You Already Know Client Red Flags: What About Green Ones?By Jess Shanahan March 3rd, 2022
“This has been really helpful—please send over an invoice for the hour.”
This wasn’t something I expected to hear from a potential client on our first-ever call, which was supposed to be an initial chat about how I could support his new venture. It sounded very exciting, and I offered him some advice about how to get his business off the ground.
As freelancers, we’re often advised to look out for client red flags—but it’s worth looking out for the things that signal you’re on to something good, too. And that offer to pay me for my time? Well, that was a massive green flag. In volunteering to compensate me, the client showed just how much he valued my experience.
Here are a few more client green flags to keep an eye out for.
They respect your time
I’ve spent many years working out what makes a good client, and I’ve had to wade through a lot of bad ones in the process. One of the big things I’ve noticed is that most green flags come down to the same thing: respect. If a client shows clear respect for you and your time, they’re usually easy to work with.
Most green flags come down to the same thing: respect.
A client that doesn’t demand lengthy meetings or impromptu calls may be one to hold on to. I set clear boundaries with my clients, but the best ones don’t need to be told how valuable my time is. They understand that I’m working with others and can’t drop everything the second they want to hop on the phone.
This goes for deadlines, too. One of my best clients knows I can complete an article in a week, but she always asks me to set the timeframe when she sends a new brief. This shows that she understands that my workload ebbs and flows. She doesn’t assume I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting for her next email.
They know what they want
We’ve all been there: a client sends a brief, and it’s super light on details. They’re unable to answer questions about what exactly they’re looking for.
This is often a recipe for disaster—when you don’t know what you’re signing up for, there’s a lot of space for the project to go sideways. On the other hand, a client that sends a detailed outline of what they want, communicates the goal of the content, and is able to answer questions may be a keeper. Clarity and transparency help prevent miscommunication. These factors also minimize how much time you spend on revisions.
Of course, sometimes a client doesn’t know what they want, and they hope to lean on your experience to figure it out. This is flattering, but in reality, “do what you think is best” often leads to a lot of revisions. Suddenly, upon receiving a draft, the client does know what they want—and it’s not what you delivered.
Working together on a brief template or coaching a client through the briefing process is often worth the time you put in upfront. It helps you better understand one another.
For example, I work with a multinational company, and while they liked the early work I delivered, they had a lot of revisions. I wanted to cut down on those edits to save everyone time, so I suggested revisiting how they structure their briefs. We now have a smooth workflow with minimal revisions.
They don’t haggle over price
Pressing send on an email quoting your prices is one of the scariest things about being a freelancer. There’s always the fear that your rates are going to be met with silence or efforts to negotiate down to a figure that works out to be less than minimum wage.
Thankfully, the best clients won’t do this. In my experience, a keeper client is one who accepts your fees without batting an eyelid. This shows they respect your experience—and are willing to pay for it.
In my experience, a keeper client is one who accepts your fees without batting an eyelid.
Not haggling over your rates is also a good indicator that the client trusts you and is less likely to micromanage your work. If you notice cost is a serious concern, you should establish whether they’re really your ideal client. Lowering your rate for a client can increase the chance that they’ll end up picking through everything you do, trying to get the most bang for their buck.
They’re quick to reply
Clients that are quick to reply to your questions are typically easier to work with, at least in my experience. Responsiveness means you can get your questions answered and won’t be held up waiting for clarifications. Even when clients aren’t lightning-quick, the best ones will answer all your questions thoroughly. Keep an eye out for this, as it’s a green flag for smooth-running projects—even complex ones.
In my work as a managing editor, I have one client with very complicated story templates. We’ve got these articles down to a fine art, but sometimes, the templates need to change. There are always teething problems with a new format, but the client is very quick to answer when I have a question. This keeps our high-volume workload flowing freely with no delays.
They keep ‘scope creep’ in check
Most freelancers know to be wary of unpaid projects, but look out for the clients that willingly offer extra compensation for additional work—like the new client I mentioned at the start of this piece. Whether you’re completing a test to show your style, dealing with changes mid-project, or sitting in on meetings, a good client won’t expect you to do any extra work for free.
A good client won’t expect you to do any extra work for free.
You can avoid most scope creep with a clear brief (see point above), but it’s a natural part of business that things—and deliverables—change. It’s important to be flexible.
That said, if something strays wildly from the expected path, your clients need to know it’ll cost them extra. Good boundary-setting is important here, but it’s definitely a green flag if the “we need a third round of edits” email is accompanied by “let us know what they’ll cost.”
While it’s critical to be able to gauge client red flags, don’t forget to consider the green ones, too. Healthy, steady clients can be the backbone of your freelance career—you just need to cultivate the right relationships.Image by stories