Are you an entrepreneur looking to build and grow a successful business? If so, it’s important to pay attention to the types of clients that you take on. Luckily, we’ve put together this post on client red flags with you in mind.
While they may all seem like potential opportunities for growth, there are certain red flags that, if they come up, you should pay attention to and think twice about before getting involved with any client.
In this blog post, we will explore some key signs that indicate whether a potential client is worth taking on or if they’re better off avoided entirely. With these tips in hand, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions and increase your chances of success!
They don’t follow your process
The first red flag to look out for is if someone doesn’t follow your process. Now, of course, this is going to be a little bit different for each person who inquires because often, you may get people who will DM you over on Instagram instead, and they’ll say that they’re interested in your services.
This happens to us sometimes, and we tend to direct people directly over to our website if they say that, or at least to the inquiry form so that they can go ahead and fill that out and get into our CRM.
But oftentimes, it doesn’t always start directly with the inquiry! Sometimes someone will follow your process initially, and they’ll be going great right in the initial inquiry phase.
They’ll sign the contract and pay that initial invoice, but once they are signed and officially working with you, you’ll sometimes find that they don’t want to follow your process. This could be anything from not getting feedback on time or sending a whole bunch of emails with everything you need to complete your part of the contract instead of uploading it to project management software (if that’s what you use).
In situations like that, we just send out an email to remind the client that they need to try to keep everything in Notion (if they are sending us too many emails with information).
At Inkpot, we do try to keep everything in Notion just because, since there are two of us, emails tend to get lost, and one of us always ends up off the chain somehow, which ends up just confusing the both of us. So we try to keep everything in Notion.
It could also be something like not providing feedback on time. With this, we do have emails that go out about feedback, and we remind them when feedback is due. Or if they’ve missed the feedback time already, we’ll ask them if anything has come up because sometimes it is really serious!
You never know; we are all humans. But if they genuinely just didn’t leave feedback, that’s another issue we will address. Not following processes is one of the biggest client red flags that we tend to see.
However, this is a client red flag that you do have to take with a grain of salt – sometimes, it’s people’s first time working with an online service provider. Then, you do have to be the one that teaches them the ropes of how everything will work out.
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They’ve worked with multiple other people in your line of work, but nobody is helping them bring their “vision” to life the way that they want
Now, one red flag that we tend to see not a lot, but it is one that always worries us if we do have somebody say this on a discovery call with us, is if they say that they’ve worked with multiple other designers, but that nobody has seen their vision.
That’s always something that’s a little bit scary to hear as a designer, because, as designers, we always really put the client first when it comes to design. Especially here at Inkpot, we always have a call with our clients just to really make sure that their vision is what’s at the forefront from the beginning.
I’m 99% sure that most other designers do the same exact thing as well, especially in our line of work when it is something like website design because it is such a high investment. It just makes sense that there’s a call somewhere along the process, especially to delve into website strategy and overall vision.
It becomes a red flag if someone says they’ve worked with multiple other designers because it almost makes it seem like potentially it could be the person who’s inquiring that maybe isn’t really sure what they want, instead of the designers not delivering on what they said that they would deliver.
So normally, if this is something that gets brought up, often the client will delve into a little bit more of what they mean when they say that. If they don’t, you can always ask questions to try to just delve into it a little bit more to make sure it’s still a client that you’re comfortable with working with.
In the past, we have still worked with people who have said this. If they say something along the lines of, “oh, actually, my past designers haven’t had a call with me, so I didn’t really feel heard,” or something along those lines, it’s something that can be fixed.
If they have a very specific example as to why they felt the way that they did, then that normally means that it’s something that we can easily solve and make sure that their vision is seen when they work with us.
However, if they’ve genuinely worked with three to four different designers in the past year, that is normally a red flag, and we’ll just let them know that we’re probably not the best fit at this time.
They say they’ll know what they want when they see it
Another red flag that is a little bit scary to hear, especially as an online service provider or designer, is that they will let you know what they want when they see it from you!
That’s something that’s a little bit scary because, especially as designers, we tend to do everything very strategy-based, especially here at Inkpot. Again, we have that strategy call with them to have them sign off on the strategy and the direction of everything before we even start to design, just to make sure that we don’t design in the wrong direction.
So if it’s something that they approved ahead of time, but they’re like, “Oh, well, I’ll let you know what I want when I see it,” we have to tell them, “no, you get X amount of drafts that we actually put a lot of work into.”
That’s why we have the strategy call beforehand. We have had a few people say, “Oh, I’ll let you know what I want when I see it.” That’s always something that we just kind of let them know, like, “Hey, we just wanted to check in with you and make sure that you are set on the strategy that we had set forth. If not, let us know if this is something we can work out. Maybe we can hop on a call and further discuss everything just to really make sure that we do have the kind of idea in mind of what you actually want to be designed.”
Often, if someone says something like this, it comes from a place of them really not knowing what they want. Again, you might just have to go back to that strategy piece, and you can solve it that way.
They ask for you to work in exchange for exposure
I have heard horror stories of other people having people say this to them in their DMs! Having someone say that they want you to do free work in exchange for a service is a huge red flag. If someone says that to you, just say, absolutely not.
You do deserve to be paid, especially for all of your hard work. If it is something you ever choose to say yes to, just make sure that you do have a contract in place and that you are getting your end of the deal out of what you had agreed to because that is something that could very easily go south.
Someone could just get work from you for free and then not give you what you needed in return.
I will preface this by saying that in the past, back when I first started Inkpot, I did do three website projects for free. I remember I posted in the Showit Facebook Group and I got to work with three incredible clients, luckily.
I did have them sign a contract, and it was for me to just test out my processes and I was in a place where I was able to do that because I was living at my parent’s house. I didn’t really have any bills, I just graduated from college, so I know not everybody is in that place, but I have technically done work for free in exchange for testimonials.
Luckily for me, it did end up resulting in some referrals, which helped me kick-start my business when I first started.
They say they need help from you FAST
Another red flag is if somebody says that they want something fast.
There have been instances before where we’ve been super booked out, and someone says that they want something fast and they don’t want to wait until they can fit into our schedule. They usually make it sound like, “I’m working with you now or never,” and that’s never good.
Also, if someone says they want something fast, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on you as a service provider to get stuff done way too quickly, and it can make you really feel out of your element.
So if someone says that they want something really fast, try to figure out why. Sometimes it can just be for an upcoming launch, and they didn’t realize that they would need to outsource all of the help that they now realize they’d need.
Or maybe the last contractor that they had hired to kind of help them ended up having to stop mid-project or something. Just make sure you delve into why they need something fast and make sure that it’s not a true red flag because even though it can be stressful sometimes, it’s not necessarily as big of a deal as you think it is. But again, sometimes it actually is!
They negotiate with you during the inquiry process
Another red flag could be that they negotiate with you. This is one we’ve gotten a few times. We got it a lot more back when we used to offer branding packages.
We used to do brand and website design, but we switched just to website design because it’s truly what we enjoy and thrive in. But when we did branding packages, we would give our clients the primary logo, the alternate logo, icons and patterns, and everything else.
Sometimes people would be like, “Oh, well, I don’t need that. I just need the main logo,” and we would have to let them know, “No, this is the entire preset package.”
They would try to negotiate with us and be like, “Oh, well, if we take this off, maybe you could give me a $200 discount.” We would have to explain, “No, that’s not how it works. You need the entire brand suite.”
So if someone really starts to pick apart your packages and negotiate with you, that can be a very big red flag.
I always say it’s completely different if they’re not trying to negotiate with you, but they do mention, “I don’t think any of these packages completely fit my needs.” Then it’s on you as a service provider whether you still want to send a proposal to them or not.
Because sometimes, for instance, we have people reach out to us who don’t necessarily need an entirely new website. Maybe they just got new branding done, and they need the new website to reflect the branding, but they want their old design still.
With that, we would do more of a revamp package, or we do some hourly work or something like that. So it’s really kind of at your own discretion when it comes to that.
They don’t respect your boundaries
Another red flag is that they don’t respect your boundaries. We’ve had some instances of this in the past, but again, we found that clients not respecting boundaries tend to be because you’ve shown them that it’s okay not to. Of course, this isn’t always the case.
We have found in the past that if there is a client who doesn’t respect our boundaries, it’s because we didn’t respect our boundaries in the project. For instance, maybe we let them push and let them get away with it.
That’s just something to kind of be careful about because sometimes you cause a red flag, which can be a little bit interesting and weird to admit to yourself.
The easiest way that this tends to happen in our own projects is we always say we’re logging off around 4 or 4:30. That’s when our official Inkpot hours end. Sometimes there are nights when we work really late to get projects done.
Plus, we both tend to work really well at night versus in the morning. So sometimes that just ends up happening instead. But we try to only answer emails during actual Inkpot hours. Sometimes if we do respond to something at night, we’ll find that then the client will start to expect responses at night.
So again, that’s just something to keep in mind because there are instances where if they’re not respecting your boundaries, it can be a huge red flag. It is not always your fault, but sometimes, at least with us, we found that it can be!
They’re part of a huge team and everyone is going to get a say
If someone inquires with us and says that they’re part of a huge team with lots of people and that everyone is going to get a say, that can definitely be a red flag.
If you’re anything like us, then you probably offer a service where you’re very used to working with either partnerships or other solopreneurs. What we do in instances like this is we suss out if they’re actually going to let everybody’s voice be heard.
If that’s the case, what we do during the inquiry process is let them know, “Hey, what we really recommend in a situation like this is that you have one main point person who is in charge of talking with us.”
Of course, everyone can look at the drafts, but they should really have one person whose voice is going to be heard the most and who is kind of taking charge of the project, and then that will be the person that is the main point of contact.
We also let them know that if there’s a big team, normally, they still have to adhere to our regular feedback schedules because we do have tight feedback schedules here at Inkpot. That’s just because we work in design sprints, which means we’re really only working on your project if you work with us, and we’re not kind of splitting our time up between multiple projects.
Of course, sometimes we do have VIP days strewn throughout, but we actually have our VIP days lined up on days where our client would have feedback time for that entire day if it was a full website project week or something like that.
We have everything very scheduled out, and that is for a reason. There have been a few instances, though, where it has been a big team that’s reached out, and they were very understanding, and they were asking for exact feedback on what to do if they do have a big team.
Because everyone, of course, does usually want to say, especially if it’s for a business’s website, and if they’re proactively asking us questions like that during the inquiry process, that’s usually a very good sign.
They have a free task they require of you first to make sure it’s a good fit
Another red flag I found a lot more common when I started my business is if someone asks for free samples of your work. So usually, if someone asks for anything like that now, I just direct them to my portfolio.
But back when I first started, I remember there were always listings for jobs, and they would be like, “Oh, I need you to do this for free for me to make sure that you’re able to adhere to guidelines,” and things like that.
That’s usually just a big red flag. Don’t waste your time on it. I’m always scared that if someone asks for something for free, they will just take that free thing and run with it and never actually hire out for a project.
They say it won’t take long to do what they’re asking of you
One of the biggest client red flags is if someone says, “Oh, it’s not that much work,” or “It should just be a quick job”… because guess what? It’s usually not.
And if it was that quick, why wouldn’t they do it themselves? That’s how I always feel.
So if someone says that, it is usually not always the case, but sometimes it genuinely is. Sometimes it’s as easy as going into somebody’s website and changing a link, and maybe they just don’t know how to change a link.
But if they say that, you should try to get a little bit more information about the scope of work to make sure that it’s not that much work, because sometimes it very much is. I find that people who say things like that can end up kind of being a little bit micromanage-y, so try to pay attention to that.
They just don’t vibe with you
Last but not least, and this is why we really recommend having discovery calls, is that it can be a huge red flag if someone just doesn’t vibe with you or your business!
So here at Inkpot, we tend to work with many introverted, inclusive entrepreneurs. We’re a queer-run design studio, so if someone doesn’t support the same things that we do, it’s automatically not a good fit.
I find that if you find that somebody just isn’t vibing with you at all, or comes off a little bit like they won’t mesh with your business and your processes on a discovery call, then it is usually a red flag. That means that you probably should just pass them on to somebody else.
Of course, that’s not always the case. We have had a few discovery calls before where immediately after, I’m not sure if they’ll end up being the best fit, and then they do end up signing with us and they end up being, the best clients we’ve ever had.
So it’s not always the case, but it is something just to be a little bit wary of.
There you have it! All of the client red flags to look out for as an online service provider.
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KP (she/her) is the founder and designer behind Inkpot Creative, which was founded back in 2020. She specializes in Showit website design, blogging, and SEO. Over the years, she’s built custom websites for more than 50 photographers and has helped grow client’s monthly website traffic between 20% – 77.7%. When not designing, she can normally be found hiking in the mountains, working on her travel blog Volumes & Voyages, or trying to find the best iced chai in her city.