wishy-washy answer like that leaves the project open to being delayed, paused midway through, or re-planned completely.

Alternatively, they might say something even more alarming, like "We're already behind two weeks!" That response guarantees a stressful start to your work with this person. Unless you thrive under pressure, it's best to avoid bad clients like this.

3. Who is leading this project?

As we get to know our potential new client, it’s important to ask who the decision maker in their project. It isn't always the person who's interviewing us and this is a great way to gauge how available the lead of the project is.

If it isn’t the person you’re speaking to, ask if the decision maker can sit in on the interview. That'll clue you into how involved they are.

The less accessible the project leader is, the bigger the warning sign.

If the project leader (or leaders, it could be a big group) seems distant to the project, that means less frequent feedback and more frustration should you run into a problem or think of a suggestion.

4. Politely ask about their budget before your meeting. 

A lot of freelancers find this an awkward question to ask, but it's important to know the budget for a project before applying. If anything should come up and your services are required beyond your proposed work, they may not have anything left to fund it further.

So, bravely and in a friendly voice, ask them what kind of budget you can expect to work with. Since you've already gotten to know their project a bit, this question shouldn't be too uncomfortable to answer for them.

ask client budget
If you don't ask about the budget, you don't know how much work you'll do or how much time you'll have to do it.
Photographer: ROOM | Source: Unsplash

If the client seems secretive, explain that knowing more about their budget will help you predict how quickly you can get their project. It also gives you a jumping off point to see how much work you can fit inside that budget.

A client's response can tell you a lot. They may reply enthusiastically, or maybe they balk at the price of your services. Either way, you’ll know right away whether this is a suitable, profitable client for you.

If you have to barter before even meeting them, it’s best to let the project go!

Before you call your potential client, remember…

Asking questions not only gives you a better sense of what the project will be like, it can also create strong, long-lasting client relationships! Most importantly in the freelancing beginner's case, it'll help you avoid bad clients.

When you're finally on the call with a potential client, remember to include these questions:

  1. What stage is the project in?
  2. When are you planning to start?
  3. Who is leading this project?
  4. What’s the ballpark budget?

Believe me, you'll thank me later when you're working for awesome clients who you get along with. Do you have your own go-to client question? Comment below so we can all keep the bad ju-ju away!


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