Freelancing equals freedom. Freedom from limitations in so many areas of our work and home life. Whilst your clients are central to the success of your freelancing business, they won’t all be keepers. Unfortunately you will encounter bad clients.

When you do encounter a bad client it throws up a dilemma – do you ditch, or hitch yourself to them long term and think of the money?

Ideally you want to build strong, lasting and successful relationships with all your clients – however they come in many forms.

When clients are unreasonable and difficult, it can have a damaging effect on your business and well being. Knowing when to ditch a difficult client will save you precious money, time, stress and negative energy.

Time management and positive energy are essential for any entrepreneur. Once you’ve experienced a few bad clients, you quickly learn to spot and drop them – swiftly.


Bad clients come in all shapes and sizes

When I started Bridge2More I had two consultancies. The two incomes kept me afloat and ensured I could cover my bills.

One client fit my ideal of the perfect client completely. She was clear about what she wanted to achieve and gave me plenty of room to work through my preferred approaches. She would listen carefully to my advice, weigh it up and apply the parts she thought would work best.

As a result, her website was transformed and delivered a great ROI. Although she was paying less than the standard price for the work I was doing, it was the maximum she could afford. She paid on time and was an excellent client so I was OK working  at a reduced rate.

I had another client who was completely different. We had great meetings together. During each meet we would communicate openly and honestly. I could give my two cents, which at times were brutally honest, and my client would take my shots without offence.

This client kept me busy. I did several projects for them, including establishing contacts in a Latin American country and market research for a report on business opportunities. During a six month period, this client came back to me again and again with new projects. There we numerous delays with invoice payments but each were eventually paid.

The client was clearly happy with my services, he kept asking for more work even though the organization he ran was on a tight budget. Yet every time each project came to an end, I toyed with the idea of ending the relationship.


Because neither of us were moving forwards.

All the ideas, feedback, suggestions and next steps we discussed, somehow ended up in a black hole.

Outside the meetings we had together, I rarely received any communication. I would often wait ages for replies to emails. I once sent an honest email to explain I wasn’t happy with the way things were progressing and to invite the client to share how he felt.

To my surprise his response was: “I am so happy with the work you do. You barely need instructions, work quickly and independently whilst using your common sense, the work I receive is comprehensive and moves my company forward.”

My jaw dropped. I had expected the client to use the email as an opportunity to end the relationship –  instead he gave me another project! And I’m sure you’ll be surprised to know that I took it!

And so the cycle continued.

After delivering the project, I didn’t hear anything from the client and further emails were left unanswered.

I grew more and more frustrated.  Not only because as a freelancer, feedback is essential but because I always aim for a win-win outcome. If my clients haven’t benefited from my services, it will damage my career.

A difficult client threatens your reputation, gets on your nerves, costs money and wastes your time. It is invaluable that every freelancer learns how to spot bad clients and when to ditch them.


6 signs it’s time to ditch a client

Look out for these warning signs so you can focus your efforts on good clients and better outcomes:

1. They don’t pay on time

Work delivered on time deserves to be paid on time.  Late payments are fine once or twice – clients have issues and glitches too. As business owners ourselves, we can understand many of the difficulties and if a client lets you know in time, it is usually OK. However, if late payments become a habit, it’s time to move on.


2. Lack of direction

When a client wants to hire you but has no clear requirements or goals for the work – beware.
A customer driven by indecision will waste your time by constantly changing the expected outcome and scope for the work. Never begin a relationship with a client unless you receive clear, written specifications and instructions for the results they want you to achieve.


3. Increasing demands

A demanding client can be a good thing – if their high expectations force you to produce your best work. However if their demands are unreasonable that is a different matter entirely.

Unreasonable deadlines, unnecessary changes even though you’ve met every one of the project specifications and scope creep, where the scope of the work is constantly changed, are all signs it is time to let the client go.


4. Disregard for agreed terms of service

If a client doesn’t stick to their words, there’s a high chance you’ll face problems in the future. However it depends on which of the contract terms have been violated. At the end of the day, if you feel you’ve been wronged, by all means, let them go.

5. Overly interested in your methods

If a client shows too much interest in how you are carrying out the work, rather than what you produce – beware!  Your skills and techniques are your bread and butter. Why would they be of interest to your client and how will it benefit you to show them how to do your work?

Clients who want to bleed your knowledge dry are clients who plan to fire you, then do the same work themselves to save money. These clients are particularly slippery in their approach, often appearing very friendly and complimentary – so watch out!

6. Ignores what you create

A client who doesn’t take the time to review and apply what you deliver or listen to your advice, won’t help you grow.  No response = no priority.  As I mentioned earlier, an unreasonable client that doesn’t make the most of your services, won’t move forwards and doesn’t look good on your portfolio.

Freelancing doesn’t mean you have a sign on your head that says: “take advantage of me – I don’t mind”.

Freelancers are professionals. If you treat your clients professionally and recognize the warning signs detailed in this blog, it will help you avoid messy situations and leave the window open to better clients who will propel your business forward.

Another benefit is: Great clients rarely refer you to bad clients. By firing unreasonable, difficult clients, you’re actually building up a better network for future referrals that will result in lots more good clients. A continuous stream of good clients is a guaranteed way to secure long term business success.