2 Major Warning Signs Your New Freelance Client is Big Trouble

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This post comes from writer Catherine, who’s documenting her journey to quitting her job and becoming self-employed in just 6 months. She shares more about her story on her blog, CatherineAlford.com.

There comes a time in every freelancer’s life when they get a really difficult client. Oh, come on. It’s not a secret. We all have them from time to time.

In fact, I would go as far as to say, you haven’t really “made it” as a freelancer unless you’ve lost sleep over an issue with a client.

I’m happy to say that in almost 2.5 years of freelance writing, my problem clients have been few and far between.

Of course, it’s hard to know exactly what to do when you get in a sticky client situation since they are all so varied, but here are a few ways to avoid some common issues.

1. They fail to give you respect

Last summer, I was out at dinner with my husband. It was a Saturday, and it was a really relaxed evening. I try not to bring my cell phone with me when I go out with friends or family, so I don’t check my e-mail at the table. (I seriously cannot be trusted.)

However, when I got home after a few hours away, I checked my email immediately like the good little workaholic I am. I was rather surprised and excited to see back-to-back emails from a potential client from a very large jewelry company.

The first email said that another client of mine recommended me to him. The owner of the company was looking for a blogger to write about engagement rings, and he read several posts of mine on other blogs and liked my writing style.

He wanted to set up a time to talk on the phone about working together, and asked me to let him know when I was available.

Now, normally, this would have been awesome. It was a well-known brand, and my gut was they had a decent budget. Plus, writing about engagement rings would have been a fun and girly departure from personal finance.

It’s a good thing I noticed I had two emails from this client, because when I opened the second one (which came an hour after the first) it said, “Catherine, When I send emails to my employees, I expect them to reply to me immediately. If we are going to work together, you have to understand that. Again, let me know when you are available to chat.”

Say what?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t let anyone talk to me like that. I wrote back a very polite message saying, “Unfortunately, my client list is full for the time being, and I have to pass on the opportunity.”

Had I not seen the second e-mail, I would have immediately and eagerly written him back about the opportunity. I dodged a bullet, and I’m still grateful for leaving my phone at home that night; otherwise, I would have never seen the second email.

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2. They won’t sign your contract

Contracts are a necessary part of business. I have contracts for every single client I work with, even if they are bloggers I know well and interact with every day.

I think it helps to have everything written out and agreed upon, and it makes both parties feel like they are secure and happy with the partnership.

Needless to say, anytime someone skirts around a contract issue or wants me to write a post before signing one, makes me a little nervous. Such is the case with another client I almost had.

This potential client again came via a recommendation from another client of mine. I absolutely love the client who recommended me, so I had high hopes for this colleague of theirs who wanted to work with me as well.

For the record, it’s a good lesson not to assume two clients will act the same just because they are friends.

Anyway, this potential client was offering a really high amount per post, and I was excited. If I secured the job, my monthly income could have jumped as much as $1,000 due to the amount of posts he requested.

Of course, the only problem was that we couldn’t agree on some contract terms. Basically, I couldn’t get him to put in writing that he would pay me a specific amount.

He would write back almost agreeing to it, but his wording was vague. It’s hard to explain, but I couldn’t get him to send an agreement that felt just right in my gut. I felt like something was off, even though I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Eventually I just let it go and again, passed on the opportunity. I wasn’t prepared to take an entire day working on a project only to not get paid.

I figured he was probably reliable because he came through a trusted contact, but at the same time I couldn’t be sure. Plus, I couldn’t deny that something in my gut told me not to get involved.

I agonized over this issue for two days before I decided not to secure his business. It stressed me out, and I even dreamed about it.

Finally, I realized the entire point of working for myself is to alleviate stress and be in control of my day, not to spend my weekend hiking up my blood pressure from stress while I’m trying to grow two babies.

I hate the idea of the lost income, and even poor Carrie had to listen to a rant-y email about the whole thing! However, I know it was the right decision for me and my business in the long run.

I felt like I had to apologize over and over again to my husband for losing that much potential income, but he just kept saying that my health and the babies’ health was the most important thing in our lives right now.

He said he was so proud of me, and that there were always new clients right around the corner. That made me feel much better, and you know what? He’s right.

How to avoid problem clients

For anyone and everyone out there who is dealing with a really tough client situation, weigh the pros and cons first. Is your stress worth it?

Is their business really worth it? Could the time you’re spending fretting about the issue be utilized in a better way?

Remember, lost income does not mean that you are a failure as a freelancer. It just means you have a little bit of extra time to search for the next big thing.

Have you ever had to deal with problem clients? What was your experience?


  1. Jen Havice says:

    I’ve had a couple of nightmare clients, one of which I had to fire. Another one still hasn’t paid me the second installment due. Yes, I have a signed agreement. I think the longer you take on clients you get a better feel for who may be trouble and who won’t.

  2. Michelle says:

    Wow the e-mail from the client saying that they expect an immediate response – they sound like way too much to handle. Are you just supposed to check your e-mail 24/7 in hopes that this person will e-mail you?

    Also, with the second one, it sounds like you made the right decision to not provide them services. Usually if someone is dodging the question, it’s because they were probably hoping that you wouldn’t notice and just provide “free” work. UGH!

  3. Kayla says:

    I think you did the right thing for both of them. If any client is that leery of a contract that basically just states you need to get paid as the primary goal, it shouldn’t be that much of a hassle. Sounds like even if there was an intent to pay, there would be a lot of wiggle room for adjusting prices or squeezing out more scope, and it may not have been as lucrative financially anyway! I’ve had my share of clients refusing to sign contracts or needing to adjust half of it, and I’ve lost a lot of time and money that way. It’s best to do your work on your terms, and another great long-term client will surely come along that does respect your boundaries!

  4. Anne says:

    Wow, that jewelry dude sounds like an absolute D-bag! Very good call on passing on that. I think it’s excellent that you stick to your guns regarding contracts. It keeps everything spelled out nice and cleanly for everyone, and protects everyone. There are so, so many cases where more contracts would be a good thing. A great example where I live is trades and sub-contractors. So many people get burned badly because they don’t write down a single thing. It’s so frustrating to see, especially because some very simple paper work would ensure everyone stayed on the same page!

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