Watch out for These 4 Signs – Your Freelance Client Could Be a Waste of Time

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I started freelance writing in 2015, when I was still completing my studies. I wanted a side income and writing was perhaps the easiest way to start.

It wasn’t until 2017 that I started putting in more effort. I signed up on freelance websites and looked for more freelance work.

Initially, I worked low-rate jobs, desperate to get clients who would pay the bare minimum. As I learnt the standard rates for each job, I began to increase my rates.

It’s been a long journey as a freelancer. I faced my share of scammers and was scammed several times too.

Today, I have a full-time job and a stable freelance writing career on the side. I have a handful of long-term clients who are happy to pay my rates. They also understand that I might not always be able to take up their assignments due to my full-time job.

I also learnt to filter out the bad seeds. Now, whenever I see these four signs, I tell them I’m not interested in their offer.

Here are four types of time-wasting clients you should never bother with.

Time-Wasting Clients Type 1: Zero Trust

Freelance platforms will take a hefty commission off your pay. Whatever price you charge your clients, be prepared to lose anywhere between 15-25% of those earnings.

Because of that, most clients will try to negotiate with you outside of the platform. I tried to avoid this at the beginning because you never know what they’ll say once they get your number – but that’s an article for another time.

To avoid weirdos, I now have an alternative email address, WhatsApp number, and Skype ID that I’ll give them while still in the initial discussion stage.

External discussions can be good for you – you can request your clients to pay directly via PayPal or transfer directly your bank account if it’s a local client. No need to lose that big commission chunk out of your paycheck.

However, if you are discussing with your prospective client outside of these freelance platforms, there needs to be some trust established early on.

The right type of client will inform you on how he plans to pay – e.g. 50-50 payment before and after work, or immediate pay after your work is complete, etc. The details of your payment should be sorted out before you even begin your first assignment with them.

There are, however, clients like the ones below that you should refrain from working with:

  • Client requests to work outside the platform, but refuses to make an initial deposit payment for your first assignment – which also happens to be a big workload worth quite a hefty sum. If it is your first assignment with a client, take on a smaller assignment first. First-time clients will typically not approach you with a big task either.Both of you benefit – your client gets to see the quality of your work, and you get to build trust with the client over the first assignment.
  • Client requests to continue working internally but refuses to put your payment in escrow.Freelance websites usually have an e-wallet system where clients must put their money in and release it once the work is done.

    That’s how both freelancers and buyers know that the payment is available and can be retrieved anytime.

    If you’re working on these platforms, make sure that the clients are using this option.

Time-Wasting Clients Type 2: Low Rates, High Expectations

Most freelance platforms work on a bidding method. The client puts up an assignment, and you give your price for the work along with a short proposal of how you’re going to do the job. You can also put other descriptions, such as your skills which make you right for the job.

The client will then choose the best freelancer which suits their needs from this list of bidding freelancers.

Of course, the freelancers offering to complete the job for less will stand out first. It wouldn’t matter if you’re overqualified for it – on these sites, the lowest rate wins.

That was how I started out charging RM0.04 per word written, because no client would have hired me if I charged any higher.

I even completed a 2-hour audio transcription for barely RM50. That is how buyers exploit new freelancers on the site.

The worst part? These same clients want you to work on something that takes up a lot of your time, ask you to complete it in half the time you need, and refuse to pay any higher.

They usually sound like this:

“Looking for a writer who can produce at least 8-10 articles of 5000 words each on selected topics. Articles must pass Copyscape check with 0% plagiarism. Must be fresh ideas that do not exist on the internet. It’s going to be a long-term job if we like your writing style and quality, so the price is going to be $5 for each article.”

My reply to them today:

Dear Sir/Ma’am,

With all due respect, kindly shove your proposal up your floop. Have a nice day.

Time-Wasting Clients Type 3: Unprofessionalism

You might be better off not uploading your pictures on freelance sites if you’re female. Alternatively, you can also post a random dude’s photo, or your own photo but with that new Snapchat filter which makes you look like a guy.

I’m saying this because some distasteful clients are going to approach you if you’re a woman. They will try to give you an assignment, but somewhere along the line you might get a message from them which sounds like this:

“Are you an open-minded girl? I’m hoping that you are because you might be mad at what I say next if you’re not 🙁 ”

In case the message isn’t clear, that sentence basically translates to this: Pervert Alert. Run.

Here are some other signs of unprofessional clients:

  • Unprofessional compliments during discussion
  • For some unknown reason, the client sends lots of 😉 emoji
  • Client does not focus on the project at hand – talks about the weather, where you’re from, etc.
  • Claims they want to know you better
  • Invites you for video chats or to meet ups to talk after complimenting how you look.

I have personally come across clients who were just on the freelance websites to look for ‘smart and attractive Asian girls’ with a seemingly-normal job as a front.

Honestly? I cannot be more disgusted.

Time-Wasting Clients Type 4: Zero Details

If you’re on the same few freelance websites I was on, you can tell if the client is completely new or not.

Some websites will tell you when the client joined the platform. Others will tell you how much they have paid for past assignments and what their customer ratings are.

If you see that they have no details on their profiles, then it’s likely to be a scam.

Typically, these brand-new clients will post a job that looks way too easy – copytyping, copypasting from other websites, etc. These clients will usually only be email-verified, or not verified at all.

When you see these jobs, just click on the report button and select ‘scam’ as a reason.

If you do actually try to bid for these projects, you’ll be asked to send an email to them, so they can tell you more about the assignment.

When you do, you’ll be asked to pay them a deposit first to show them that you’re genuine.

That’s where you back off.

You might also be able to tell that it’s a scam job through their e-mails. They claim to be from a proper company, but you will see the weirdest email addresses ever, accompanied by some generic white people name like Juliet Minter.

When they email you, the email title is often something straight off a clickbait article, like “Earn $150 in a Day!”

It’s easy to tell these emails apart from the professional ones.

Legitimate clients will have proper email addresses. If they claim to be from a company, they usually have proper email signatures with listed social media accounts, company logo, phone number, etc.

I can’t say that this applies for everyone, but that is usually the case.

Work with the Right Clients

I had my share of clients, both good and bad. Now, whenever I see a client that could be toxic or has any of the traits I discussed above, I just stay away from them.

I may have missed out on some money-making opportunities if any of those scams turned out to be legit; but to be honest, I’d rather take my time to look for the right clients than to be looked down upon and disrespected just for a few bucks, or to be forced to work with clients I can’t trust.

Sometimes, it seems like the client focuses way too much on the word ‘free’ in ‘freelancer’. But hey, even a freelancer deserves some respect.

If you’re a fellow freelancer, don’t work for any less than you deserve!

For more articles about being a freelancer, read How I Learned to Deal with the Crippling Loneliness of Being a Freelancer, and The Freelance Life: Protecting Yourself from Scumbag Employers.

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Nicki Sim
Nicki likes her coffee bitter, just like her personality. She has also managed to achieve her personal branding at work after wearing full-black attires to the office 90% of the time for the past 2 years.
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