Fastest way to kill your business?
Taking on the wrong clients.

Here are 15 client red flags you must learn to spot:

1 - The underestimater

When they use words like ‘quick,’ ‘easy,’ or ‘simple’ to describe their project. 🚩


They’re diminishing the value of the work before the work even begins.

It ain’t gonna get better from here.
2 - You’re the 3rd option

“We tried X and then we tried Y and now we’re here with you.” 🚩

1 false start? Okay.
2 or more?

That’s probably a sign of a larger problem.

You’re not keanu reeves. Don’t board a bus that’s on a collision course.
3 - Unclear problem

If a client has a hard time articulating their problem…

You’re probably gonna have a hard time solving it.

Make your life easier:

Stick to problems that are clear, obvious & you feel confident in solving.
4 - Taking no responsibility

Some clients expect you to be the sole steward of their success.

But often, they play a crucial role in generating the desired outcome.

If your client isn’t willing to hold up their side of the partnership — get out.
5 - Mystery Stakeholders

“Wow, absolutely love what you delivered —just have to run it by the back office.”

Ever heard this?

It can be a dagger to the heart.

You need to know who the stakeholders are in advance AND they need to be involved from the get go.
6 - They’re in a rush

When a client comes to you with an urgent project, it’s usually a sign that they’ve dropped the ball somewhere else.


A few of the lovely benefits awaiting you should you hop on board.

Choose wisely.
7 - Fluctuating scope

“Hey, I was at coffee with a friend over the weekend & we thought it would be cool if…”

Lemme stop you right there.

Once the scope has been settled, consider it written in stone.

New ideas are great, but they’ll require a new plan and a new scope.
8 - Lack of respect

Some people just love to have someone to control.

But here’s the thing: you don’t work for them, you’re working with them.

As partners.

If they are dictating orders to you like an assistant —have a conversation or get out.
9 - Puppeteer Clients

They hired you for your expertise…

But want you to do it the way they’ve always done it.

You’re not a puppet, you are a problem solver.

If you don’t have operational independence, you won’t be able to get them the results you promised.
10 - Moving target

Every time you get on a call, the goal post has moved a bit.

But a new goal often means a new problem.

A new problem requires a new solution.

If they can’t decide what outcome they want, they’ll never be happy with your work.
11 - Toe dippers

They're interested in “testing it out,” but not fully committed to the process.

But we all know that partial commitment leads to partial results.

And who do you think will get blamed for that?
12 - Low buy-in

When one person at the company is championing the project…

But it’s a low priority for everyone else.

Don’t be fooled by your main point of contact.

If you don’t have the buy-in of all of the stakeholders, you’re in for a long, tedious process.
13 - They send you an RFP

RFP = Request For Proposal

- Time consuming
- Often irrelevant questions
- Sent out to 50+ agencies
- No opportunity to differentiate

RFPs are usually sent as a formality to gather a required min number of proposals.

Don’t waste your time.
14 - First timers

Clients that have never worked with a designer/editor/writer before.

Is it a deal breaker? No.

But it means that you’re probably going to have to spend a lot of time hand-holding.

At the very least, make sure you account for those hours in your scope.
15 - Alternative payment

They don’t have the money to pay your fee, but will pay you:

- When their investors come through
- From the profit
- With equity shares

I’m not saying it never works out, but 95% of the time this is a bad idea.
Okay, so I’ll admit, saying ‘no’ is a luxury.

When you’re just getting started, you take what you can get.

But as you grow, be intentional about pruning your client list. You can make good money AND live a stress-free existence.

Spot the flags.
Be ruthless.
What red flags did I miss? Drop ‘em in the comments.
Hi, I’m Shane. I teach freelancers how to build a high-profit, 1 person agency. If you enjoyed this thread…

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