Red flags from potential clients to be aware of or avoid

How do you spot and navigate red flags from potential clients?

Let’s chat about those red flags from potential clients that you should definitely pay attention to, or even avoid altogether. The idea here is to help you spot these issues early on, so you can decide how to handle them – whether that’s setting boundaries, stepping away, or simply saying no.

Most of the red flags we’ll talk about pop up before you start working together, but some can show up once you’ve already started a project and have a contract in place. You can’t dodge every tricky situation, but handling them can teach you a lot and make you a better business owner.

Peach flags: Keep an eye out

These are the little signs that things might not be smooth sailing, but they’re not deal-breakers either:

Speedy then slow: When a client is super eager at first, wanting to jump into things right away, but then takes forever to get back to you, it might mean they’re a bit scattered or impulsive.

Incomplete info: If a potential client doesn’t give you much detail or leaves your forms half-empty, it could be a sign they’re not fully committed or don’t respect your time. Whenever I receive inquiries for a Brand Refresh or Custom Website, if the forms are half-empty and I’ve never spoken to the person before, I usually know that means they’re not that serious about working together.

Over-the-top expectations: If they say they want a “rock star” or “expert,” it could signal overly high expectations, which might lead to disappointment down the road.

Random rants: Clients who go off on tangents during conversations might have trouble focusing or could be a bit self-centered.

Startup uncertainty: If someone’s just starting out or isn’t sure about starting a business yet, they might not fully grasp what it takes, which could lead to issues later.

While these flags aren’t immediate deal-breakers, they’re worth considering before diving in.

Salmon flags: Tread carefully

These are a bit more serious and might require you to set some boundaries or make compromises:

Payment probing: Clients who ask what happens if they miss a payment might be struggling financially, which could affect your payment schedule.

Discount demands: While not always a sign of financial trouble, repeated requests for discounts might mean they undervalue your work.

Rushed deadlines: Clients who push for quick turnarounds or have unrealistic timelines might not respect your workflow or timelines.

High maintenance: Clients who come with long lists of demands might be overly demanding or have unrealistic expectations.

Past provider criticism: Individuals who badmouth previous service providers might be difficult to please or have unreasonable expectations.

Fire engine red flags: Just say no

These are serious red flags that should make you think twice about working with someone:

Payment problems: Clients who want final deliverables before making final payments might not intend to pay you at all. Or if they want to pay via means you’re not comfortable with – like mailing you a check when you usually use Dubsado – that’s a big red flag.

Unreasonable payment plans: Asking for extended payment terms that don’t work for your business could signal financial instability.

Contract refusal: Clients who won’t sign a contract aren’t willing to commit to your terms, which is a big concern.

Unpaid trials: Requesting free work as a trial might indicate a lack of respect for your expertise and time.

Disrespectful behavior: Any form of disrespectful or offensive behavior should be a clear sign to avoid working with that person.

How to politely decline working with a client

When you need to turn down a potential client, do it professionally and respectfully:

No easy excuses: Be direct without resorting to generic excuses.

No ghosting: Instead of disappearing, communicate your decision clearly and respectfully.

No delaying: Address the issue promptly to avoid wasting time for both parties.

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