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How do you spot a problematic, non-paying client (in advance)?

On Behalf of | Oct 4, 2022 | Freelancing

As a freelance designer, writer or programmer, you know that some clients are great – and some are most certainly not.

While everyone defines a “problem” client a little differently, you want to do your best to spot clients who will try to use and abuse you by not respecting your boundaries, not appreciating your work and (most critically) not paying you properly.

So, how do you spot a bad client and extract yourself before you wind up in a dispute? Here are some signs:

Red flags that a client isn’t for you

Ultimately, you’ll probably develop some pretty good instincts that will serve you well (if you listen to them), but when you’re first starting out, it can be hard to tell the difference between a client that’s merely demanding and one that is likely to stiff you on their bill.

The following are all major warning signals that should make you steer clear:

  • The client “negs” your work or experience. If a potential client tells you that they could easily do your job themselves, but they simply don’t have time – that’s a major sign that they don’t value your work. People don’t pay for things that they don’t believe have any real value.
  • They don’t communicate their goals or needs. Sometimes a client may struggle to articulate exactly what they want you to create for them, but avoid a client who simply doesn’t respond to your requests for more information. If they won’t even get back to you about what they want, they definitely won’t get back to you about their bill.
  • They brag about stiffing another freelancer. You may be surprised at how easily someone will admit that they refused to pay the previous creative that worked for them – especially if they have decided that their actions were justified. Take note: If they’ve stiffed other designers, artists or writers, they’ll stiff you, too.
  • They don’t want to sign a contract. If a client insists that you should trust them and doesn’t want to put an agreement on paper, it’s time to run. Any verbal agreement is going to be very hard to enforce when payment comes due, and they know it.

If you’re a freelancer who is having trouble collecting what you’re due, find out more about your legal options. New York law provides you with unique protections.