Keep Scammers & Bad Clients Out of Your Freelancing Business

You’ve probably heard about them. Clients who won’t pay. Clients who treat freelancers poorly. Clients who pile on more work than the freelancer agreed to.

You may have even had the misfortune of working for one yourself. It’s not uncommon for freelance designers to wind up working for a scammer or a bad client.

Some freelance designers view this as an inevitable part of freelancing, but I say that you can keep many scammers and bad clients out of your freelancing business if you take the proper precautions.

In this post, I’ll share a checklist to help you identify scammers and bad clients. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Is That Client Legit or Just a Tire Kicker?

Checkpoint #1: Reputation

Just like you have an online reputation, most potential clients also have an online reputation. Before accepting work, be sure to check your prospect’s reputation using the following steps:

  • Type their name and variations of their name into a search engine.
  • Look for their accounts on social media.
  • Find their web page and examine it carefully to see if it looks legit.
  • See if they are rated by the Better Business Bureau or mentioned by scam-busting sites.

You may be surprised how much you can learn about a company online. Many scammers have a continuing pattern of scamming freelancers. A little homework on your part can keep you from being their next victim.

Remember, while a legit client could have a few of these traits; be extra cautious about any prospect who looks bad in all of these areas.

Checkpoint #2: Too Many Meetings

Meetings take your time. Unpaid meeting time reduces your income.

While it’s okay to offer to meet a client who seems serious about hiring you, be careful not to allocate too much of your time to such meetings.

It’s not unusual for a so-called client to ask a freelance designer to meet them about a “project”–only to pick the freelancer’s brain for several hours or even longer.

This is often a scam to get free consulting work from the freelancer. The so-called client never intends to hire the designer. When they’ve got what they need from you, they’ll implement your ideas using in-house staff.

You can weed out many of these scam artists by placing strict limits on free meetings and by making sure that the meeting is dedicated to them describing their project to you. Many freelancers charge a meeting fee for any meeting time that exceeds an hour.

Checkpoint #3: Prepayment

You should be requesting that initial clients pay a partial deposit up front. Do not start, I repeat, DO NOT start work until you have that initial deposit.

The amount of the initial deposit varies, but most freelance designers charge anywhere from 1/3 of the total project amount to 1/2 of the total project amount.

The initial deposit shows good faith on the client’s part and demonstrates that they are serious about hiring you for the job. They are now invested in your success.

Keep in mind that if you have trouble getting the initial deposit from a client, chances are that you’ll also have trouble collecting the final payment. Why take an unnecessary chance?

Checkpoint #4: The Freelancing Agreement

You should have a freelancing agreement for all larger projects. Ideally, this would be a contract between you and the client, but at the very least it should be a written description of the project terms that both of you agreed to.

A good agreement describes the scope of the work, the project deadline, and the payment terms. You should even get a freelancing agreement from trusted clients. It’s just too easy to forget the terms of an oral agreement.

Having such an agreement protects both you and the client. If your prospective client is honest, there’s no excuse for them not signing the agreement. If they’re not honest, well…in that case you don’t want to work for them anyway, do you?

Checkpoint #5: The Great Rate Debate

One of the first ways to weed out scammers and bad clients is to ask what their budget for the project is. If it’s way too low for the amount of work they are asking for, this is a good sign that they will not be a good client.

When confronted with an extremely low rate, too many web designers try to convince the prospect to pay more. This is a bad idea. Even if you win the rate debate and convince the prospect to pay more, they are already unhappy because they’ve gone over their anticipated budget.

If there’s a huge gap between what the client expects to pay and what you need to charge, your best option may be to walk away before they become a bad client.

Many freelancers would also tell you that lower paying clients are often more picky (and more unreasonable) than higher paying clients. In my own experience, I’ve also found this to be true.

Checkpoint #6: Not Knowing What They Want

The last checkpoint is very important for freelance designers. More than any other freelancer, you are likely to be greeted with the words, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

Such a “client” can’t even begin to describe what they expect from you, yet somehow they want you to tackle their project.

It’s nearly impossible to get a clear scope of work from such a client. Don’t even try. You may find yourself caught in an endless loop of revisions and rework until the client sees what he or she likes (which could be never).

If you show them a few samples of your work and maybe a few other designs online and they still can’t give you enough to go on, it’s time to move on. They aren’t a good client for you.

Your Turn

It isn’t inevitable that you get saddled with bad clients and scammers. You can keep them out of your freelancing design business. In this post I hope that I’ve shown you how.

What checkpoints would you add to help freelance designers avoid bad clients and scammers? Share your insights in the comments.

Image by Lee J Haywood