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Choosing the Right Clients: Some Red Flags

On my last post (Suggest a topic for me to write about) Cady suggested I write about freelancing and how to make sure you are choosing the right people to work for.

Part of making sure that a client is a good one to work for is keeping an eye out for certain red flags. Even if you are having a hard time finding clients, you should not ignore these signs, because even in desperate times it’s not worth it work with nightmare clients (you may not even get any money out of working for them, so it’s best to just steer clear).

Clients that ask for work with no guarantee of pay

Now, I’m not referring to pro-bono work (work that a freelancer chooses to do for free), rather the clients I’m talking about are ones that ask you to do work, and say that if they like your work then they will pay you. Often times these clients just want “concept work” done. They often have several clients that they are having do work, and may or may not tell you this. They may say something like “whomever’s design I like best I’ll pay”.

Now that might sound a bit like a contest, and nothing wrong with contests but they should be called what they are. The main reason this is a red flag is because while some clients that ask for work without guarantee of pay are honest, these sorts of clients are notorious for just taking work that they like and using it, or having another cheaper designer finish it for them, and then never paying the person whom originally did the work.

Businesses generally do not consider it an acceptable practice for a customer to pay them not only after the work is all done, but with no guarantee they will pay at all, and/or decide they will only pay if they haven’t found anyone they think could do a better job.

Clients that won’t sign contracts

If a client initially refuses to sign your contract, it isn’t necessarily a red flag, it could be a sign that your contract needs some (or even a lot of) work. You may need to do some negotiation with them, or it may be that certain things that are absent in the contract should be there, or certain things in the contract are not clear enough. If even after trying to negotiate them, and fix your contract, they are still unwilling, then it’s probably best to run to the hills.

Down payments

I know some freelancers consider an unwillingness to pay a down payment to be a red flag, and it can be, but isn’t necessarily. After all they could have as much reason to think you’ll run off with their money and they’ll get nothing out of it, as you have reason to think they’ll run off with whatever work you’ve done and you’ll never see a dime. I think that contracts can help ease suspicions when it comes to this problem.

Clients that ask you to clone/copy a site

I see tons of people looking for freelancers to do this kind of work on freelance bidding type websites, and agreeing to do this kind of work can get you in a heap of trouble, especially if you are copying a large well-known site, but even if you aren’t.

By copying someone else’s website, or design you are breaking copyright law, and could also be breaking trademark laws. People sometimes get it into their heads that if it’s online it’s OK for anyone to use it how ever they please, right down to copying it, but this is simply not true.

It may be worth it to inform the client that what the service they are asking someone to provide is breaking the law. Sure you could anger someone this way, but you could also keep an ignorant person from doing something that could have negative consequences that they had no clue they’d ever have to deal with.

This is not an exhaustive list of potential red flags, and there’s more to finding and selecting the right clients. This is a good topic, so perhaps I will revisit it in the future.