If you remember one thing from this lesson, remember this: red flags with clients are like roaches. If you see one, there are 50 you don’t see. Don’t ignore red flags.
Let’s talk about some of the common red flags potential clients exhibit.
The wrong client will focus on making you perform tasks instead of focusing on goals and value.
The wrong client will focus on money, not value. There is a subtle but critical difference between focusing on money and focusing on value. When someone is focused on money, they’re worried about losing it. They’re not interested in making investments, they’re interesting in keeping costs down. They see you as an expense. They’ve already made up their mind that you are a cost to them and they’re looking to make a deal, not an investment.
If someone focuses on trivial things or is easily distracted, that is a bad sign. You can’t be fighting to get them to focus on what’s important the entire time.
The wrong client will want to change parts of your process or use their own. This includes time frames, revisions, contracts, payment schedules, and anything that is different from the way you normally work. They may try to pressure you and insist that what they are doing is common or that everyone else they have worked with has complied. Do not compromise your process. Say no to this person.
It is a red flag if the potential client insists on providing input on things outside their areas of expertise. You are not a tool for the client to use. You are a professional providing solutions. You must protect your domain. Make it clear what the client’s role is and where you welcome their input.
If a potential client does not respect your industry, they are not going to be a good fit. A good project and professional relationship is built on mutual respect.
It is a red flag if they are hesitant to share relevant information. You are their partner and they need to communicate with you and share relevant information. If they are not open to this, do not take them on.
The wrong client has unrealistic expectations. You define what is realistic and if they disagree, you turn them down.
Never work for someone who asks you to do work merely for exposure. If they are trying to get a discount or offer something other than money as payment, this is a deal breaker.
Not being open to discussing what’s best is an immediate red flag. People who are insistent on what they think or assume is best in your areas of expertise are not good fits. Clients must be willing to have productive dialogue with you and be open to the results of those conversations—even if those results conflict with their original assumptions.
If a potential client lets their personal opinions and preference guide the decision making, this is a red flag. Do not proceed. The same is true if they compare you to competition. If they at any point bring up what someone else charges or how someone else would do what they say, you must immediately terminate the relationship. As soon as the client has opened you to comparison, there is no recovering.
If someone ignores or refuses the expectations you set, that’s a red flag. These people have a tendency to micromanage or insist on knowing everything about everything at every stage. It’s your responsibility to define time frames, what you need up front, when the work will begin, when you’ll check in with the client, and when you’ll need their input. People who don’t respect this part of your process will run the project into the ground and keep you from doing your best work.
If a potential client exhibits signs that they are not good at business, or worse, if they are unethical in their business, do not proceed.
The wrong client will be looking for a technician rather than a professional. You are a professional. If you recognize that the potential client is looking for you to do tasks instead of solve problems, pass on the project.
An unwillingness to enter into a contract or formal agreement is a huge red flag. This should immediately disqualify someone from being your client.
This is not a comprehensive list of red flags, but should give you a good idea of what to watch out for. Again, any one red flag means you pass on the client. There are almost certainly many others you don’t see.
Remember, any single red flag means you pass on that client. It’s difficult to say no, but you will get better at it the more you practice. It also helps to keep in mind that you are not saying no just because you’re looking out for your own best interests. Saying no to a potential client as early in the process as possible ensures that you waste as little of their time and energy as possible, which is professional and respectful.
Also remember that you cannot fix red flags. It is not your place, your responsibility, or your job to try to change the way your clients behave or do business. Your audience, your potential client base, is bigger than you think. There are over seven billion people on the planet. If you only target 1% of 1% of 1% of them, there are still over 7,000 people in your audience. Don’t be afraid to say no, and don’t worry about fixing any of them.
Trust your gut. You have a lot of knowledge and experience that isn’t always going to manifest itself consciously. Your instincts are trying to steer you away for a reason, so don’t ignore them!