10 client red flags every freelance creative should be aware of

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With the hustle of the growing gig economy, freelancing has become the go-to avenue for many professionals. It’s that enticing dance between work-life balance and chasing one's passion. But every dance has its missteps, and freelancing is no exception.

Navigating the world of freelancing, with its captivating promise of independence, is akin to manoeuvring a maze — it's essential to stay alert to avoid dead ends. You might occasionally bump into clients with towering expectations, or perhaps ones who view contracts as more of a suggestion than a necessity.

Rejecting a potential gig, especially when the financial gains beckon, feels counterintuitive. But sometimes, it's essential to spot those red flags from afar and trust that intuition of yours. Ready for a little game of “Spot the Pitfall”?

1. The "We'll See" Briefs

Vague project briefs are the warning buzzers of freelancing. Without clarity, you risk diving into an abyss of misunderstandings and wasted hours. It's better to ask those pressing questions now than to regret not asking them later.

2. Sky-high Expectations


Frank Punshon

Everyone appreciates ambition, but when a client’s vision soars above the stratosphere, they risk coming down with a crash. Align on results that are both ambitious and achievable. Ground their rocket before it's lost in space!

3. The Goalpost Movers

Ever tried scoring in a game where the goalpost keeps moving? Clients who constantly change their minds can make projects feel like a never-ending marathon. Establish milestones and check-in regularly.

4. The "Handshake Deal" Folks


Florentina Surel

A nod and a handshake might feel classic, but in the digital age, they're not enough. A written, signed contract spells out expectations and safeguards both parties. Think of it as an insurance policy for your time and energy.

5. "Trust Us, It's On the Way"

'Soon' is a relative term. It's heart-wrenching to see hard work go uncompensated. Spot clients who dilly-dally with payments or offer suspiciously low rates. Your skills are worth their weight in gold—ensure you’re treated as such.

6. The Speed Demons


Birger Linke

While quick work can be thrilling, unreasonably tight deadlines are a one-way ticket to Stressville. Establish a timeline that respects the quality of your craft. The tortoise was onto something!

7. "Just a Quick Favour"

Great rapport doesn't equal free labour. It's a dance of give-and-take. If additional requests pop up, graciously remind your client that every dance move has its price.

8. The Unknown Entity


Mikel Camara

Knowledge is power, and a quick research dive can unveil a client's past. Before taking the plunge, skim reviews, and chat with fellow freelancers. A well-informed decision now can save you headaches later.

9. The "Silent Treatment" Tacticians

Communication is the key to any good relationship, especially in freelancing. If your client suddenly goes radio silent or only offers cryptic one-liners, it might indicate deeper issues. Pursue open dialogue; if they're more elusive than a shadow, consider that a blazing neon sign.

10. The Feedback Loop-de-Loop

Constructive criticism? Great! But there's a world of difference between helpful feedback and an endless loop of tweaks. If a client can't settle on what they want even after countless revisions, it might be time to rethink if this carousel ride is worth the ticket price.


Dive into the freelancing world with your eyes wide open and your wit sharper than ever. Sure, you'll come across a few quirky characters and maybe even a wildcard or two. But with this snazzy list of red flags by your side, you're not just prepared; you're practically invincible. So, chin up, spirits high, and remember to enjoy the rollercoaster that is the freelance life – ups, downs, and all those twisty turns in between. Happy freelancing!

Header image by Antonio D'Amore


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