5 Most Common Client Red Flags in Freelancing

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Freelancing Red Flags
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Knock knock. Who’s there? Red Flags. Red flags who? Red flags you need to know about before diving into the world of freelancing today.

All right then – after grabbing your attention with that “ingenious” (and not at all corny) opening line, we are here to tell you about common client red flags in freelancing you can encounter in the this industry today.

You will also learn how to best spot and avoid them in the future to ensure a peaceful and productive work environment that you can enjoy being in.

As a freelancer, you want to be able to avoid the typical bosses that constantly devalue your work, time, and expertise and focus on clients that can provide a stable and professionally constructive work environment.

After all, that is why some people get into this business in the first place.

So, what is a red flag client? We’ll show you how you can spot and avoid the clients that are likely to disrupt your work routine. 

Client Red Flags Every Freelancer Should Be Aware Of

So, how does one spot a red flag client? While some are tricker than others, we’ll go through the whole process – detecting, analyzing, and responding to clients’ red flags when you encounter them.

Before we begin, we’d like to remind you that most clients have professional attitudes, and red flag clients aren’t the norm in this regard, but the exception to it.

Thus, our goal will be to help you better spot these clients so that your life can be easier, and you can focus on the clients and jobs that matter to you the most.

In the following paragraphs, we will review our picks of the 5 most common red flags you should look out for in the freelancing industry.

1. Asking for Free Samples

Who doesn’t like free stuff, right? Sure, getting a free pen or notebook can be a treat, but when that practice of freebies creeps into your work life, and people expect you to give them your time and talents for free, that is when we draw the line.

This is the main reason why we’d say that asking for free samples is a red flag. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that it’s free labor in the form of samples.

Some clients are eager to “evaluate” your services via free samples, only for them to use your work without actually hiring you. Therefore, you may put in all the effort, and they will reap all the rewards.

Client Red Flags in Freelancing

A way to avoid this practice is to already have an established portfolio of work that most accurately represents your skills and expertise. That way, when a client asks for a sample, you can just redirect them to your portfolio.

Going off that, if they choose to work with you, that’s great, but if they still require a sample, then a polite decline can go a long way to avoiding such pitfalls.

Always value your time and labor, as good clients pick up on this, given that they do as well. Honest clients will compensate you fairly, ensuring that you put in your best effort to satisfy their goals and needs. This is what you should look forward to.

2. Expecting Constant Presence

When we think of freelancing, we often think of the freedom it brings. A 9 to 5 has been a good structure for most professionals, but freelancing has the so-needed flexibility.

You can now work with clients and make arrangements to structure your workload how you see fit to best satisfy your and your client’s needs.

So, it can come as quite a shock when some clients emphasize that they expect you too always be available. The request may make you feel like you’re their new personal assistant rather than a work partner from which both parties can profit. 

They send e-mails and expect instantaneous reply to times, expand the scope of your work, shorten delivery deadlines, and do not tolerate your other obligations. Perhaps worst of all, some even attempt to call or contact you in the late hours of the day, say 10 PM, and even expect an instant response.

That is why a good way to avoid such situations is to spell out your availability to your clients before you start working together. Determine the best time frame for you and your clients and how and when you can communicate and resolve potential issues that come your way to ensure better collaboration.

3. Expecting Many Revisions

When working on projects, especially with clients who are new or who have projects that differ from one another often, revisions are to be expected. Some revisions are usually necessary even if your work is good, clean, and up to the task. 

You should try to avoid clients that expect you to change the project as many times as they want, practically tearing apart your work. Another thing to avoid is clients that just continue adding new rules once you’ve completed your task.

bad clients are complete frustration

Keep in mind that if you’re paid by the hour and the corrections are included, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. But if you’re charging a flat fee, you should define the revisions in your contract between you and the client before working together.

That way, you can ensure a more constructive work environment for you and your client alike.

4. Giving Criticism All the Time

Micromanagement – some love it, most don’t, and it is not difficult to understand why. Sadly, some clients will treat you as a traditional employee and, even worse, act and develop a classic boss relationship with you.

By doing so, they try to stay on top of everything you do in the day, a.k.a micromanaging you, to establish some form of control that can satisfy them.

These demands aren’t just annoying, but they also routinely overstep and heavily strain your relationship with the client. That type of behavior can stifle your creativity and create unnecessary stress that can form a lasting resentment towards the client and the project you are working on.

If you’d like to satisfy the controlling nature of some clients, it might be beneficial to offer them the option of creating a personalized time sheet detailing the hours you spent working on their project. 

Unfortunately, there is little in the way of knowing a client’s work style unless you start working for them or read and receive personal recommendations on their management style.

Still, if a detailed approach to your work doesn’t satisfy their needs, it is sometimes best not to renew your future relationship with that client after completing their initial project.

5. Not Paying on Time

When we usually finish a project, we are working on or complete an assignment given to us, we expect to be sufficiently compensated by our employer.

Unfortunately, this isnt always the case in the freelancing world, as some employers can quickly cut corners when it comes to payment and reimbursing you for your efforts.

Whether this is you not receiving payment on time, the client complaining about the cost after the project is done, and them constantly overstepping payment deadlines, all these are huge red flags.

But even if pretty clear, many people continue to work for such clients on the pretense that they will eventually pay. 

In our opinion, this is the wrong approach. Good clients who respect you, your work, and your expertise, will always compensate you accordingly for the work you have done.

Alternatively, those who don’t respect these values, in turn, don’t appreciate you and will treat you that way as long as you let them.

To avoid this, always stipulate your payment terms when you start working with a client. Additionally, when possible, collect an advance payment before starting work and even calculate an hourly rate for your work. 

Always remember to enforce your terms at the start of a relationship, especially if a client seems slow to pay. And, of course, if a client constantly oversteps payment deadlines, terminate your contract with them quickly and move on to more established clients.

choose your long term clients carefully

Get Vigil and Stay Away

Now that you know the 5 most common red flags of freelancing, there is one more step you need to do to accomplish your goal of not falling prey to their negative influence – stay away from them.

If you value your time and work enough, you should get to know these exploitative tools. Clients in the industry can use them to dry up potential freelancers for their personal goals while leaving you with nothing but a stress headache and distrust in people and the industry.

To detect and avoid red flags, always remain vigilant, keep your head up, work hard, and work right, and don’t be afraid to say no. 


Red flags in business usually represent an undesirable characteristic for investors or analysts and are usually warning indicators of potential problems in stock, financial statements, reports, or news circulating a certain company and its behaviors in the industry.

Red flags in sales usually center around customers or clients who buy at the lowest price possible and try to negotiate lower fees by believing or pointing to similar alternatives that cost less on the market.

They devalue your product or service in the hopes of getting it a better deal, assuming you’re trying to sell them for more than what that product or service is actually worth.

A red flag checklist represents a pool, or list, of generally negative characteristics. This list can be very simple and contain common red flags, such as the ones we’ve mentioned in this article, or it can be a detailed one and contain even the most subtle indications of the formation of a potential red flag.

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