7 Nightmare client red flags you shouldn’t ignore

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There’s nothing more demoralising than working for a disrespectful client who criticises your work or micromanages your every move.

That’s why it’s important to fine-tune into your ‘nightmare client radar’ as soon as possible and weed out the bad ones before things get too far.

Here are our top 7 red flags you should never ignore…

#1 Something doesn’t feel right

This is probably the biggest and flappiest flag of all but it’s also the easiest to ignore when you’re just starting out or need to up your income.

You might become aware of it during your first discovery call when something you can’t quite put your finger on feels off. 

Kelly – a member of our Inner Hub membership for freelance social media marketers – has experienced it.

“I normally have a gut feeling that a client is going to be tricky and not quite right for me,” says Kelly.

“In the past, I've taken them on anyway and usually have been right, and those clients I felt a bit mixed about turned out to be a challenge. I've learned to say no if it doesn't feel right.”

Our best advice here is to be like Kelly and trust your gut. 

#2 They’ve had lots of social media managers who “didn’t work out”

If you hear this one during a discovery call, RUUUUNNNNN!

While it’s entirely possible your potential new client has had a bad experience in the past, if it’s happened more than once, the problem is likely to be them! 

Multiple predecessors could be a sign your client is hard to please. They might not know what they want or aren’t ready to hand over control of their socials.

Whatever the issue, this is a clear warning: if you don’t cut your losses now, you’re in for a bumpy ride. 

#3 They think they know best

Have you ever had a meeting with someone who talks over you and thinks they know better, even though you’re the expert?  

If someone isn’t prepared to listen to you during the first few meetings, they won’t listen to you in the future. 

But when someone less qualified than you dismisses your expertise and refuses to follow your advice, it can knock your confidence and make you question your ability. 

Do you want to put yourself through that? 

#4 They turn your discovery call into an interview

This one drives us nuts.

While this could simply be down to inexperience on your client’s part, it could also suggest they’ll treat you like an employee rather than an independent contractor. 

Not OK with us.

#5 They get funny about money!

There are loads of money-related red flags you should look out for. And, between us and our Inner Hub members, we’ve heard them all.

Avoid working with businesses that:

  • Asks you for a free trial  
  • Wants you to supply free work samples for their accounts
  • Suggest you work for a percentage of social-related profits
  • Won’t pay you in advance
  • Don’t agree to your payment terms
  • Offer to pay you once you’ve achieved a specific set of results
  • Says you’re too expensive 
  • Asks for a discount
  • Don’t want to be tied to your minimum contract period

Remember, this is your business, and you get to run it your way. 

#6 They have unrealistic expectations

This one also covers a multitude of nightmare client sins!

It might be that they’re fixated on achieving a specific number of followers, don’t care about engagement, or expect overnight results.

They might be obsessed with replicating the success of a similar brand or direct competitor or aren’t interested in following a strategy.

Whichever flag is flying, it’s up to you to spot it and challenge it as soon as possible. 

Ask yourself whether this client is someone who can be educated or whether you’ll be forever fighting a pointless uphill battle.

#7 They’re messing you around

You’ve had a call, followed up with a proposal and answered ALL the questions. So why are they still dithering about signing up with you?

This early indecision and bad communication could indicate that your potential new client isn’t ready to invest in their business. Or they might be trying to get extra information out of you for free.

Either way, it doesn’t bode well for the future. Stop wasting your time trying to convince them. Move on and look for better clients. 

Make a list of your own red flags

Everyone’s red flags will be different, so knowing your own is important.

Ours? We only work for businesses whose products or services we understand and believe in. 

For Laura Moore, that means no payday loans, gambling or MLM companies. And for Laura Davis, no coaches or B2Bs.

Being clear on who you want to work with will fast-track you to more dream clients.

How to let leads down gently

So you’ve decided the potential new client isn’t for you. And now you have to tell them. Awks.

The key here is to act quickly and be honest – it’ll save you time and money in the long run.

You don’t have to give a lengthy explanation, make excuses or offer to find someone else. Keep it simple. Try something like this…

Dear X

It was great to speak to you on {insert date}.

Having given it some thought, I don’t think this project is right for me and am unable to help you on this occasion. 

Good luck with your search for a {insert job title}, and thank you for considering me.

{Your name}


Before you rush off...

We love watching you succeed more than we love binge watching Love Island, which is a lot #confession.

We’ve been where you are today... we launched (and still run) two successful social media freelance businesses and joined forces to help you do the same.

Hi, we are The Two Lauras

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